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.
Pacific Sunwear held a “bake-off,” bringing in a host of vendors to install their backup offerings on the retailers IT system to gauge product training and support for a month before deinstallation.
The winning software was IBMs Tivoli Storage Manager, which was demonstrated and provided by an IBM Premiere Business Partner, CCS Technology Solutions Inc. The policy-based disk product backs up data from a server to a few terabytes of storage attached to TSM by talking to clients on each server.
The created storage pool handles all server backups and reduces 50 separate backups into one master schedule. TSM technology enables Pacific Sunwear to perform change backup and image backup on a scheduled basis at night while taking care of disk-to-tape migration during the day without affecting service availability because a copy of the data resides in TSM.
Prior to the TSM solution, PacSun had to complete its tape backups each night and ship them off-site first thing in the morning, meaning that the latest version of its data would be unavailable for restore unless physically retrieved.
Now the retailer can perform disk-to-tape migration at its leisure the next day by copying data from the disk pool on TSM to tape without affecting online servers.
“With our intermediary disk solution, if we need to restore a single file of something, we have it available on disk so thats our first instance of restore. We dont have to wait for tapes to be called back anymore; tapes really are for disaster recovery now,” Ehlers said.
Ehlers declined to give specific cost-saving numbers, but he said reducing backup schedules from 50 to one master schedule frees up his employees to do other tasks and not have to handle, load or change tapes for 50 servers each night.
CCS helped Pacific Sunwear with testing, installing, configuring and evaluating TSM for its production environment. In addition, the Irvine, Calif.-based solutions provider helped the retailer deploy IBM storage components including eServer xSeries, ServeRAID Ultra SCSI Controller and IBM TotalStorage Expandable Storage Plus.
Currently, CCS is overseeing Pacific Sunwears server consolidation, for which it is adopting the IBM BladeCenter. It is also considering EMC Corp.s VMWare software virtualization tool to run multiple applications on a single server.
Ehlers said working closely with a solutions-based business partner can reap immediate dividends, especially in sidestepping costly errors.
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