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Hardware Today: Integration Issues, Resolved

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Apr 17, 2006


When CooperVision became the third-largest contact lens manufacturer in the world after acquiring Ocular Sciences in early 2005 it was quickly blinded with the headache of integrating two disparate IT departments. The path it chose — server consolidation — not only resolved the integration issues but has also resulted in considerable savings. By centralizing its infrastructure around two data centers (one for production and another for failover), it saved an estimated $400,000 per region in IT costs, enhanced its backup and disaster recovery capabilities, and improved overall performance.

How did the third-largest contact lens manufacturer save nearly a half-million-dollars, enhance its backup and disaster recovery capabilities, and improve overall performance -- post-acquisition? By consolidating and centralizing on Unisys hardware.

Frank Manzo, manager of global data center and systems support at CooperVision, said that the company deployed Unisys ES7000 servers with Intel Itanium 2-based processors. These machines run Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition and Microsoft SQL Server 2000.

This move made it possible for CooperVision to scale up its operations significantly. Manzo reports that corporate systems could support only 550 concurrent users in 2004, and the processed about 14,000 orders per day. The move to the Unisys servers enabled the company to triple its performance and transaction load.

"By the end of 2006, the firm expects to have about 1,550 concurrent users in 14 countries," says Manzo. "We should be comfortably able to process about 50,000 orders per day."

Seeing Is Believing

CooperVision has been in the contact lens business since 1958. Headquartered in Fairport, N.Y., it has manufacturing facilities around the globe, including Hamble, England; Rochester, N.Y.; Huntington Beach, Calif.; Helsinki, Finland; Adelaide, Australia; Madrid, Spain; Norfolk, Virginia; and Toronto, Canada.

The company has been a 100 percent Microsoft shop for some time. In 2003, it seriously considered a move to Unix because it needed to scale beyond 8 processors to meet its expansion goals. The resulting server selection process led CooperVision to Unisys. It purchased two Unisys ES7000 16-way 2.0 GHz, 32-bit machines with 16 GB of RAM. These hosted an SSA iBaan enterprise resource planning (ERP) application and one of the principal systems to run the business.

At the time of the merger with Ocular Sciences, the company had 1,500 users located in three countries. Management decided to expand its iBaan ERP system to incorporate the acquired assets but isolated hardware as one of the biggest points of risk in any IT integration project.

It appeared, at the time, that the company would have to adopt a decentralized approach — opening multiple national data centers, each with its own Unisys servers and infrastructure. The estimated cost ran to $400,000 per site for additional servers and equipment for each country. Instead, management opted to upgrade its Unisys database servers. It now has two ES7000 24-way, 64-bit Itanium 2, 1.6 GHz processors with 64 GB of RAM.

"We migrated to 64-bit technology as a natural progression from the 32-bit technology we were on previously," says Manzo.

He notes that tight cooperation between CooperVision's IT team, Unisys, and Microsoft led to a very fast transition. Microsoft demands stringent qualifications from any OEM that wants to be certified for Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition. It runs a program known as the Datacenter High Availability Program, whose purpose is to complement the server and operating system with a mainframe-style support model.

"We were able to bring the system down for no more than 24 hours to do the migration," says Manzo. "Having one vendor avoids the problem of finger pointing. It is great to be able to call one number for support."

Gains were found in manageability, efficiency, and performance. For example, CPU usage, which had been running as high as 50 percent in some cases, now runs about 20 percent. Online order processing and report generation in the SSA iBaan ERP application run noticeably faster. Monthly invoice processing now takes half the time it took prior to the upgrade.

Unisys Sentinel software is used to continuously monitor the cluster and detect server issues. This eliminates most server alerts to server admins. Instead, Unisys is notified directly and responds accordingly. Usually, a technician is at the door to replace a part prior to the CooperVision IT staff even knowing there is a problem.

Visionary Storage

The main reason CooperVision has two ES7000 servers is disaster recovery (DR). One Unisys box sits at headquarters in Fairport, and the other is in the DR site 20 miles away in Henrietta, N.Y. Microsoft Cluster Services is deployed to cluster both machines in an active/passive node configuration. The active node (at headquarters) supports the ERP production environment. Located offsite, the passive node is divided into a 16-processor partition for the database and an 8-processor partition for the application. CooperVision uses log shipping from the production server to the backup server. Every 15 minutes, all transactions are sent across the network and applied to the offsite backup database.

"The clustering minimizes downtime in the event of a failure and avoids the need for manual intervention," says Manzo. "We use the log shipping to minimize data loss in the event of a major disaster. We will, at most, lose 15 minutes of data.

An EMC Symmetrix DMX1000 storage array was added in December. It holds the transactional database as well as two business continuance volumes (BCV's). The DMX1000 replaced a Symmetrix 3930 array that could no longer contain all the data. In addition, CooperVision has two smaller EMC CLARiiON arrays. They serve as SAN space for numerous applications, including data warehouse and Baan test servers.

"The Baan database is about 2 TB right now," says Manzo. "In addition, there are two mirror copies of the database, a data warehouse on a CLARiiOn CX500 box, which comes to about 500 GB. In total, our storage environment comprises about 8 TB."

The company backs up all of its data weekly using an ADIC Scalar 1000 along with Legato backup software. Manzo states, however, that overly long backups are consuming most of the available maintenance window.

"This is making it difficult to do needed database maintenance," he says. "That's why we plan to purchase a backup-to-disk system in the next month."

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