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Steel company builds sturdy archive infrastructure

National Steel found a way to save disk space and improve customer service by implementing a new software tool.

One of the nation's largest manufacturers of carbon flat-rolled steel products puts great stock in its "customer-first" motto. For a number of years, the Mishawaka, Ind.-based National Steel Corp. offloaded nonessential data from its production database and stored it using customized archiving software that was written and managed in-house.

The goal was to optimize database use and meet customer response levels that were "pretty restrictive," said Bill Matts, the company's IT director. National Steel's strategy worked fairly well, although in recent years new demands have put a strain on performance. Data access became more challenging as the database grew. Keeping up with writing new archiving programs was getting costly and draining IT resources.

The coup de grace occurred after National Steel implemented a new suite of order-fulfillment applications. As the underpinning of the company's day-to-day operations, the new suite needed to have an archiving and storage tool that was robust and reliable. Because it needed many databases to touch across the enterprise, National Steel re-evaluated its storage needs and decided to find a way to optimize database size -- a key component in boosting availability to data.

About a year and a half ago, National Steel purchased Princeton Softech's Archive for DB2 software. The product is designed to help companies save disk space by removing historical data from production databases and storing it in an active archive, which then enables enterprises to browse and selectively restore data files as needed.

Matts declined to reveal specifically how much National Steel paid for Princeton Softech's product, but he says the cost was in the six-figure range. Even so, Matts says National Steel "saved hundreds of thousands of dollars" by purchasing the application.

"When we looked at the alternative to providing the same capability [as Princeton's product], we figure we saved about 80% of the cost of writing our own software," Matts says.

National Steel runs a number of databases that mostly serve internal users, many of whom provide some form of customer support. Speed and data availability were critical elements in ensuring high service levels. Matts says he also was impressed by the software's "Relationship Engine" technology, which is aimed at solving complex relational data-management problems.

"If we're running data out of 10 database files, this product enables us to do it reliably and with great data integrity," he said.

Since installing Princeton Softech's archiving product, Matts says National Steel's batch programs are running faster and more efficiently. In addition, processing time for applications that use table-space scans for database files have improved by about 20%.

The Princeton, N.J.-based software provider says its product also can help forestall costly software and hardware upgrades by optimizing the size of databases -- a claim echoed by National Steel. "We achieved our objective, which was to keep the database at a reasonable size. We didn't want to keep adding disk space. And growth on the data side to support application demand has been almost nothing," Matts said.

National Steel has not yet used the active archiving feature, although Matts expects that to happen eventually. It would be useful when doing analysis because "you could look at archived data as well as your production database at the same time, and you can also take older data that's not used anymore and migrate it to tape" or other storage media.

Ease of use also was important. Use of the product required little training, with database administrators using it effectively in about three to four weeks, Matts said.

Archiving software will play an important role in helping enterprises like National Steel manage and control exponential database growth, according to META Group, a technology consulting firm in Stamford, Conn.

Princeton Softech is only one part of National Steel's storage strategy, which includes the IBM Enterprise Storage Server and Big Blue's TotalStorage Virtual Tape Server.

For more information on National Steel, visit its Web site.

Additional information on Princeton Softech can be found here.

The submissions are in and the judges are deciding the winners of the Storage Innovator awards. Recipients will be announced at Storage Decisions 2002.

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