Nisa-Today’s virtualises as it hits order capacity

Nisa-Today’s has successfully completed a core systems overhaul and virtualisation of some of its infrastructure on IBM Power5 servers to cope with rising order levels from the retailers it serves.

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Nisa-Today’s has successfully completed a core systems overhaul and virtualisation of some of its infrastructure on IBM Power5 servers to cope with rising order levels from the retailers it serves.

And two years after first embarking on the change programme, IT director Wayne Swallow said improved order capture and faster batch processing, coupled with better managed of systems capacity, meant the firm was now future-proofed against business growth projections for the next five years.

Swallow said the buying group first identified growing order volumes as posing a threat to its systems capacity two years ago, and drew up a plan to make improvements.

NISA-TODAY’S – TECH UPGRADE

5,000 stores served

24/7 retail order processing through Epos systems, website and call centre

Batch processing in the afternoon before orders sent out

IBM Hypervisor virtualisation - moved from IBM Power4 to 5 servers, and from AIX 5.1 to 5.3

VMware PC server virtualisation

Move from Oracle 9i to 10g database

It brought in service provider Morse to guide it on a series of changes which it finally completed a few months ago, after operations, user and cutover testing.

And Swallow told Computerworld UK the changes made have brought down order times and increased systems reliability, with order and batch processing both transformed.

Orders for retail customers come into the Nisa-Today’s systems 24 hours a day, but must be in by noon if they are to be processed for overnight delivery into distribution warehouses.

Each retailer’s order has to be processed in 35 minutes for the group to include them in the next day’s deliveries. Orders come in through a web application, as well as automatically through customers’ Epos systems which automate new requests when products are sold. Nisa-Today’s also has a phone sales team.

These orders are then ‘batch processed’ in the afternoon, meaning related transactions are grouped together and transmitted for processing by the same server array, before they can be sent out in lorries. For this, the company uses an Oracle Retek RMS product, as well as an order capture system.

“We do a lot of batch processing late in the day, including invoicing and credit. With this, and the large numbers of prices that change on a daily basis, the system needed to be more capable, faster and scaleable,” said Swallow.

To deal with the looming problem, Nisa-Today’s moved from IBM Power4 servers and to a Power5 array in one datacentre, which it virtualised using IBM Hypervisor virtualisation software, chosen for compatibility with the company’s IBM and Unix-centric server setup for order processing. VMware was brought in to virtualise the company’s separate Intel-based PC servers.

Nisa-Today’s also moved from an IBM Unix AIX 5.1 server operating system to version 5.3, which the company said helped with better scalability and reliability. As the server pool began to share processing, it could be used by applications on demand and have more capacity.

The firm upgraded its database from Oracle 9i to 10g, and moved its four terabytes of data over to the new system. Developers worked on an advanced partitioning strategy to enable better data control.

As a result of all the changes, access to the order capture system is faster for retailers, enabling them to more easily get in last minute orders before the midday cut off point. There is also less system downtime as the company’s technology is not operating at capacity any longer.

Retail order times were reduced to 10 minutes, over 20 times faster than before, and batch processing is two-and-a-half times quicker.

“We’ve future-proofed the systems, putting into place projections based on our business plan,” said Swallow. “We’re covered for the next five years, so in two and a half years we’ll start planning the upgrade for the following five years.”

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