Grocer gains efficiency on z9 mainframe

IBM's first publicized customer for the z9 is a grocery chain that operates 300 stores, as well as the supply chains for two other supermarket companies, powered by the new z9.

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After a three-year, $1.2 billion development effort, IBM rolled out its biggest mainframe ever in July. Now the first customers are starting to talk. And according to the first z9 customer to go public, Scarborough, Maine-based grocery chain, Hannaford Brothers Co., IBM over-delivered.

Bill Homa, senior vice president and CIO of Hannaford, is familiar with Big Iron. Hannaford had mainframes running for 30 years, he said. But, like most of the IT community, his company got sucked in by the allure of inexpensive Windows machines.

Homa ended up with four servers in every store, three Windows machines and one Unix, all needing maintenance and updates.

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"Cost on maintenance was the problem with remote servers. With three Windows servers in each store, it was a nightmare between patches, security and the blue screen of death," Homa said. "I have four people running my mainframes that run the entire business and I have seven people running my Windows group."

So, a few years ago, Homa started moving his scale-out server workloads onto a z990. "So basically we made our stores thin clients," Homa said.

And when the z9 came out, Homa moved the workload over to the new machine. "It took us half an hour to get our z9 up and running," Homa said.

Today, Hannaford is running a z990 and a z9 in two data centers, 10 miles apart. The machines are running parallel simplex for workload management and disaster recovery.

Homa said he's taken one Windows box out of each store so far and he's moved those workloads to the mainframe. But he also uses the mainframe for legacy COBOL applications. "Most of the legacy apps are still COBOL. Clerks scanning bar codes don't need graphics; they need data and sub-second response time," Homa said.

But what about the COBOL programmer shortage IBM is predicting?

"We've skirted the issue by doing all of our COBOL in India where there is virtually an unlimited supply. I can call and have 100 COBOL programmers working on a project tomorrow. There's no bottleneck," Homa said.

The z9 is also running new Java applications, including a vendor Web portal in which supply partners can access Hannaford's information through Tivoli's ID Manager.

"Proctor & Gamble may have 50 passwords to get into our systems," Homa said. "I think we have 800 vendors using our vendor portal. They get on our Web site for line item matching, scheduling truck delivery and checking prices."

Homa said these improvements in supply chain info, server consolidation and disaster recovery have made his organization nearly bulletproof, but he wouldn't have done it without the new z9.

"The only way we'd consider consolidating critical data from hundreds of servers onto one system was by choosing an IBM mainframe," Homa said. "By consolidating systems, thousands of employees -- including our warehouse specialists who listen to real-time picking and receiving instructions and sales associates who order product for the shelves using wireless handheld devices -- now have access to the same, up-to-date data, giving us a competitive advantage."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, Site Editor

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