Advantage Drives Modernization, Reduced Costs and Increased Efficiency
Panasonic Corporation is one of the largest electronic product manufacturers in the world. It makes and markets a wide range of consumer and business products under the Panasonic brand including televisions; audio equipment; digital still and video cameras; telephones; notebook PCs; home appliances such as microwave ovens, air conditioners and washing machines; office communications systems; high speed scanners; medical imaging systems; environmental systems and industrial products such as motors, fans and compressors.
In the UK, Panasonic is headquartered in Bracknell, Berkshire, with its National Logistics Centre located in Northampton (Panasonic Logistics Company).
Prior to establishing its centralized warehouse and logistics center in Northampton, Panasonic UK maintained several warehouses across the country. To manage these warehouses, the company originally developed a custom warehouse management system—a 16-bit DOS-based application—built on a Clipper database.
With the consolidation from three warehouses to one, new business requirements and the emergence of newer technologies, Panasonic Logistics Company realized it needed to upgrade its warehouse management system and its database. That would involve using Delphi to port its existing code and data to a Windows-based environment and use a more feature rich, high performance, flexible, scalable, low maintenance and cost-effective database. Panasonic chose Sybase’s Advantage Database Server for its proven ability to meet the demands of this critical role.
Database Selection Critical to Project Success
“Our original warehouse management application was not written for the Northampton warehouse,” explains Glen Mason, IT manager at Panasonic Logistics Company. “It was created by System Solutions Logistics Limited as a custom application because we had a number of specific requirements that were dictated by the fact that we managed the distribution of Panasonic products across the UK as well as products for a number of third party customers. Panasonic and each of its third party customers had particular requirements regarding the processing of customer orders, product picking, shipping, customer notification and so on.”
When Panasonic decided to consolidate its three warehouses into a single facility in Northampton, it had around 10 applications running against its Clipper database. As a consequence of this complexity, moving to a client server architecture in a Windows-environment would involve transitioning from the old to the new architecture over time, while running both systems in parallel against a single database. That made the selection of the right database even more critical.
“We knew we’d be running in parallel for some time,” says Mason. “We also knew that the first step in this transitioning process was to get all of our data on the same database. Then we could prioritize the porting of our applications over time without interfering with the running of the warehouse management system because everything would be running against the same database.”
Advantage Makes Transition Easier
Panasonic looked at several database options. These included staying on Clipper, moving to Oracle or Sybase Advantage Database Server. Among the key criteria that led to the choice of Advantage Database Server were its price, performance, scalability, zero maintenance and the ability for developers to easily convert existing Clipper DBF tables to Advantage ADT tables as the transition progressed. Because the company was also facing an ambitious timetable for this initiative, Advantage’s ease of installation was a major selling point.
“From a developer’s point of view,” says Peter Keel, developer at System Solutions, which developed the warehouse management application, “it was very helpful that the old table-driven methods used in the development of the original warehouse management application could still be used within the new Windows-based environment and with Advantage Database Server. We decided to use Delphi and were quickly and easily able to migrate the 16-bit Clipper system from DOS to Windows, then move parts to SQL over time. Advantage made it much easier to manage the transition from old to new technology as it supports both in parallel—we found the Advantage TDataset very useful too. Advantage’s scalability, from a single user to the 50 or 60 concurrent users working on Panasonic’s system at any given time was also very attractive to us.”
Advantage Database Server is a complete, high performance client/server data management solution for standalone, networked and Internet database applications. Advantage allows application developers the flexibility to combine powerful SQL statements and relational data access methods with the performance and control of navigational commands. The ISAM and SQL engines of Advantage provide the best of both worlds through fast and easy integration to existing systems, to enabling the migration to a full SQL RDBMS providing the latest database technology. Advantage has native development interfaces designed to leverage developers’ existing knowledge of popular development tools. Using optimized data access, Advantage provides security, stability and data integrity with zero administration.
Additionally, with no mandatory configuration requirements, Advantage is easily installed on existing network infrastructures, delivering client/server performance, stability and data integrity that today's mission-critical business applications require—at a cost structure businesses demand.
“We Haven’t Found Any Other Database That Can Deliver The Same Cost Performance Benefits We Get From Advantage”
To further increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of its system, Panasonic decided to reduce its hardware footprint and cost through the use of virtualized servers.
“We have various Advantage databases on site,” explains Mason. “We have a live database containing about 40 gigabytes of data that runs the warehouse, a standby database for use in the event of a failure and various smaller test databases. These all run on VMWare virtual servers on a Windows 2003-based physical server. This provides us with the flexibility to allocate the required number of CPUs and amount of memory to each database, as they don’t all require the same resources. One of the great things we’ve found with Advantage is that as long as the discs are configured correctly for optimum performance for the database, Advantage runs very well on low spec hardware.
Also, going from the physical server back end we used to have with 20 physical servers, to a virtual server approach running five or six virtual servers, has enabled us to downsize from four racks of servers to just one, which translates into significant cost savings.”
Panasonic’s current Advantage Database Server-powered warehouse management system is capable of handling multiple processes (some 30 executables run against the database) at a very reasonable cost. The system has numerous interfaces to other systems including Panasonic’s SAP business system, warehouse crane, fork-lift and mobile systems and to its third party customers’ systems. To integrate Advantage with the additional SAP business systems, System Solutions wrote a custom SOAP server and client which enables XML data to be sent and received between Advantage and the SOAP server. The SOAP server then integrates with the SAP XI Integration Server, which provides an interface with the SAP IDocs used by the SAP applications.
As Panasonic’s logistics business has grown over recent years, the main database, containing live and archived data, has grown at about 20 percent per year. This has not been a problem however, as Advantage has scaled to accommodate this growth. Because of increased real-time reporting requirements, the company is planning to deploy a reporting server, enabling those who need to run reports to run them against a replicated Advantage database without impacting the performance of the live transactional database.
Mason acknowledges that the company has looked at other databases over the 13 years it’s been running Advantage, but says, “We haven’t found any other database that can deliver the same cost performance benefits we get from Advantage. We don’t need a DBA on site to manage it. By choosing Advantage Database Server over other platforms, I've estimated the up-front cost saving would be in the region of $77,000 through savings in hardware, software, licensing and training costs. Ongoing, the saving per year are as high as $300,000 from DBA salaries, support and hardware maintenance costs. In addition,” he says, “I can’t remember Advantage ever crashing. We’ve never had an issue with the Advantage engine. And that’s what you want—for your products to be there when you need them and to perform as advertised. We’ve experienced that kind of performance and reliability for 13 years now, so there’s absolutely no reason for us to look for something else.”