REVIEWER: Van L. Rownd, VP of information services for Railcar Management, Inc.

BACKGROUND: Railcar Management, Inc. (RMI) provides its own transportation and revenue processing software for the railroad industry. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, RMI has nearly 500 clients, which include about 70 percent of the Class 2 (regional) and Class 3 (short line/local) railroad companies. Its AS/400-based solutions facilitate railroad companies so they can move their railcars across the U.S. from railroad to railroad and process the revenue that is associated with railcar handling. The company, which is an application service provider (ASP) and a business service provider (BSP), rents its software for a license fee. About 90 percent of its clients, each with its own database, use RMI as their complete data center.

PLATFORMS: RMI has 12 AS/400 processors at three data centers in Atlanta with redundant telecommunication lead with fiber optic connection to all locations.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Should the system go down, RMI clients could face the following scenario: A train comes down a railroad track. The system is working and they receive everything by EDI. They've admitted the train and are ready to send it out, but the computer goes down. The next railroad doesn't know the train's coming. They don't know where it is on the line, and the engineer doesn't have any printed report to account for the cars he's transporting.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: RMI implemented Vision Solutions Vision Suite to maintain high availability for its AS/400-based solutions. It offers its clients two levels of data availability. Level one provides the mirroring of each client's database to a second processor within the same location, providing a reliable level of business disaster and continuity services. Vision Suite keeps our customers' downtime to an absolute minimum. Should a processor go down, Vision Suite allows us to switch the railroad to a backup processor within minutes and they're up and running. RMI also offers a level two service, which mirrors the railroad not only between two processors, but also two locations. If one location should go down, users can be switched to one of the other locations, ensuring constant uptime.

STRENGTHS: The key strength of the Vision solution lies in its powerful role-swap capability. The biggest reason systems have to come down is for maintenance. Instead of taking a machine down for eight hours to do a software upgrade or repair, we simply call the users and tell them we're going to swap them from machine A to machine B. They sign off at 1:00 a.m. and are right back on at 2:00 a.m. We're able to come in the next day, take the machine down and perform the maintenance.

WEAKNESSES: For this implementation, Vision Suite has two shortcomings, but these can be easily worked around. Vision Suite currently does not support reorganization of files. Also, there is no "soft" sync of user profiles. To mirror the user profile, they first save it to one system and restore it to another.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Because it services an industry that runs 24x7, is acutely time-sensitive, and gravely conscious of precise trafficking and safety measures, RMI recognized that a high-availability solution was needed. Railroads run in a 24x7 world, and when we would take them offline for eight to ten hours, it was a disaster.

DELIVERABLES: When Vision Suite was installed, our customer satisfaction increased 1,000 percent, and that was just with level one. When we offered level two, our customers were ecstatic.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Vision Solutions has provided RMI solid technical support. When technical issues arise, Vision Solutions is willing to help with rapid, above-average support.

DOCUMENTATION: The users' manual is concise and effective, complete with numerous illustrative examples to guide users through the general maintenance process.

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