Steely resolve

Algoma Steel Inc. manufactures 2.8 million tones of steel products per year, but when it came to its data centre a few years ago it didn’t have the strength to keep up with increasing storage requirements and demand for new applications

On top of outdated infrastructure, Algoma, like many of its counterparts in the ‘90s, was also facing tough times and had declared bankruptcy for the second time in 2002. Algoma went from approximately 15,000 employees in the ‘80s and ‘90s to 3,150 employees today-61 of which comprise its IT staff.

To help the company get back in the black, new CEO Denis Turcotte was hired to turn the company around. While Algoma currently earmarks six to seven million dollars per year for its IT budget, that was out of the question a few years ago.

“The money to spend on IT wasn’t there,” said Gary Disano, manager of operations infrastructure at Algoma. This probably wasn’t the best time for an IT upgrade but Disano, who has been with the company for 30 years, recalls the event that got things rolling.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was that we had a virus problem,” said Disano. “E-mail is a mission critical application now.”

Algoma’s remote location in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. was also another factor. The steel producer’s data centre was what Disano describes as a “hodge-podge” of hardware from IBM and HP. Algoma was running a z800 IBM server for its corporate communications applications that was better known by IT operations as the “etch-a-sketch.” “No two machines were identical,” said Disano.

By 2004, Algoma could no longer maintain its existing environment so it sent out a request for proposal to the vendor community to help it move to from IBM’s PROFS to Microsoft Exchange. Dell Canada won the bid and brought in its partner Buchanan Associates to design and implement a plan to migrate 2,200 users onto Microsoft SMS and Exchange running on Dell/EMC CX500 storage systems. Algoma currently receives between 50,000 to 100,000 e-mails per day, only 2,000 to 3,000 of which are valid e-mails that make it through its firewalls.

So far, Algoma has migrated over 900 users to Exchange with plans to add another 400 by the end of March. Remaining employees who do not have a PC at their workstation will be added last.

Algoma manages the Dell systems using Veritas software to do back-ups. The CX500 stores up to 36 terabytes of data with FC 2 drivers or 57TB with ATA. Algoma is currently using 4TB of storage capacity. Information is currently stored on tape libraries but Disano doesn’t rule out using discs in the future.

Disano said the main benefit of implementing the Dell systems is scalability. Algoma’s data centre in Sault St. Marie is currently running 91 servers, 57 of which are Dell boxes. With new e-mail and storage systems in place, Algoma is also now Sarbanes-Oxley compliant.

In addition to revamping its communications systems, Algoma in 2003 began looking for a new enterprise resource planning system, choosing SAP running on an Oracle database last year. The company has plans to launch human resources by April, cash components and order entry and accounts receivable by mid-May. For the remainder of the year, Algoma will work on how it will roll out phase three, which will deal with raw materials. Disano estimates the final storage requirements for SAP will total 4.5TB.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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