Server solution stemmed dairy producers woes

The spiralling cost of maintaining desktop PCs to ensure there was enough power and capacity to support newer versions of software forced the IT manager of one of Australia's biggest manufacturers of dairy products to seek out a server-based solution.

Guy Stokker, IT client services and communications manager at Pauls Ltd, which has 22 per cent of the Australian milk market, said there were major system performance problems trying to run new versions of software on inadequately configured PCs.

Since the introduction of SAP R/3 as the company's ERP solution in 1995, he said PC applications have become more sophisticated driving a greater need for processor speeds, system memory, disk space, operating system and network bandwidth.

Stokker said there was a continual process of upgrading PCs to address system performance problems, upgrading PC applications across the LAN/WAN and changes to the standard operating environment.

"Costs continued to mount and system administration tasks remained in a state of constant backlog," he said.

"The deployment of new program updates was time consuming and restricted because of bandwidth availability; we had a 20 to 30 per cent failure rate when it came to the installation of PC applications."

Late last year when SAP 4.6d was set to be rolled out Stokker said rather than upgrade PCs a decision was made to invest capital enabling all SAP clients to run on Citrix MetaFrame servers.

"Prior to the introduction of MetaFrame, every year we were faced with having to budget for the high costs in maintaining our desktop and notebook infrastructure; now we only purchase thin-clients instead of PCs and have an embargo on any new notebook purchases," he said.

Where desktop PCs were costing the company more than $2000 each for hardware alone, Stokker said thin-clients with 17-inch monitors are being purchased for $1250 each.

"From a performance perspective, the thin-client is much quicker to boot up over a WAN link," he said.

"The majority of our PCs are still running Office 95 with some on Office 97 and we have no intention of attempting to upgrade at a desktop level."

To support the 585 clients contained within the Pauls 30-LAN wide area network, Citrix ICA was initially distributed to all desktops using Microsoft Systems Management Server.

At the server end, six IBM NetFinity 3U dual processor servers, each with 2Gbytes of memory, were brought online with Citrix MetaFrame 1.8 for Windows NT Server.

A seventh NetFinity was brought online to function as a development server for prerelease testing of applications. For redundancy purposes all servers have mirrored disks, dual network cards and power supplies.

"With the Citrix load balancing services I estimate an absolute of 60 users per server; yet even when I have one of the servers fully populated I still have nearly a gigabyte of memory left and system utilisation running at less than 20 per cent," Stokker said.

While not providing an exact figure, Stokker said PC purchasing costs have been reduced by up to 50 per cent.

The next step for Stokker is to assess the feasibility of replacing Windows NT on the MetaFrame servers with the newer version of Windows server.

He said it includes Active Directory which is due for release at the end of this year.

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