REVIEWER: Marshall Gibbs, chief information officer at Information Resources Inc.

BACKGROUND: Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) provides market research to the consumer packaged goods (CPG) and healthcare industries. The company has approximately 4,000 employees worldwide, with revenues of U.S. $554.8 million in 2002. Its client list includes a majority of the Fortune 500 companies in the CPG industry as well as top retailers, brokers, analysts and others in the financial community.

PLATFORMS: Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition (64-bit version) and Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit) running on Intel-based servers, each with four 64-bit Itanium II processors and 32GB of RAM. Also using an EMC Symmetrix storage area network with 122 terabytes of storage.

PROBLEM SOLVED: One of IRI's primary services is an online analytical processing (OLAP) tool. Currently more than 23,000 users access the service, and approximately 500 million rows of new CPG data are received by the company every week, with 37,000 locations reporting sales volumes and prices for each of thousands of items sold. To meet these needs, the company developed its own proprietary systems, data formats and tools that manage raw data, analyze it and expose it for access through SQL Server Analysis Services by desktop applications such as Microsoft Excel or IRI's custom OLAP front end. This architecture met the company's needs for several years, but IRI needed to increase the scalability of its infrastructure to support continued business growth and new services.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: A single four-processor 64-bit server running 64-bit SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services delivers four times the capacity of a two- processor 32-bit server in terms of concurrent users and 10 times the capacity in terms of the number of customer databases that can be supported on one server. Query performance is roughly 3 to 5 times faster than in the 32-bit environment when data is retrieved from the storage area network (SAN) and roughly 60 to 360 times faster when cached in RAM. In terms of price- performance benefits, IRI can replace all 12 of its 32-bit servers ­ costing close to $140,000 altogether ­ with one 64-bit server that costs roughly 60 percent as much. The 64-bit option only requires four SQL Server per-processor licenses and one Windows Server 2003 license instead of 24 SQL Server licenses and 12 Windows Server licenses.

STRENGTHS: Deep integration with Microsoft Office is a key strength of SQL Server 2000. IRI's customers use Office applications to access, slice and dice the data; and SQL Server 2000 enables end users to use Office as their primary environment. In addition, the 64-bit OLAP environment is code-compatible with the 32-bit environment. Therefore, the labor costs associated with moving customers to the 64-bit environment are minimal.

WEAKNESSES: Because enterprise-class 64- bit computing is a relatively new technology, the main challenge in implementing this solution was overcoming the perception on the part of IRI staff that the Windows Server and SQL Server platform could perform as well or better in an enterprise environment as UNIX boxes. Because the SQL Server 2000 64-bit version is a relatively new environment, third-party tools and drivers are a little harder to find.

SELECTION CRITERIA: IRI had already selected SQL Server 2000 as a core part of its OLAP offering. Thus, migration to the 64-bit environment was all about enterprise-class readiness, scalability, reliability and capability. Full integration with Microsoft Office was also a key factor.

DELIVERABLES: Data is pulled into a SQL Server 2000 relational database through relational views. Multidimensional OLAP (MOLAP) cubes are built against a SQL Server database using SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services. Because of the added capability of the 64-bit migration, in the future IRI data will be pulled directly from multidimensional flat files into a SQL Server relational database; and the UNIX-based pre-build tier will be eliminated.

VENDOR SUPPORT: IRI was a participant in Microsoft's SQL Server Joint Deployment Program (JDP), part of Microsoft's overall partner training and readiness programs. As a result of this participation, IRI worked closely with the SQL Server 2000 development team at Microsoft before, during and after implementation.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is very good ­ all of the existing 32-bit documentation is relevant to the 64-bit environment, making the transition even more seamless.

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