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KinderCare's storage grows up

KinderCare needed a way manage its storage needs to better process enrollment and payment data.

When many people hear the name KinderCare, they think of snacks and naps and runny noses. Few would likely think of a frame relay network running on high-end Hewlett-Packard servers that power a company with more than 28,000 employees at 1,161 locations in 39 states.

Four years ago KinderCare Learning Centers Inc. in Portland, Ore., already operated a predominantly HP environment with two HP 9000 G70 front-end servers running its Center Support System (CSS) application. This CSS application stored enrollment lists, contact names, all charges and payment data, and the names of teachers and directors. An HP 9000 T500 server controlled the local HP disk storage for KinderCare's data.

The system, with operations then based in Alabama, could only handle 300 concurrent users. That was a problem when users across the U.S. tried to log onto it around the same time to enter enrollment and payment information. During the first weeks of new school years, when each of the more than 1,100 centers tried to enter the data, the network slowed to a snail's pace. Other system usage -- including batch processing, application development and systems backup -- knocked users off, limited how many centers could log onto the system and slowed the network down to a crawl.

"We needed a way to tune our network for one day a week and three weeks a year," says Leslie O'Donnell, senior director of systems engineering at KinderCare.

In 1997 the company's corporate parent decided to relocate KinderCare's central offices to Portland, Ore., and refurbish its IT operations to better handle its growing needs. It first upgraded its front-end servers, consolidating the front-end servers onto one HP 9000 K420 (later upgraded to a 9000 K570) and eventually replaced the backend HP 9000 T500 with an HP 9000 N4000. KinderCare also added an HP SureStore E Disk Array XP256 for its ever-expanding storage needs.

The XP256 fit well into KinderCare's HP environment, O'Donnell says, and, unlike some other arrays KinderCare considered, it didn't require a call to the vendor to make changes in the storage array. "It was important to us to be able to control it ourselves," O'Donnell says.

"KinderCare is a surprisingly high-tech operation, especially for a daycare business," says Marlo Haring, the HP account manager who oversees the KinderCare account. "They needed to unify and simplify some disparate pieces and the new additions let them do that."

The old network was particularly hampered by high numbers of concurrent users. O'Donnell says her group had to set artificial user limits because KinderCare's enrollment programs were such CPU and disk hogs.

Application developers could also adversely affect the system. When testing new applications and tinkering with programs, they didn't have a simple way to use stored data without clogging up systems. To change this, O'Donnell's team also added HP's E Business Copy XP to create nearly instant copies of active data volumes for use by other applications and systems without interrupting current workflow. Now application developers can use Business Copy to tinker with recent chunks without affecting the system's responsiveness.

"Using Business Copy has allowed us to cut data replication time from around six hours to about 12 minutes. Closing payroll now takes around 30 minutes instead of hours and restoring the system using the previous night's backups now takes just minutes," O'Donnell says. "As you can imagine, it's a night-and-day difference."

For additional information about KinderCare, visit its Web site.

For more information on HP, visit its Web site.

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