PLATFORMS: AS/400, Windows NT running Microsoft SQL Server.
BACKGROUND: Headquartered in Richmond, British Columbia, London Drugs serves a population of more than six million people from 47 retail stores across Western Canada. To maintain the company's leadership position, London Drugs realized that they needed to provide instant access to vital business information throughout the entire organization. This entailed quickly and transparently transferring data regarding pricing, products and other important business statistics from new Microsoft SQL servers located in the company's stores to an IBM AS/400 at the corporate office, from stores to other stores and from the AS/400 to the stores.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: DataMirror's Transformation Server for AS/400 was first used to replicate data between two AS/400 machines at the corporate data center to load balance the two systems. Once it was proven in this application, London Drugs began to use Transformation Server to regularly replicate the data stored in ten separate databases on the AS/400 to the SQL servers in the stores. The SQL servers are now continually collecting business performance information about specific services and transferring the information to the AS/400. One such example is the company's photo-finishing services. The information received from the stores enables corporate level managers to get a clearer picture of the actual flow of the business by reviewing statistics such as the number of orders placed and picked up, and the quantity of orders requiring one- hour photo service versus overnight service. Transformation Server is also being used to implement a data warehousing application which requires transferring data from the AS/400 system to an SQL server in the corporate data center. Each week, audited sales data (which used to be purged) is funneled to the SQL server, providing a valuable data warehouse that provides information for evaluation and planning.
STRENGTHS: Compatible with the DB2/400 and Microsoft SQL Server platforms, Transformation Server provides easy integration with existing RDBMS components. The product supports bidirectional data transfers, enabling the simultaneous movement of data between the London Drugs retail stores and the corporate office. Its high speed ensures maximum data throughput and transparent operation. By supporting asynchronous operations, the software ensures the system will remain operational even if an SQL server at one of the stores goes down. Advanced replication and transformation functionality allows trouble-free, cross- platform data updates.
WEAKNESSES: London Drugs presents an unusual environment because the retail stores are remote and often do not have a local IT administrator. Because Transformation Server does not currently have a centralized administration capability, there is no easy way for the system administrator to monitor the remote sites. DataMirror is currently developing a centralized administration console.
SELECTION CRITERIA: It was essential to London Drugs that the middleware product selected could move data throughout the company at the DBMS level, not at the application level. By handling data replication at the DBMS layer, the software eliminated the need for changes to applications, which would have been disruptive to the entire London Drugs business operation. The system needed to be absolutely compatible with the DB2/400 and Microsoft SQL Server platforms and needed to support bidirectional data transfers. London Drugs also looked at the speed with which tables could be replicated, the ease of use and the flexibility of the solution. London Drugs found Transformation Server outperformed other products available.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Support from DataMirror has been excellent. The staff is very knowledgeable with respect to both the AS/400 and SQL server platforms.
DOCUMENTATION: The documentation was easy to understand and more than adequate for installation and understanding of basic procedures. More in-depth technical reference would benefit sophisticated users and reduce the training requirements for more complex application environments.
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