REVIEWER: Dave Guillotte, director of technology service for Staples Inc.

BACKGROUND: Staples is a $7 billion retail business with over 1,000 superstores and 44,000 employees. It is the leading retailer of office supplies, furniture and technology to consumers and businesses, offering more than 30,000 different items through its superstores, catalog, e-commerce and contract divisions.

PLATFORMS: Staples currently has 12 HP 9000 V-Class, 12 HP 9000 K-Class Enterprise Servers, and several N- and L-Class servers installed as a HyperPlex running the HP-UX operating system.

PROBLEM SOLVED: In 1997, Staples had numerous UNIX vendors and a burgeoning number of servers. It needed to increase availability and minimize downtime, both planned and unplanned, and make enterprise-wide data readily available for decision support. Additionally, it wanted to reduce costs by consolidating applications and reducing the number of servers and IT vendors.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The new IT infrastructure featuring HP 9000 servers increased users' access to databases, created development and quality assurance environments that didn't previously exist and reduced the physical number of servers to support. Choosing larger, higher-end platforms enabled us to consolidate applications on the same box while meeting our users' needs. Today, we are able to use Process Resource Manager (PRM) from Hewlett-Packard to prioritize workloads and development requirements while maintaining the service levels expected by our users.

STRENGTHS: Stability and upgradability must be considered two of the most important strengths of HP servers. Beyond gaining increased performance and manageability, Staples also gained a new level of availability. In the past, updating or upgrading legacy servers invariably caused problems, including unscheduled outages. Since moving to HP 9000 Enterprise Servers, we have upgraded hardware multiple times, performed operating system upgrades and application upgrades without causing unplanned outages. We basically have reduced costs from outages to nil.

WEAKNESSES: Although symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) systems are stable and upgradable, they share a trait common to all SMP systems regardless of vendor: a certain degree of inflexibility. SMP systems, as their name implies, require symmetry. Each processor in a system must be identical in every way to every other processor in the system. The fact that you cannot customize processors for the many different types of work typically done on large systems could be viewed as a weakness.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Staples set out to identify and select a "tier-one" vendor known for high product quality and turnkey support. We needed an experienced vendor who could work with us at solving our business problems, rather than just supply high-performance equipment for low dollars. After making a detailed comparison of all our existing UNIX vendors, we chose Hewlett-Packard.

DELIVERABLES: Implementing HP OpenView Network Node Manager 6.0 to monitor some 1269 nodes on our network allowed us to replace our satellite network with a large frame relay network. This, in turn, will allow us to put more intelligence into our retail stores, everything from kiosks for special order systems to other in-store systems that allow us to better manage the stores. HP Critical Systems Support, a suite of proactive and reactive services, provides hardware, software and network support for critical systems. An operational readiness review that HP conducted gave us a good overview of where we were, and it helped us prioritize improving the service levels on specific servers. Our data warehouse plan will reengineer our existing marketing and decision support data mart. When the transition is complete, the marketing data mart will hold close to one terabyte of data and, combined with analysis tools from SAS, will enable us to quickly run highly targeted promotional campaigns. A separate labor scheduling decision support data mart allows Staples to manage the deployment of labor in its stores.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Staples contracted with HP support for consulting services to assist in the migration from the legacy environment. An HP support person has been on site nonstop, basically acting as an extension of our staff and an expert on the systems themselves, giving guidance in some of our more high-profile projects. When Staples wanted a new call center system in the United Kingdom, HP helped install a new server running SmithGardner's Mail Order application in only two weeks. The solution cut the cost per transaction by half while also reducing maintenance costs.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation was more than adequate. I won't say that you could run the servers "easily" using just the documentation provided, but it would be possible to run them with that as your only resource.

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