Automated Backups Give Client Weekends Back

By Sharon Linsenbach  |  Print this article Print

IBM VAR Vision Solutions helps Nicholas & Company implement a state-of-the-art data center that automates backup, eliminating the sys admin's practice of manual backups on a Saturday night.

Russ Erickson is thrilled to have his weekends back. 

The system administrator for food distributor Nicholas & Company used to spend about six hours every Saturday night at the office, backing up Nicholas & Co.'s servers. But with the help of IBM VAR Vision Solutions, Nicholas & Co.'s new state-of-the-art data center combines energy efficiency, storage, an enterprise communication system and a high availability (HA) and disaster recovery solution that eliminated the need for manual backups and lets Erickson enjoy his Saturday nights.

Nicholas & Co. is a mid-sized, 500-employee food distributor serving the Western U.S., says Erickson.  The company's seen double-digit growth over the last few years, but until recently there wasn't a very good way to ensure data was properly stored, secured and backed up.  Not only that, but at least six hours a week of downtime was a given, Erickson said, since that's about how long it took him to take the systems offline, back up the data, check the systems for problems and then get everything back up and running.

Working with IBM Premier Business Partner Vision Solutions, Nicholas & Co. completely revamped their data center, allowing for automated backups, energy savings and a host of other business productivity enhancements. 

For Vision Solutions, an IBM Premier Business partner, the solution they implemented for Nicholas & Co. was pretty standard, says Alan Arnold, EVP and CTO, Vision Solutions.  But the difference it has made in Nicholas & Co.'s business is anything but ordinary.

Vision Solutions consolidated Nicholas & Co.'s 12 separate white box servers onto IBM BladeCenter HS21s, part of the IBM BladeCenter H platform, which is designed for SMBs for server consolidation and virtualization, says Scott Tease, Product Marketing Manager, IBM BladeCenter.  Erickson also runs VMware's virtualization technology on the IBM HS21 blades to increase efficiency.

In addition to the BladeCenter H platform, the company’s new data center also includes an IBM System i 525 server that provides storage for the BladeCenter system and also runs the corporate Web site, intranet, extranet, the company’s e-mail system and a new VOIP system, Erickson says.

The hardware and the implementation were pretty standard, but the technology was specifically designed for SMBs who needed to address high availability shortcomings and lower energy costs.

"We make sure the base hardware is as energy efficient as possible by starting with general customer requirements and limitations, and then working backwards," says Tease.  For example, if a customer can only provide 4 Kilowatts of power to each rack, IBM and its channel partners must offer customized solutions based on those limitations, Tease says.

"We want [customers] to have the most efficient option possible for the energy envelope they are trying to fit within," says Tease. 

The new data center hardware not only helped reduce Nicholas & Co.'s energy usage, and eliminated downtime windows, but increased server capacity and enabled a host of other business productivity enhancements, including a unified enterprise messaging system, a more robust Web presence for the company and a VoIP system.

"As we made this commitment to hardware, we noticed we had some extra power capacity when we installed the new servers," Erickson says.  Because of the extra computing power and the reliability of data backup, storage and recovery, Nicholas & Co. also decided to bring their formerly hosted e-mail and Web services in-house, and now also run a Lotus Domino e-mail server which powers LotusNotes and Sametime enterprise communication capabilities. 

"Now, all our customer facing information and communication is all in house, which makes uptime that much more crucial, since ensuring user uptime is now our responsibility," Erickson says.  He says the new data center also eliminated the downtime for remote and home-based employees who often worked weekends and odd hours, and allowed them to be more productive. 

"The elimination of downtime windows was huge.  They used to have to gather all the data, take it all offline, move that data and then test to make sure everything is safe before it could come back online.  That took as much as six hours, sometimes twelve to eighteen.  Now they can run backups in parallel, and it takes less than an hour."

While the time savings was great for Erickson, it also improves Nicholas & Co.'s ability to respond to customers. 

"If a Web site is down, customers don't wait.  If you can't help them, they'll go somewhere else, especially in this business with ordering, shipping and distribution," Arnold says.

Now, while Erickson says he is thrilled with the capabilities of the new data center, he's even more excited to spend Saturday nights with his two children instead of at work.

"I can't say enough good things about it.  It just feels great," he says. 
Sharon Linsenbach Sharon Linsenbach is a staff writer for eWEEK and eWEEK Channel Insider. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, Sharon was Assistant Managing Editor for CRN, a weekly magazine for PC and technology resellers. Before joining CRN, Sharon was an Acquisitions Editor for The Coriolis Group and later, Editorial Director with Paraglyph Press, both in Scottsdale, AZ. She holds a BA in English from Drew University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her significant other and two neurotic cats. When she's not reading or writing about technology, Sharon enjoys yoga, knitting, traveling and live music. Sharon can be reached at Sharon.Linsenbach@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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