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Saudi Company for Hardware (SACO)

"This disaster recovery design has made our recovery process a lot easier, which gives us peace-of-mind. We don't use any third-party tools – just Replication Server with its hot-standby replication technology."

Raed Ayyoub
IT Director

Exemplifying the Unwired Enterprise, SACO, the Saudi Company for Hardware (SACO), uses Sybase technology for data management, disaster recovery and a mobile warehouse inventory system.  With Sybase ASE as its core OLTP system, SACO employs Replication Server to synchronize data – allowing store managers to react immediately to pricing, inventory and product information changes.  Leveraging the speed of data replication, SACO deploys a SQL Anywhere-based wireless, handheld inventory management system immediately receiving activity reports from its retail stores. The Sybase technology suite has improved the company's overall inventory, pricing and product-information management processes and will support SACO's planned expansion.

SACO, Saudi Arabia's largest superstore and an authorized dealer for Ace Hardware, needed to find a faster way to replicate data among its 15 retail stores, headquarters and warehouse locations. The company also needed to deploy a more reliable disaster recovery plan. SACO found the answers to both challenges in Replication Server, which copies data in real-time from headquarters and the warehouse to the retail stores providing up-to-the-minute inventory and pricing information. Replication Server also copies data immediately to on-site and off-site data recovery servers.

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Key Benefits

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A Growing Superstore
The Saudi Company for Hardware (SACO) is a pioneer in the hardware retail and wholesale business in Saudi Arabia. Established in 1985, the company is the largest superstore and the most innovative firm in its field throughout the country. As an authorized dealer for Ace Hardware, SACO also has the buying power to import the best quality merchandise from all over the world. Presently, 14 SACO retail outlets operate in nine cities in Saudi Arabia along with wholesale offices that offer comprehensive services and deliver items direct to customers. The company employs approximately 1,000 people and features more than 60,000 hardware items.

As the company grew rapidly over the years with the addition of new retail stores on a regular basis, SACO needed a reliable and stable solution to process data and manage communications among all the branch stores, headquarters, and the company's main warehouse. With stores located across a wide area of Saudi Arabia, SACO especially needed to manage pricing, inventory, and product information more effectively to ensure proper inventory shipments from headquarters to the stores and from store-to-store. With its previous replication solution, data replication sometimes took as long as one to two hours. As the company grew and as the size of the database grew, it continued to take longer to replicate. SACO needed a faster way to copy data to properly manage all of the inventory, pricing and product information changes that occur across an operation of this size.

Synchronizing Data across a Distributed Environment
To take on this challenge, SACO turned to Sybase Replication Server, which the company found to be the perfect complement to Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE), the database platform that SACO deploys at headquarters and at each of the retail stores. Highlighting its success in mission-critical environments, Sybase provided numerous examples of large enterprises that successfully rely on the Replication Server.

"Sybase spent significant time with us to understand our business processes and business operations before recommending Replication Server," says Raed Ayyoub, IT Director for SACO. "We would have had to switch our database platform if we went with another replication product, and given how well ASE has performed for us, this simply did not make sense. Replication Server also has a good track record of success in demanding environments, so we felt confident it would protect the transaction integrity of our data."

Replication Server instantly sends updates to-and-from each of the SACO stores so that the main database in the headquarters can process every piece of information about the company including products, customers, accounting, purchasing, vendors and inventory. SACO also uses Replication Server to immediately communicate information about changes to promotions, prices, and item features.

"With the information replicated from the head office to our stores in real-time, we do a better job of running our business profitably and serving our customers more effectively," Ayyoub says.

When SACO began using Replication Server, Ayyoub noticed an instant improvement in replication speeds: "Replication occurs automatically and instantaneously without degrading the performance of the database," he says. "We don't have to intercede manually, and any changes made at headquarters appear immediately at our branch locations. This helps with new promotions so that we don't have a time lag before the stores can put them into effect."

Each of the SACO stores replicates data back to the home office at end of each day automatically when store managers close-out the point-of-sale (POS) system. The data immediately appears at the headquarters' ASE database, aiding inventory management and efficiency. "We can react quickly to stock depletions and determine whether to ship new products from our warehouse or to move inventory from one store to another," Ayyoub says. It is also helpful to SACO that all stores can see changes at other stores when it comes to considering whether inventory can be moved from one store to another. Because of Replication Server, all branches operate from the same data set.

This real-time data replication also helps SACO manage its customer loyalty program in which customers earn points for purchases that can be used at any store. SACO can now properly track a customer that purchases from one store and a short time afterwards purchases at another store, which can often happen with contractors traveling from one site to another, particularly in cities where SACO has multiple locations. "This comes in handy with contractors that might purchase large quantities," Ayyoub says. "Before, we could not track this, and someone might be able to redeem points a second time that they had already spent at one of our stores."

Another example of just how reliable Replication Server would prove to be occurred just after SACO opened a new store and started the replication process. SACO headquarters lost the line connection to the store for an entire month. When the store came back online again, 1.2 GB of data needed to be replicated. But Replication Server handled the transfer quickly without any problems.

Improved Inventory Handling and Daily Activity Reporting
When the warehouse sends items to a store, SACO might ship as many as a 1,000 items. Before the deployment of Replication Server, the data would be locked-down for up to two hours while replication occurred, which meant store managers could not process the shipment data. The delay would often last beyond when the shipment arrived at the store.

"Now with Replication Server, data transfer happens instantly, even during month-end close, and we don't notice any system degradation," Ayyoub says. "Store managers can start processing the data and be ready to unload products when the shipment arrives. The combination of ASE and Replication Server moves the data that fast."

Senior management is also aware of how well the Sybase system performs. "We used to have to print hard copy reports on daily activity that each branch manager filled out by hand," says Ayyoub. "It took a day for the information to travel back to headquarters. But with Replication Server, we now complete reports online and replicate them back to headquarters immediately. This allows senior management to work with fresh numbers."

Enhanced Backup and Restore Process
After deploying the Sybase replication solution, SACO worked closely with Sybase Professional Services to design a disaster recovery plan. Sybase consultants helped SACO deploy a disaster recovery hot-standby server at its headquarters to which Replication Server instantly transfers copies of all data at high speeds. The Sybase Professional Services team also recommended that SACO deploy a second disaster recovery at an off-site location. Replication Server executes hot-standby copies to both recovery servers so that SACO has two replicas of its primary database server at all times.

"This disaster recovery design has made our recovery process a lot easier, which gives us peace-of-mind," Ayyoub says. "We don't use any third-party tools – just Replication Server with its hot-standby replication technology. Throughout the project, we had complete confidence that this solution was in good hands given the expertise and best practices employed by the Sybase consultants working with us."

With the new system, if the main server fails, SACO uses the Sybase switch-active feature within ASE so that the on-site disaster recovery server acts as the primary server while the primary server assumes the role of the replica. "They literally switch roles," Ayyoub says. "The process is very reliable, and any changes made during failover are replicated back to the primary server automatically when recovery occurs."

Supplying Uninterrupted Service Throughout Growth and Upgrades
As SACO has continued to grow its business at each store and add new stores to the chain, ASE and Replication Server have continued to scale well. Upgrades and hardware additions take place quickly without any problems.

"Upgrades with Sybase technology to accommodate company growth are very easy," Ayyoub says. "Even if we double the size of database, we'll be in good shape. When moving a database from one server to another, we just take the dump file and reload it. Other database servers require many more steps, but we were able to dump-and-load in just one night. Usually, a project like this causes a lot of anxiety, but when we moved the database over to the new server, the users never noticed."

Another feature of Replication Server that SACO benefits from is the way the technology checks for data integrity. If there's a problem with the data, the replication process stops immediately and notifies IT so the staff can fix the problem or override the stoppage. With the previous system, if a problem occurred during replication, such as when a record is not available on another table, the process would continue. This would create a bigger problem for IT and took longer to correct after replication.

Speed of ASE and Replication Server Leads to Mobile Warehouse Solution
The speed of transfer that occurs with Sybase ASE and Replication Server allowed SACO to deploy a new inventory management solution based on SQL Anywhere. "This system allows us to manage stock transfers between the main warehouse and stores using handheld devices at each location," says Ayyoub. "We could not do this previously when our data replication was slower."

Under the old system, when SACO trucks delivering new inventory arrived at a store, the inventory often could not be put on shelves because the inventory data had not transferred yet. But with the new mobile warehouse management system, and with Replication Server copying inventory changes instantly, this is no longer a problem. Stock can now be received and merchandised immediately. The solution has allowed SACO to be much more efficient in the way it moves inventory from one location to another.

The mobile warehouse solution uses Motorola Symbol scanners running on Windows CE with data transfer taking place over a wireless network. "We wrote a management warehouse system application using Sybase PocketBuilder," Ayyoub says. "Our employees capture inventory data with the devices, and the system processes vendor receiving while preparing the data for stock transfer."

The handheld devices interact with a SQL Anywhere server integrated with Replication Server so that all data entered into the handhelds is relayed to the appropriate store. This lets store managers know a shipment is coming and allows them to review data pertaining to the shipment. The individual stores use handheld devices with SQL Anywhere to automatically receive stock. "We can confirm when shipments are properly checked in," Ayyoub says. "We can also use our stock management discrepancy application for inventory control. All of this is made possible in real-time through SQL Anywhere and Replication Server."

Now that Sybase Replication Server technology has been in use for more than a year, Ayyoub can see just how much easier it is to manage data communications among all of SACO's locations: "We can now instantly share information – the Sybase solution has allowed us to become much more efficient in the way we manage inventory, product promotions and pricing changes. In the long run, this means we can provide a higher level of service to our customers."

With additional growth on SACO's horizon, the Sybase solution provides the ability to expand the network of stores, keep inventory costs in processes in check, and provide excellent service to its customers.  Concludes Ayyoub, "Our Sybase system – from data center to handheld devices –consistently delivers value and helps us to run our business effectively and efficiently."

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