Infrastructure innovation on show in awards

Trade Me, Foodstuffs Auckland and Honda finalists in the infrastructure innovation category

Infrastructure innovation is not always about simplifying the infrastructure. The finalists in Computerworld’s Excellence in Infrastructure Innovation category may not have made their environments less complex but they had made significant wins when it comes to system robustness, time and cost savings.

One of the finalists, online auction success story Trade Me, implemented solid state storage for core databases to avoid bottlenecks and keep the website running smoothly.

The second finalist, Foodstuffs Auckland, installed a new, New Zealand bank compliant electronic payment system that can run offline, so its stores can keep trading even if there is a network outage.

Honda, the third finalist, built infrastructure to enable transitions from the old system to newer Web 2.0-type systems, without abandoning or rewriting existing systems. While the new architecture is slightly more complex than the previous system, the application development infrastructure has been enhanced.

Solid databases at Trade Me

Serving three billion pages every month requires an infrastructure that can service data requests quickly. Trade Me realised that the growth of its website could easily result in a bottleneck scenario as more and more database requests were made, says Dave Wasley, Trade Me’s head of infrastructure.

Peak traffic times were putting significant load on the underlying storage, and the existing platform was under pressure. Something needed to be done to ensure the ongoing performance of the site, says Wasley.

Trade Me’s Solid State Storage and Database Performance project involved implementing solid state storage for core databases.

The project, which was supervised by head of database management Matt van Deventer, spanned three areas — database, storage platform and development, says Wasley.

The core technology the project relied on was a product from Texas Memory Systems — RAMSAN, a solid state memory. This was the first time this technology had been used in New Zealand, as far as Wasley is aware.

A RAMSAN was installed alongside the existing disk storage array at Trade Me’s two datacentres.

The busiest parts of the database, which are hit when users access the site, were moved on to the solid state platform, explains Wasley. Overnight batch-processing was also moved to it. This resulted in a significant reduction in the time it took to run these processes, he says.

The project did not simplify the environment, says Wasley. But the life span of Trade Me’s primary storage platform has been increased and the performance of the site improved.

Foodstuffs keeps the tills ringing

Foodstuffs Auckland has implemented a customer electronic-payment system that provides EMV (Eurocard, Mastercard and Visa) compliant Eftpos to members of the Foodstuffs co-operative.

The existing system had to be replaced so that it would comply with changes in banking requirements, and the company saw this as an opportunity to improve the system, says Malcolm Paul, general manager of Information Management Solutions (IMS) at Foodstuffs Auckland.

The aim was to provide a highly reliable, affordable, New Zealand bank compliant, and efficient payment system, to be deployed across 140 separate businesses and about 1,000 individual Eftpos terminals, says Paul.

With the new network, called Collect, the supermarkets keep trading even if the connection to corporate headquarters or a Telecom exchange is lost. They can keep trading even if the ETSL goes offline, he says.

In the past, if the company had been unable to take customers payments for any reason the store had to be closed, says Paul.

The system has already proved its worth, he says. Last year, a major Telecom outage that lasted for hours did not affect Foodstuffs’ stores. The system switched over to the backup automatically, he says.

Similarly, an ETSL network failure just before Easter impacted on all stores, but the offline mode of the system allowed the stores to keep trading during this busy period.

Honda goes online

Honda’s HIS (Honda Information Systems) Web Enablement project is an application architecture project that has revolutionised the company’s applications development, says Simon Gould-Thorpe, CIO of Honda New Zealand.

The project’s objective was to establish an “applications infrastructure” that would provide a viable migration path to web-based systems, without significant investment, development downtime, application team attrition or degradation of service, he says.

All of Honda New Zealand’s core applications run on an IBM i-Series (AS/400), and the company has a huge investment in RPG business applications, says Gould-Thorpe. The infrastructure project aimed to find a path for transition to the newer Web 2.0-type systems, he says.

The company has now created its own internal web services for both RPG and Java business processes.

This new infrastructure allows Honda to utilise the best-suited technology for each application, says Gould-Thorpe. The result has been easier use of function-rich applications, as well as development staff becoming more motivated, and reduced time and cost of development, he says.

While the underling architecture is slightly more complex than the previous system, the application development infrastructure is far more agile and productive, he says. The development team is producing more modular reusable code, and the ability to prototype, test and develop full blown sub-systems is far more efficient than before, he says.

This new architecture has proved to be more beneficial than anticipated, Gould-Thorpe says. Honda can now involve more developers on a single project than ever before, giving them the ability to present information “in ways we never dreamt of”, he says.

Three key projects have already been delivered using the new architecture, and two of these are already producing returns on investment, he says.

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