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Dispenser supplier sticks with System i

Following a catastrophic power failure and months of wrangling with high availability software, AptarGroup twice has had the opportunity to jump ship from the System i, but stayed.

Since 2003, AptarGroup Inc., a global supplier of dispensing systems for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and beverage industries, has had two major reasons to move off the iSeries, but each time it's stuck with it.

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The company's primary factors for staying were the platform's reliability, physical footprint via server conglomeration and hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing savings on R/3, SAP's Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, according to Christopher Crofoot, global data center manager for Crystal Lake, Ill.-based AptarGroup.

Companies and products Crofoot considered switching to included: Unisys' 4-way ES7000, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP) RX762 and IBM's xSeries boxes. With a budget of $2.5 million to work with, Crofoot had to make the call.

"The HP quote was quite a bit over that, and they didn't tell us the 64-bit Itanium they were pitching to us was a processor they were going to dump," Crofoot said. "And had we gone with a 32-bit cheaper alternative from Intel, we may have saved a bundle up front, but not in the long run." Crofoot said he'd probably need about 50 xSeries boxes to do the job, and that Unisys' offering was higher than it could afford.

SAP diehard

"SAP is the 800 pound gorilla of ERP systems," Crofoot said. "There was no alternative. A lot of our divisions had a perception that SAP and Microsoft are in bed together and had the notion of 'we don't want to be the last people not running on Windows.' That's a misperception on their part. My boss was big into moving to Microsoft, but it's a hell of a lot more expensive to run SAP on [that]."

Over $600,000 more expensive, compared to zero running it on System i5(V5R3 OS), Crofoot said.

Meanwhile, Aptar wanted to upgrade servers this year for three reasons: an expiring System i lease, high-availability (HA) software that for over a year had been performing badly and a catastrophic power outage this summer that forced a look in the mirror.

Two blocks away from Aptar's primary site in Chicago, an underground power vault caught fire and the city shut down the power grid to fight it. Generators kicked in, but one shorted out, and for a few hours, everything was down, including Aptar's phone system.

"The lightning bolt that's not supposed to hit you hit us," Crofoot said. "We didn't experience data loss or have to rebuild servers, so we got lucky, we dodged a bullet. But we decided we needed to do something about our backup."

Aptar had been using high-availability software for its System i servers from Irvine, Calif.-based Vision Solutions Inc.. But recurring problems and mediocre service had sapped resources, according to Crofoot.

"Any time we spend on maintaining backup is time away from implementation work," Crofoot said. "We'd have an object that would be out of sync, and we were just repeating work on the same thing week after week. The customer service we were getting was a big disappointment. They [Vision] just went for the quick fix every week and never resolved the issue."

Aptar switched to Lakeview Technology Inc.'s Mimix software after various endorsements on message boards, as well as coworker familiarity with the company, resolving its System i replication issues during its six months of use thus far.

Though the substitution worked, Gartner disaster recovery analyst, Donna Scott, said Lakeview and Vision are big players in the field, and both offerings are about equally as effective.

"If you interview enough customers, you'll find swaps on both sides," Scott said. "They both have been in the market for a long, long time. The products will leapfrog each other, but they work, they both give you higher levels of availability. But the service and support seem to be strong in pockets for each vendor. That is why I see certain vendors chosen over others."

Despite technical hurdles, Aptar figured out it could run its SAP application on System i more efficiently and on a tighter budget than competing offerings. "Every different system will do what you need it to do, it's just how much you're willing to pay for it," Crofoot said. "IBM let us do it all at a lower price."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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