Boating Extranet Sets Sail
Brunswick Corp., one of the largest manufacturers of pleasure boats in the world, is in the business of leisure. Improving and streamlining vendor support while reducing costs for Brunswick Boat Group, the pleasure-boat division of Brunswick, is Jason Beckers business.
Last year, Becker (pictured on left), manager of client applications for Brunswick Boat Group, was asked to provide an extranet that would begin to tie a growing number of Brunswick Boat brands together to provide common services online. To reduce costs and maximize the companys return on investment, Becker chose to implement an extranet, called Compass, using IBMs WebSphere technology on Linux.
The move to Web services has dramatically changed the way vendors, partners and suppliers communicate with Brunswick Boat Group, which accounted for 79 percent of its parent companys total sales in 2001. The Lake Forest, Ill., enterprise has reduced the amount of time it takes to process a boat warranty from 90 days to as little as seven days. The extranet is also enabling an increasing number of Brunswick Boat Group brands to process warranty claims online, which will reduce costs and streamline customer service.
"We went into this project looking for significant cost savings," Becker said. "But we are also concerned with performance, and what really drove us in this direction was also redundancy, stability and failover capabilities of WebSphere on Linux."
As Web services standards mature, experts say an increasing number of enterprises are willing to incorporate them into their IT infrastructures. And, with Linux becoming an increasingly common platform within enterprises, its natural for the open-source operating system to play a larger role in Web services deployments, according to Chad Robinson, an analyst at Robert Frances Group Inc., a research company in Westport, Conn.
"We have seen a notable increase in customer interest in deploying Web services in Linux," Robinson said. "Vendors such as IBM and Oracle [Corp.] continue to push Web services on Linux and are successfully convincing customers to consider Linux as a deployment target."
When Brunswick Boat Group began planning its Web services strategy, Becker initially considered extending an existing extranet to include all boat divisions. He decided against it, however, after realizing it would be faster to recode applications in Java and use Web services to extend business tools and applications already in place on an IBM iSeries server outside the corporate firewall.
Becker and his team of nine IT managers decided they wanted to use Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition and Java. They began looking at platforms including Microsoft Corp.s .Net, BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic and IBMs WebSphere. With all Brunswick Boat Groups back-end applicationsincluding DB2 Universal Database Version 7.2already running on an IBM iSeries Model 840 powered by IBMs OS/400 operating system, Becker decided WebSphere would give him the fastest return on investment by reducing development time and allowing him to reuse capabilities.
"IT executives should partner with vendors that have a strong track record in both Web services and in open source," said Robert Frances Groups Robinson. "Web services deployments must be planned carefully. Even if an open-source product such as Linux will be part of the plan, some components such as application servers will likely be commercial."
Today, more than 6,500 individuals representing more than 500 boat dealerships access the Compass extranet, which went live in August 2002. The extranet was built using WebSphere Application Server Enterprise Edition 4.0 on Intel Corp.-based servers running Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.2. Although the company did not have much experience with Linux at the time, Becker said the operating system provided Brunswick Boat Group with everything it needed, including user-friendly interfaces and tools.
"One of our priorities is availability and stability, both of which Linux really provides," Becker said. "Now that Linux is the platform recommended for WebSphere, we ended up being pretty well-positioned."
WebSphere Studio Application Developer Integration Edition 4.0 was used to build applications including boat warranty registration, online training, boat order entry, inventory information and parts manuals. Users access the extranet through Web browsers via any standard Internet connection, and authentication is handled by Domino 5.10s LDAP services, from IBMs Lotus Software division.
Whereas it used to take weeks for Brunswick employees to enter information into computer systems after dealers mailed or faxed warranty claims, it now takes fewer than 10 days for transactions to be processed online. Brunswick Boat Group has realized much of this time savings because the company has been able to use Web services to redefine critical business processes by taking the business logic in its iSeries programs and extending the programs online, Becker said.
Although Becker is currently looking at the features in WebSphere Application Server Enterprise Edition 5.0, he said he is not planning an upgrade at this time.
"Right now, were extremely stable, and our uptime is above 99 percent," Becker said. "Of course, we keep reaching for 100 percent. But right now, with that kind of stability, were very happy."
When Brunswick Boat Group upgrades to the latest version of WebSphere, Becker said he will probably upgrade to IBMs Lotus Domino 6 for e-mail and collaboration at the same time. He is currently testing some internal applications on Domino 6.
In fact, Brunswick Boat Groups deployment of WebSphere on Linux has been so successful that the company is planning a migration from Intel-based servers to a Linux-based IBM eServer iSeries server environment over the next year. This move will allow Becker to carve out space on the iSeries to put the extranet on the same server as its applications and thereby maintain stability.
The iSeries currently supports Brunswick Boat Groups original boat manufacturing system and the IBM DB2 database. The DB2 database stores more than a terabyte of data and helps Brunswick Boat Group manage all the manufacturing data required to run the companys boat plants.
Becker said he intends to add a logical partition on the iSeries to support the testing and eventual hosting of the front-end WebSphere server platform. Hes also considering using IBMs WebSphere Edge Server 2.0 to balance the load between the two servers and provide failover capabilities.
"We feel like weve had such great success with Web services on Linux that were ready to take it further," Becker said. "Were planning a lot of big projects and will continue to extend our Web services."
eWEEK Labs Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at email@example.com.