BACKGROUND: Founded in 1945, London Drugs is a privately held Canadian company with retail stores across Western Canada. Headquartered in Richmond, British Columbia, London Drugs is widely acknowledged as one of the leading drugstore chains in North America.

PLATFORMS: DataMirror Transformation Server is installed on an IBM AS/400 and also on an NT server running the company's Microsoft SQL Server-based data warehouse.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As a technology-focused organization, London Drugs recognized in early 1996 that in order to maintain or enhance its leadership position, it would need to upgrade its technology infrastructure. London Drugs realized that in addition to hardware upgrades, it was also essential to identify software solutions that could support the company-wide need for instant access to business information. We recognized that it was strategically important to make business information more readily available, and to do this we needed to efficiently move data across the company. DataMirror Transformation Server has helped to provide this cross-platform capability.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: DataMirror Transformation Server provides the flexibility to easily move and continuously synchronize selected data between IBM AS/400 and Microsoft SQL Server databases ­ without the need to restructure or reprogram the applications that run the business. London Drugs initially used the DataMirror product to replicate data between two AS/400 machines for load balancing. Once it proved its value in that application, London Drugs began using it to regularly replicate the data stored in separate databases on the AS/400 to a SQL Server data warehouse located at the corporate data center. Sales data that would previously be purged from the AS/400 is now being funneled to a data warehouse that can provide our business analysts with a wealth of valuable information to use for their evaluation and planning purposes. Transformation Server is also being used to integrate pricing and product data stored on an AS/400 with Cascade Systems' SureCast solution. Recently Transformation Server was deployed to integrate an AS/400-based warehouse management system with NT-based materials handling systems for real-time picking and sorting. London Drugs views Transformation Server as enabling technology that provides the necessary flexibility to support other critical business applications such as inventory management. Transformation Server essentially opens up a world of possibilities for us, because it allows us to easily add new functionality as we need it. It really is an exceptionally powerful and versatile solution.

STRENGTHS: We find that the DataMirror solution allows us to provide better access to more meaningful data faster than ever before. Whereas previously it took weeks of effort to put replication functionality into our AS/400 system, now with Transformation Server it's simply a matter of hours. Transformation Server also allows us to complete data replication activities on a flexible time schedule. Not only can we replicate data in real time, but we also have the flexibility to initiate data replication at specific intervals (i.e., every 24 hours).

WEAKNESSES: In a multiplatform environment linking AS/400 and NT, a platform-specific interface is used. This can make the configuration and operation of the replication somewhat confusing. It's my understanding that this issue has recently been addressed with the introduction of a central Java-based and Web-enabled Enterprise Administrator interface from which all DataMirror replication activities can be managed and monitored.

SELECTION CRITERIA: London Drugs assembled a team of managers to establish formal selection requirements. The team determined that an ideal product would offer real-time performance to ensure maximized throughput, support for bidirectional data transfers, compatibility with DB2/400 and Microsoft SQL Server platforms, advanced replication and transformation functionality for cross-platform data updates and support for asynchronous operations to ensure the overall system would remain operational if one database is not available. More importantly, the team also decided that it was critical that we be able to handle data replication at the DBMS layer simply because changes to applications would have been very disruptive to our entire business operations.

VENDOR SUPPORT: When we need support we have found DataMirror's staff to be very helpful, sticking with us until the problem has been resolved.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is easy to understand and follow in day-to-day use. If and when we encounter situations not covered, we turn to the vendor support for answers.

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