Explosive growth can quickly fall from boon to burden if an IT infrastructure is not prepared to manage and properly back up the rising volumes of data being stored on multiple servers.
Having seen its business skyrocket from 85 stores in 1994 to a projected 1,400 stores and two e-commerce Web sites by 2007, Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. is well-versed in growth-related IT challenges. Meteoric rises in business size spanning new facilities, new software and hardware, greater numbers of employees, and longer working hours can wreak havoc with an antiquated IT system.
"When I joined [in 1994], we had three people in IS; last year we had 58 people, and well be adding another 22 people," said Ron Ehlers, vice president of information services for Anaheim-based Pacific Sunwear. "Now were planning to be a 1,400-store company. Thats one of our challenges—in addition to running a day-to-day business—to make sure we have robust-enough applications and infrastructure in place to support the growth we envision."
Pacific Sunwear is a shopping-mall-based retailer offering two primary venues from which it sells its Teens apparel, shoes and accessories. The company has more than 700 PacSun and 80 outlet stores featuring surf-and-skate-oriented items. By contrast, its 100 d.e.m.o. stores offer urban concept and hip-hop-influenced apparel and popular fashion items.
Ehlers said the PacSun.com online presence produces about 14 times an average stores business. Pacific Sunwear plans to launch its d.e.m.o. e-commerce Web site by next summer. In total, the retailer expects to reach $1.25 billion in sales this year.
"One of the biggest challenges we have is keeping up with our growth and making sure we have the capacity and technology in place to support the business as we reach each of those major milestones of size and complexity," Ehlers said.
Having seen his corporate computing ranks swell in the last decade from 30 users to nearly 400, Ehlers is running a mix of hardware and software including Solaris, IBMs RS/6000 and some Intel Corp. systems.
At the time, Pacific Sunwears antiquated Veritas Software Corp. tape backup system was incapable of properly backing up all the disparate file servers in production.
"As we had grown, we had just attached tape drives to all these servers, and it was becoming unmanageable and unreliable to back up each night. It was becoming very difficult," Ehlers said. Compounding matters, facility operation times were being extended, shrinking backup time frames from 12 hours to just 6.