Escalating administrative costs, e-mail downtime and related user frustration, and the logistical nightmares associated with running 400 NT servers prompted a major insurance provider to investigate an alternative server architecture in 2000.

While the migration effort from Domino Notes and e-mail applications from over 50 NT servers to two IBM iSeries Model 820s took over a year, the Houston-based company is now reaping the benefits, from cost savings to server stability.

To gain some insight on why and how the global insurance company approached the migration project, I spent time with Bob Larkin, the consultant who directed the client installation and upgrade.

What prompted the migration
Larkin’s client, who declined to be identified for this article, had 1,500 field sales staff members accessing Lotus Notes via laptops, and up to 6,500 total e-mail users online at any given time. The firm had long been a major user of NT servers and, at one point, had over 400 NT servers in use in its server farm.

Having so many independent servers proved an enduring logistical nightmare when it came to keeping databases, e-mail, and software patches in synch, Larkin said, and the setup also demanded a rather large staff of NT administrators.

When the client made the decision to look for alternative solutions, it called in a variety of hardware and software vendors. In the end, it was IBM and Lotus working together that resulted in the migration from 50+ NT servers to two iSeries Dedicated Servers for Domino. As the company already had a couple of iSeries Model 170s and a couple of older AS/400 S20s in-house, some staff and users were already familiar with the iSeries, Larkin explained.

iSeries series: Part 3

This is the third and final installment of a three-part series about IBM’s iSeries technology. The first article, “Is IBM’s iSeries the right choice for your enterprise?,” examined the pros and cons of the iSeries, and the second article detailed the advanced features developed in 2001 for the iSeries.

In December 2000, when the two iSeries Model 820s were brought in-house, the company began the task of migrating Notes to the iSeries. This nine-month process was completed in September 2001.

During this time, a number of actions were taken in preparation. The in-house NT administrators and support staff were sent to IBM’s Rochester, NY, training center to gain hands-on experience in migrating to and using Domino on iSeries. (The training is available to any iSeries shop interested in learning about a new technology on iSeries.) Larkin said that the admins only needed to learn about six or eight iSeries commands, mostly relating to backup and recovery and starting and stopping the Domino server on iSeries. Otherwise, all the Domino commands were the same.

The migration effort
During the migration effort, the two iSeries Model 820s were configured to allow the Domino Server to split the workload and allow each iSeries to act as a hot spare for the other. Also, the team migrated Lotus Notes 4.6, which had been running on the NT farm, to Notes 5.0. Migrating the current Notes applications and e-mail occurred without incident, as it was a matter of dragging and dropping data from the NT Server box to the iSeries.

Since December 2000, the iSeries Model 820s have experienced just two incidents of unplanned downtime—one caused by human error and the other by a faulty UPS backup device. During both outages, the users were back online within minutes by failing over to the hot backup, according to Larkin. In prior downtime scenarios, e-mail outages often lasted for hours, he said.

In fact, in the 13 months since the Model 820s have been on-site, the company has experienced less than an hour of unplanned downtime.

Larkin said his client has seen benefits in several different areas, including cost savings arising from increased system reliability and quicker and easier backup efforts. The admins only need to apply PTFs (Program Temporary Fixes, the term IBM uses for system patches) every few months and then only to two boxes (the primary and the hot spare). They’re able to save all the Domino and Notes data at the same time via IBM’s Backup Recovery Media Services product and a single tape library.

Should the company ever need to expand the new server architecture, Larkin believes it will be an easy effort due to iSeries’ scalability—a much different scenario than contending with 50 independent NT servers, he pointed out.

The company featured in this case study declined to reveal the costs of its migration. But to provide some perspective, a small iSeries server, such as the Model 270—featuring 17.1 GB of mMirrored DASD, a quarter-inch tape drive, and a 100/10 MBPS Ethernet card—costs an initial $18,000, although that price tag could be reduced by standard discounts, a possible rebate, or by other sales incentive programs that come into play.

Don’t like the iSeries?

In this series, we’ve discussed the benefits of the iSeries’ new functionality and how and why one company made the migration. But if you feel that the iSeries is missing something, we’d like to hear about your experience. If we publish your story or insight in a future article, we’ll send you a TechRepublic coffee mug. Write and tell us the downside you see in the iSeries or share your opinion with members by starting a discussion.