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SAN delivers the goods to transportation company

Ruan Transportation Management Systems, Des Moines, IA, knows how to get things moving. As one of the leading providers of trucking, transport and logistical services in the country, its operations are in motion around the clock.

So when a corporate directive to improve IT processes came down last fall, the department wasted no time in getting started. Ruan's "New Horizons" initiative called for integration of its B2B systems and functions as well as great integration among Ruan's applications. "We want to be able to deliver rich analytics and decision support to our customers," said Vince Biddlecombe, vice president of technology and architecture for Ruan.

One of the major lynchpins to Ruan's effort is a 3 terabyte (TB) storage area network (SAN) it built recently, using equipment from Dell and EMC Corp. The SAN supports a Microsoft SQL Server database for backend applications, an Exchange cluster for Ruan's messaging environment and several other business-critical applications. The transport and shipping company also uses VisualSAN software to monitor, control and troubleshoot. And just for insurance, Ruan added network-attached storage (NAS) using Dell's PowerVault 770 server, attached to the SAN for file sharing.

Ruan will tap the new capacity to serve about 2,000 internal and external users across Ruan's three major business lines:

  • Truck leasing
  • "Dedicated

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  • carriage" a way for enterprises to outsource transportation vehicles, equipment, drivers and risk to Ruan
  • Supply chain management and logistical services.

The company, with 2002 revenues of $750 million, sees these New Horizons initiatives for IT and storage as key to expanding revenue and its 41-state geographical base.

And multiple terabytes of storage are what are necessary to leverage Ruan's systems, applications, databases, analytics and storage into a cohesive package to attract customers and give the company a competitive advantage. Already Ruan has activated a carrier portal for external customers to access service information and shipment status. There's also a new online carrier scorecard as well as data warehousing and analytics systems improvements, and a new PeopleSoft enterprise resource management (ERP) applications.

Biddlecomb explained that Ruan's backups -- about 100 GB -- are done once daily. But that may change once the SAN is fully operational later this year. "For the meat and potatoes applications, daily backup is enough," he said. "But we'll be looking at the database backups to see if we need to do them more frequently."

In addition to faster backups and improved application performance, Ruan expects its new SAN to be enormously helpful for snap mirroring -- taking a snapshot and using it in one of Ruan's test environments. "We do some of our development offshore, so our developers their have ability to take copies of the database," Biddlecombe said.

Between acquisitions and growth, Ruan finds itself in a multivendor environment for servers and operating systems. It operates about 200 servers, mostly from Compaq, a few from Dell and some legacy IBM RS/6000s and AS/400s. In addition, the company runs .NET, SQL and Unix on those servers, which at least till now has made backup and storage a little more complicated, according to Ruan's CIO, Roy Cashman.

"We have a fairly fragmented structure and with all those servers and a lot of direct-attached storage, we ended up with a lot of management issues and overhead," Cashman explained. The new SAN helps alleviate those issues. "We like it when a file can be read by both .NET and Unix, but sometimes it has to be extracted and read into another database. The SAN will take out that additional step, and with that kind of mirroring it permits more creative data stores and better backups," he said.

In addition, Ruan is looking to SANs as a means to make analytics available across all its applications, Cashman explained. "As a supply chain player, we have to take orders, send them to manufacturers, have carriers tell us how shipments are moving; send analytics to carrier for on-time percentage," he said. Linking all of Ruan's databases more tightly and adding analytics on top of them is really the driving force behind the recent storage upgrades. And that should get Ruan and its customers much closer to some new horizons in transport and supply chain management.

For more information on Ruan Transportation Management Systems visit its Web site.

Additional information on Dell can be found here.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC:

>> Save your SAN: Secure your LAN

>> Looking at the cost of purchasing SAN/NAS storage

>> EMC SAN tool eases data copying process

This was first published in April 2003

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