Mike’s Hard Lemonade squeezes IT infrastructure

It’s one of the more popular beverages Canadians reach for when the temperature rises, and when Josie Bradley entered the world of Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co. a little more than a year ago, thirst for the popular cooler was growing

faster than its IT system could keep pace.

As vice-president of Information Technology, Bradley is responsible for the systems that run parent company The Mark Anthony Group, which also distributes fine wine and imported beer. Last year, as the Vancouver-based company saw revenues grow to $350 million, it also witnessed a significant hike in the number of users on its IT system.

It was increased demand for the popular Mike’s Hard Lemonade line that translated into added pressure on the manufacturing and distribution side of the business. In her first year, Bradley saw the number of users on the system double from less than 200 to 400.

“It’s just an indication of what the business is doing — it’s growing like crazy and we’re scrambling madly to try and support it,” said Bradley, who decided it was time to simplify the network of 19 servers that sprouted up during the company’s growth spurt.

Bradley decided it was time to move to one, more powerful box, thereby reducing the number of servers she and her team would have to administrate.

The company has sales offices and manufacturing plants across Canada and the U.S., but all IT functions are centralized in Vancouver, with the exception of a few file servers in the remote branches.

“We didn’t expect the growth to be so quick,” said Bradley. “We expected it to come, but in a much more controlled fashion, so we were sitting here with all these new user demands for information, demand for a shop that almost never goes down and a very small infrastructure. We didn’t have the people in place, didn’t have the equipment in place.”

Faced with finding something to replace the current system, Bradley decided to invest in a technology upgrade that would grow with the company.

The choice was a Unisys ES7000 with16 processors (it can scale to 32) and Bradley migrated the company’s Unix-based ERP system to Microsoft Windows 2000 Datacenter server environment.

The server will also manage a business intelligence application that will be used to identify opportunities to increase beverage sales, reveal information about customer habits, buying trends and yet untapped markets.

For Bradley, choosing Blue Bell, PA-based Unisys came down to going with a vendor with a background in critical systems. “Typically, those are vendors that really come from a mainframe background. That was my big criteria,” she said.

Servers similar to the Unisys box are increasingly becoming a viable option to enterprise customers like Bradley, said Alan Freedman, research manager, infrastructure hardware, with IDC Canada.

“Whereas in the past companies wouldn’t have risked putting mission-critical applications on an Intel box necessarily, they would more likely go on a mainframe or Unix box. Now they have the opportunity and the ability to put such applications on a Windows box because of the built-in availability and reliability of systems such as the ES7000,” said Freedman.

But according to Freedman, just four ES7000 boxes were sold in Canada during the first three quarters of last year. The problem with the Unisys box is when it was first announced, “everybody and their brother was OEM’ing it” including Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and Dell.

“Now I believe only Dell is OEM’ing it. Compaq and HP said they were working on their own in the background, so it wasn’t the best press for the Unisys box. When those deals first came out it was fantastic press but then it was snapped away from them,” said Freedman.

For Bradley, a key factor in choosing Unisys was the ability to upgrade to the next level as the company grows.

“The way the box has been designed is that when we’re talking the next generation of chips – the 64 bit chips – we’re able to put that in without a forklift upgrade. So my processing power will be more than double what I’ve got now. So if I’m looking at it from a life span point of view, I’m counting on a minimum of four years,” she said.

The price range for the ES7000 the Mark Anthony Group purchased is between US$250,000 and $500,000. Unisys’ director of database server programs Jim Smith said there is currently a movement back to mainframe-type environments.

“There’s definitely a trend swinging back to a centralized environment – particularly with concerns about security and disaster recovery. Managing a larger server is an easier task and protecting them is an easier task,” said Smith

The ES7000 arrived at the Mark Anthony Group in October and select applications were rolled out such as Microsoft Exchange and active directory with others to follow this month.

“In some cases we’re already seeing the efficiencies. I won’t see the huge jump forward for another two months, but some of the things I see right now is just being able to keep up with the operating environment,” said Bradley. “Trying to keep anti-virus (patches) up to date is a big, big deal and especially when you find new threats every day you’re trying to keep up. Being able to do it on the Exchange side, on the mail side, on one box has been fabulous.”

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