Server Snapshots: HP in the Real World

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Mar 13, 2008

Drew Robb
Companies like AAA and its Canadian equivalent, CAA, have been bringing roadside assistance to vehicle owners for years. They, in turn, look to Campana Systems to manage the vast quantities of information that make it possible to service their clientele. To provide the level of reliability and performance to keep everything running well, Campana harnesses Integrity servers from HP (Palo Alto, Calif.) When it comes to roadside assistance, U.S. drivers often turn to AAA, and Canadian drivers turn to CAA. When it comes to managing the data behind this, these organizations turn to Campana, which looks to HP Integrity to drive its integrated information management system.

"You can achieve an attractive cost-performance with few changes by moving to Integrity servers," said Dave van Nierop, Technical Services Manager at Campana Systems (Waterloo, Ontario). "When run with HP-UX, it has an outstanding record of reliability and availability."

Managing Auto Club Systems

Founded in 1988, Campana's AXIS division provides an integrated information management system that helps auto clubs manage their vast memberships. It includes components related to travel, point-of-sale, membership and emergency roadside assistance, as well as financials. About half the auto clubs affiliated with AAA and CAA use AXIS, with more being added on a consistent basis.

With such a heavy load to manage, the company has been a confirmed HP 9000 customer for almost two decades. In fact, Campana also acts as a reseller of HP gear which it passes on to its own clients as the host systems for AXIS software and databases.

"We have been an HP 9000 user since the early '90s," said van Nierop. "We decided to move to the Integrity platform due to its superior performance and cost, when compared to PA-RISC. We began the move to Integrity in April 2005."

HP still offers some HP 9000 servers, just as it sells AlphaServers. But these platforms continue to exist mainly to satisfy its existing customers. As time goes on, it becomes harder to stay on such boxes as the investment of R&D is going into the Integrity platform running Intel Itanium 64-bit processors (IA-64)— and that's where HP wants its customers to go.

The data center at Campana contains some x86 servers running Windows Server 2003 and SUSE Enterprise Server 10. But Integrity is what dominates. The primary IA-64 development and support server is an Integrity rx2620 with 12 GB memory and two 1.6 GhZ Itanium CPUs. It is hooked up to two HP SureStore 2100 disk arrays and a Network Appliance (Sunnyvale, Calif.) iSCSI SAN. An Integrity rx1620 with 4 GB memory and two 1 Ghz CPUs acts as a disaster recovery server. It has its own internal hard drives. In addition, an HP 9000 rp5450 remains. It has with 3 GB memory, two 540 Mhz CPUs and its own internal disks. It is used as a PA-RISC test server.

At Campana, HP backed up its marketing promises with a relatively smooth migration from HP 9000 to HP Integrity. According to van Nierop, the hardware move didn't present any significant challenges.

"The only downtime we incurred was migrating programs and data from PA-RISC to Integrity, which amounted to about one day," he said. "The benefits were very much worth it — shorter report generation and batch job processing, as well as 50 to 60 percent savings."

Client-Side Integrity

When Campana rolls out software to its client base, it does so using Integrity host systems. Depending on the specific needs, these are HP rx2620, rx4640, rx6600 or rx7620 servers. Some customers use a separate Integrity server for disaster recovery. In the near future, Integrity blades might find their way into client computer rooms. Some customers, though, remain on the HP 9000.

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"Some of our customers are considering the new Integrity BL870c server blades in tight spaces where they need reliable, energy-efficient systems," said van Nierop.

The move to the latest HP Unix OS, in fact, was customer-driven. While Campana has been using HP-UX 11i for years, one customer demanded the latest version for a brand new Integrity server. Late last year, therefore, Campana tested v3 internally first before shipping it to the client site. As it demonstrated better performance and greater availability, the company decided to migrate its own Integrity platform from HP-UX 11i version 2 to version 3. This was achieved without requiring any changes in its core AXIS applications.

The latest version of HP-UX contains features that have enabled Campana to improve service levels at customer sites. Specifically, the auto-tune features of the OS enable the company to significantly improve database performance for the Integrity servers clients use. System administrators can also set alarms to prevent overconsumption of resources.

"We can create alarms that tell us when we've exceeded certain HP-UX kernel resources and tune the parameters without rebooting the operating system," said van Nierop.

Added Security and Support

The transition to the latest Integrity servers with the new OS version has also improved security. This includes system firewall capabilities and better patch management. Auto clubs can now verify the status of a member from anywhere using a secure VPN.

Further, the HP-UX Host Intrusion Detection System (HIDS) provides administrators with another tool to prevent attacks. Campana can use HIDS to monitor auto club servers for signs of intrusion. An Integrity rx2620 server acts as the host server for HIDS, with auto club Integrity servers as its clients. Detection templates have been tailored to suite each customer's security policies. As everything is centralized, this makes it much easier to manage potential threats.

"If we were to log on to each auto club server and check alerts/log files manually every day, it would become a monotonous, full-time job," said van Nierop.

These security upgrades have also helped Campana customers satisfy the requirements of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard. This standard covers Visa, Discover, MasterCard and American Express, which demand certain levels of protection.

Additionally, Integrity comes with improved support. This makes it easier to service clients — and sometimes makes life easier for tech support at Campana.

"In a couple of cases, HP technical support has phoned our auto clubs before they were aware of a hardware failure," said van Nierop. "Overall, Integrity has given us improved security, compliance, and greater computing capacity for revenue-generating applications and services."

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