Thiess upgrades hardware to lift performance

IBM puts in an aggressive bid

Risks associated with migrating data from one brand of server to another was enough to convince engineering and construction giant Thiess to stick with Sun when it upgraded its servers.

An unexpectedly large growth in staff numbers, on the back of some contract wins, caused a lag each month in batch jobs.

Thiess has doubled both profit and headcount over the last three years and desperately needed an answer to the drain on system performance.

The company had three, four-year-old Sun 3800 servers clustered, one running as an application server, one as the database server and the other as a spare.

In 2002, Thiess predicted an increase in headcount of 1200 to 1500 staff over the next three years. Instead, instead it topped 3000.

Thiess information systems manager Brett Milton said initial estimates of user growth were "a bit shy" as a "whole lot of project wins" quickly slowed existing systems.

Milton said the existing 2800 series servers scaled well, and ran a year beyond the expected depreciation date so it could have been much worse.

He said the upgrade went live in May this year and although the company stayed with Sun, IBM was aggressively trying to win the company's business.

Milton said the IBM offer was very attractive but involved too much risk.

"Signing to Sun was not a commercial factor in the end, the deal was very attractive but it was purely about the risk involved in moving from a Solaris/Unix backbone to AIS/Unix; it was an unknown scenario," Milton said.

"When we went to market we looked at IBM and it was very competitive and kept Sun honest, but at the end of the day the attraction to move was not there, because the risk in migrating data did not equal the rewards."

Milton said the end-of-month bottleneck made for a "scary" amount of background processes and the organization wanted a fair increase in performance in terms of back-end processes and batch jobs.

Thiess now runs one Sun Fire E6900 server with an UltraSparc4 processor running the Sun Solaris 9 OS. A second Sun Fire E4900 server works as a testing and development machine.

The system has more than 2000 users and, at times, 700 concurrent users.

Since going live, Milton said the company has improved batch processing times.

"Under the old system, we processed around 164,000 transactions for one particular batch process," Milton said.

"The number of transactions has now reached about 207,000 and despite the 25 percent jump in transactions, we now complete the job 30 minutes faster than before the upgrade."

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