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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

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.