La Curacao, a $220 million Hispanic-oriented department store chain, says it has solved its performance problems, boosted reliability and added ample capacity for growth by converting its main transaction and application servers from Novell Netware (a proprietary OS) and Microsoft Windows, respectively, to Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise.
Eryk Szachniewicz, software development manager for the Los Angeles, Calif.-based chain, said the 25-year-old company began shopping for new IT systems in 2006 after concluding the existing Netware transaction servers were too slow and too close to capacity and its Windows application servers were too unreliable.
"When a main server crashes, we have 2,000 users waiting to get back online," Szachniewicz said. "It's very unpleasant."
La Curacao's two clustered transaction servers, only one of which is active at a time, are the heart of the 100-server system for the ten-store chain in California and Arizona. Collectively, they process more than 25 million transactions a year, including sales, inventory and accounting, he said. The transaction servers, which back up one another, in turn are linked to two application servers and the EMC Clariion CX 500 external storage drives, which house La Curacao's InterSystems database. The servers themselves are the operating engine that performs the actual processing.
Prior to its Linux conversion, La Curacao had three 32-bit servers running Netware at 80% to 100% capacity, resulting in persistent transaction delays, Szachniewicz said. Yet the Netware OS couldn't scale any larger and adding more Netware servers would increase complexity, so the retail chain had to consider other options, he said.
La Curacao evaluated other platforms including Unix (too expensive), Windows (too unstable and virus-prone), Red Hat and other Linux distributions, he said. Moving from Netware to SUSE Linux also kept La Curacao at Novell and made it something of a poster child for Novell's plan to migrate old Netware users to SUSE Linux.
"We had a lot of security problems with Windows, worrying about viruses that required rebooting at night with no support," and Linux performed 30% better than a Windows 2000 server in preliminary tests, Szachniewicz said.
Ultimately, La Curacao made the leap from proprietary to open source products, selecting SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, based on cost and familiarity with the vendor, he said. La Curacao's InterSystems database runs better on SUSE than Red Hat and SUSE's graphical user interface for the cluster makes it much easier to see what's going on, he said.
Another advantage of moving to open source was the ability to add complementary open source components such as Heartbeat cluster management and monitoring and Logical Volume Manager for storage allocation changes at no extra cost, Szachniewicz added.
While migrating to open source, La Curacao also replaced its two Windows application servers with SUSE and converted from 32-bit servers to 64-bit Hewlett-Packard ProLiant machines. The newer hardware increased memory and improved performance, enabling the retailer to reduce the number of transaction servers from three to two, Szachniewicz said.
The conversion from Netware went smoothly and took about two weeks. Because La Curacao had no in-house Linux expertise, the retailer hired Santa Barbara-based Novacoast, a Novell Premium Partner, to perform the actual migration from Netware to SUSE and set up automated scheduling with the right timing, Szachniewicz said.
"They did a very good job here and helped us to understand what they were doing," he said.
La Curacao staff, in turn, accelerated the transition process by developing application drivers that could communicate with both SUSE and Netware databases within EMC storage simultaneously. This, in turn, enabled La Curacao to convert data from Netware to SUSE in two hours per table, one table at a time, which was much faster than creating multiple logical instances, he said.
La Curacao saved at least $150,000 in software and hardware costs by choosing open source software and buying four 64-bit, x86-chip servers that fit its needs rather than more expensive RISC processors or mainframes, Szachniewicz said.
The new servers are only at 12% capacity, which will enable La Curacao to add more stores without straining the system, and could perhaps extend their lifespan from the normal two years to five years, he said.
From an operating perspective, SUSE is very stable, performance is good and the system is very secure, Szachniewicz said. Users are very happy with it because the response time is faster and the system basically runs itself, freeing the IT staff to do other tasks instead of rebooting the servers at night, he said.
"We don't need to baby-sit any more," Szachniewicz said. "You can see what's going on with the processors and space and you don't have to do anything. It's maintenance free. I love it."
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