Industrial supplier forges ahead with IT overhaul

Are your computers tough enough?

It was a sultry Australia Day long weekend in Sydney. A power surge caused the air conditioning in a new computer room to fail. The inside air temperature rapidly headed towards 80°C. One by one the Wintel fleet began to fall as the new floor tiles warped under the heat. The squadron of switches then went down as an infernal heat strikes the data centre. Finally, the last line of defence - the uninterruptible power supplies - were damaged beyond repair. Amid the chaos there is only one survivor - the mighty iSeries which came out of the chaos unscathed.

This war story may seem like a far-fetched fantasy, but it was all too real for industrial supplies group Inenco's IT manager Rick Masjuk who shared his experience with Computerworld this week.

Masjuk spoke about how two, iSeries machines continued to operate normally amid an airconditioning malfunction at its then-new disaster recovery centre.

"It got up to 75°C in there and the tiles had warped into the floor," Masjuk said. "All the Intel boxes died and we lost all the switches, but both the iSeries were happily chugging away. Even the UPSes had to be replaced."

Inenco, a long-time iSeries shop since the System 32 days of the 70s, will bring its twentieth iSeries machine online this week and, according the Masjuk, the company has all but mandated that core business applications must run on the iSeries because "the reliability is just amazing".

Inenco has experienced only two disk failures in five years, with one iSeries system running for six months before it was discovered.

"We are now exploring more capabilities of the box including using it for storage," Masjuk said. "We have six integrated boxes. The SAN uses the hardware of the iSeries and the disk access is quick and can do the Wintel backups on one tape."

The largest system in Inenco's iSeries fleet is an 8-way box which is required for transaction-heavy ERP workloads.

"The biggest problem with Wintel [boxes] is they are nowhere near as reliable," Masjuk said. "We have about 100 Wintel servers and would like to reduce that to 20 by June 2007."

Masjuk said Inenco had to buy Altiris to manage its Wintel boxes, which was a "pretty big capital outlay".

Inenco is a distribution company for bearing, power transmission, hose, fastener, and sealing suppliers. It has 11,000 employees, 170 branches, and head offices in every state. A total of 26 companies make up the group which is in "acquisition mode".

IT projects in the works

Inenco also has a number of significant IT projects in the works, including the move to Web services.

"Web services will allow us to work with the larger customers who are asking for it," Masjuk, said. "A lot of large companies, for example in mining, are moving to SAP so we want to be at the forefront when they are ready. We're evaluating different Web services products, because we don't want to write our own. We want to take our existing ERP system, IMAS/400, to Web services."

Although admitting Web services is "probably 12 months away" before it takes off, one partner, Onesteel, is heading towards it.

Inenco will have better stock visibility for its 130 distributors and eliminate a lot of the problems associated with EDI, including the amount of work required to manipulate data. Software from Attache, Lansa, WebSmart and WebSphere is being considered for the middleware.

Masjuk hopes to have the project completed by December and the new system will be extended to e-commerce if required.

Having just gone live with Neller's Preceda HR software on the iSeries last month, Inenco is now revamping its intranet, document, and knowledge management systems.

"We could sit down and write our own document management system, but we are looking for a 90 percent fit," Masjuk said. "Nexus from BCD Software runs native on the iSeries and lets end users build their own portals. We will have rules for archiving and publishing so users, not just IT, can make it their own."

A test site will be launched in September and the project is earmarked for completion by the end of the year. Now, every branch has a Wintel server where the documents are stored.

The knowledge management system will also be consolidated and integrated with the Nexus document system.

"The present knowledge management system is local to people but not easily accessible by others," Masjuk said. "We are looking to centralize it so all the engineers around Australia can access the information. There is a lot of duplication around the organization."

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