The Iroquois OnLine Ordering System
In 1998, Iroquois replaced its Oracle-based ordering system with a 4th Dimension/Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) application running under a Virtual Memory System (VMS). The application then used a Java Web-based interface maintained by an outsourced third party. When the outsourcing company went out of business, Iroquois decided to manage their own user interface.
Carl Moritz, the lead database administrator for Iroquois, explains the reasoning. "The outsourcing company was costing us $250,000 per year and any modifications we needed had to fit into their schedule," he said. "When they went under, we redeployed the system with a pure Sybase PowerBuilder interface delivered to our customers through a Citrix browser plug-in. This was a big cost savings with the added benefit that we now controlled our customer interface."
The VMS/Citrix version of the application, named Iroquois OnLine, was very stable and ran without interruption for 18 months.
VMS is a viable operating system, but past its zenith. VMS support was costing Iroquois $18,000 each year. An independent survey of Iroquois customers in 2000 gave the company a lukewarm ranking, largely due to the sluggishness of the interface. To reduce costs and improve system performance, Iroquois decided to move their application to Linux.
Linux Moves Into the Mainstream
Linux had emerged as a viable, state-of-the-art technology that continued to gain momentum. As far as system administration was concerned, Linux is Unix and far easier to maintain than VMS. Linux also runs on inexpensive hardware and was nearly free. Perhaps best of all, Linux is extremely stable and fast.
Iroquois had relied upon three Alpha/VMS machines and six application servers to their manage order volume. After converting to Linux, the same amount of work was performed with two inexpensive Dell dual-processor servers; one local, and one at their remote backup site. The number of application servers was reduced to two after rewriting the applications in Sybase PowerBuilder.
"We used to have to shuffle the VMS servers around to have enough capacity to edit and approve the transactions that came through en mass when the order window closed," Moritz said. "Now we can handle it with two systems that rip through the orders—customers place their orders and see them processed and approved by the backend server immediately. We used to have big backlogs on Fridays with customers scrambling to get their orders through and approved for the weekend—all of that is gone."
Across the board, Iroquois is seeing a ten-fold or better performance increase since moving to Linux. Moritz was surprised at the difference and thinks there are multiple reasons behind the logarithmic jump in performance.
"I attribute some of this to modern hardware, some to Linux being a lot thinner than NT or VMS, and some to the improvements Sybase made in ASE," he said. "The combination gave us a phenomenal performance increase. We have a report that took 24 minutes, which our operators must run before they can continue their work. The same report now takes two minutes. Administration tasks are even faster; a DBCC (database consistency checker) check allocation of a 2GB database that used to take 81 minutes now takes only five minutes. We are also seeing great compression: Our database that used to dump out at 1.8GB is down to 250MB. The Linux platform has given us an overall increase in performance of 10 to one."
The Iroquois customers saw both their backlogs and their frustrations evaporate. In addition to being much faster, the system was rock solid with no unplanned downtime. Satisfaction ratings, quantified by the yearly independent customer survey, pushed Iroquois' lukewarm ranking of 46th to fourth.
Replication Server Makes Iroquois Unstoppable
Absolute, 24x7 uptime is critical for Iroquois—the lights must always be on. Iroquois uses Sybase Replication Server to maintain a local primary server and a fully synchronized remote standby server for failover, load balancing, reporting and data validation.
Sybase Replication Server has won over Moritz. "When you failover cleanly, you know you have something good," he said. "We just did an upgrade earlier this year and everything worked with no downtime. We just flipped the primary location from local to remote without any problems. Nobody knew we were down. Sybase Replication Server has been a great tool to provide constant availability.
"We have had network outages, we have had the server go down, we have rebooted the server without shutting down Sybase Replication Server, and when things come back up it's as if nothing happened. At one point I had four copies of data across VMS and Linux platforms with two different versions of Sybase ASE and all the data was synchronized with no loss. You can't kill this product. Every time I see the Sybase Replication Server developers, I make a point of telling them that their product had absolutely no problems. There was nothing to tweak, no trace flags to set and no errors in the error log. Sybase did a great job with this product, and it really makes us look good."