At Arrow Electronics Inc., identifying the right platform was the key to building out a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and it involved sticking with IBM Corp. but moving off the mainframe.
The Melville, N.Y.-based electronics products and service provider has nearly 12,000 employees with sales of $13.6 billion in 2006, so finding the right platform for its ERP software -- which handles order management processes such as order-to-cash and purchase-to-pay -- was no small task. Currently the ERP system is an internally developed application suite on the company's z/OS mainframe, but Arrow wanted to deal with a third-party vendor that could handle upgrades, bugs and fixes.
Arrow decided on Oracle Corp. for its database management and E-Business Suite ERP software. And it decided to run it on IBM's Power6-based System p servers. Oracle E-Business Suite 12, its most recent version released early this year, is not supported on z/OS or Linux on System z.
"When you think about running an Oracle [database] environment on z/OS, there's no problem running the database environment," CIO Vin Melvin said. "But that's not a standard platform for running Oracle E-Business Suite."
The company bought seven Power6-based System p 570 servers of various sizes to handle production and development database environments. Three of them have 16 dual-core Power6 chips, with six CPUs active and the rest available for demand spikes. The remaining four servers have eight Power6 chips -- three active and five in waiting. Some Oracle applications will also be hosted on Intel-based HP blades running Red Hat Enterprise Linux.IBM not a foregone conclusion
In Arrow's case, it wasn't the Power6 processor that drove the company to the project. Plans for migration were already a priority, and Arrow believed that System p was the best platform for the move.
"As much as IBM would like me to say that, I just needed the additional capacity for this production environment we're building," Melvin said, "the timing was good, the horsepower was attractive."
And sticking with IBM wasn't a given. After deciding to move off the mainframe, Melvin and others assessed platforms based on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Sparc and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Intel Itanium chips.
But IBM's roadmap for the Power chip made Melvin feel secure. "I have some uncertainties with Sparc, some questions about what that roadmap will look like in the future," he said. "Itanium is a valid platform, but it would have been a re-platforming for us in that environment, and I felt that IBM, on one piece of silicon, looked to be in a leadership role."
Five years ago, Melvin's decision might have been much different, because of Oracle's historical ties to Solaris. "For some time, they were primarily a Sun-first environment," Melvin said, adding that recently, IBM, Oracle and HP have invested heavily to get Oracle apps working on their hardware platforms.
Where does that leave Arrow's old mainframe? In a rather tenuous position.
"It's a very good question," Melvin said. "At this point in time, we're moving the ERP application off the mainframe. More than likely, we'll probably move away from that architecture as we move forward in time. But moving a long-term legacy environment off z/OS isn't something that happens overnight."