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Nucleus Dramatically Improves Query-Response Time for CN

Published
  • July 01 1998, 1:00am EDT

PLATFORMS: The Nucleus system is implemented on an HDS 5780 Intelligent Storage Subsystem, incorporating a 64-bit RISC processor/controller and Hitachi RAID 5 storage subsystems.

BACKGROUND: Canadian National Railway (CN) is Canada's largest railroad system, and the sixth largest in North America with revenues of $4.4 billion (Canadian) in 1997. It operates 14,500 route miles of track across Canada and 750 miles in the United States. The company has about 22,800 employees.

PROBLEM SOLVED: CN was in the process of building a data warehouse, but could not resolve data structure complexities fast enough to meet the management information needs of a newly restructured company with a strong customer-service focus. CN encountered many problems related to validating new business rules and consolidating data from different sources. The only way to resolve these problems--and the only way to respond to ongoing management information needs--was to write programs to extract and validate data from new and legacy systems. It was a slow, resource-consuming process. Nucleus helped CN bridge the information gap. It allowed for instantaneous answers to marketing queries before the data warehouse was ready. It saved hours of manual coding that otherwise would have been needed to extract and analyze data from new and legacy systems. And it accelerated the process of modeling data for the warehouse.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: CN uses Nucleus to validate and understand the content of various systems and to test relationships between systems, which has helped accelerate the data modeling process for their warehouse. Nucleus is also used for data exploration--one-off queries that will never end up in the managed query environment of the data warehouse. An example could be responding to special information requests from government or regulators--such as, how much rail traffic has CN run throughout the province of Ontario this year? Nucleus is also used to build and drive their new intranet application that gives management easy access to information about who in the company is generating revenue and how.

STRENGTHS: The product's principal strengths are the ease with which it lets you load and query data from disparate systems. CN's data originates from our DB2 warehouse, legacy IDMS systems and other non-MVS sources. This data can be loaded onto Nucleus without any extensive data modeling and is immediately ready for data queries. The other major strength is the speed with which Nucleus can provide answers to queries regardless of which fields are being queried.

WEAKNESSES: Nucleus had two minor weaknesses, both of which have been addressed by Hitachi Data Systems. The documentation needed more detail. HDS recently launched a Web site that resolves this by providing more in-depth information. The other is that Nucleus was not yet SQL 92-compliant, which meant that, in some infrequent instances, CN needed to write two or three queries when one might have been sufficient. (It should be noted that the multiple queries still complete in a small fraction of the overall time required with SQL 92-compliant approaches.) SQL 92 functionality will be provided in the next release of Nucleus.

DELIVERABLES: HDS claimed that Nucleus would allow for easy loading of data from disparate systems as flat files and then use SQL queries to get the answers CN needed--in seconds. The test Nucleus system came up with the same answers CN had already validated using alternate technologies--and it typically produced them in about 10 seconds compared to many hours!

VENDOR SUPPORT: Hitachi Data Systems is very responsive and provides excellent support, scrupulously honoring the four- hour call-support contract.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation needed more detail. HDS recently launched a Web site that resolves this by providing more in-depth information.

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