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SQL Server 7.0 and Dell PowerEdge Servers: A Shipping Giantís Competitive Advantage
From its information technology office in Jacksonville, Fl., containerized shipping company Sea-Land Services Inc., tracks deliveries for hundreds of customers worldwide. French wine, Dutch beer, Alaska salmon, German pharmaceuticals, Japanese electronics; they all traverse the globe on Sea-Land's network of ships, trains and trucks.
"We ship just about anything made or produced by anybody in the world," says Sea-Land's Clint Eisenhauer.
And innovation has been a big part of the company's success. Sea-Land pioneered containerized cargo in 1956. Its Rotterdam facility is the most modern port terminal in the world. And in Hong Kong Sea-Land operates the world's largest cargo distribution center. All told, Sea-Land operates 99 container ships serving 120 ports in 80 countries.
Not surprisingly, managing the data load generated by that fleet is a challenge for a database administrator.
"We run our business on that database from order to cash - from the time a customer asks us to ship something to the time when we say, 'OK, we've done everything you asked,'" says Terry Schroeder, Sea-Land's manager of technology architecture. "We have some tables with 6 million entries, with as many as 400 people getting access to that data."
To better manage this flood of data and more smoothly run its business, Sea-Land is deploying Microsoft's newly released SQL Server 7.0 on Dell PowerEdge 6300 servers and PowerVault 650F storage systems globally while phasing out its mainframe system.
Company wide, Sea-Land has roughly 175 Dell PowerEdge servers, with plans to roll out approximately 300 over the next two years. The SQL Server 7.0 databases update regional information and replicate that data to Sea-Land headquarters each day.
The finished system will allow Sea-Land to more quickly deliver cargo information to customers. That's a vital consideration in the global shipping industry, a heavily regulated enterprise that must compete less on price than on speed and customer service.
"It's whoever can get there fastest with the right ship at the right time," says Schroeder. "The ability to put real-time cargo shipment data into customers' hands will be a big competitive advantage for us."
Sea-Land has been running Microsoft SQL 6.5 and Dell PowerEdge servers for about two years, and that database software enabled the company to begin its transition from mainframe architecture.
But the SQL Server 7.0-Dell PowerEdge platform will greatly improve the speed and flexibility of Sea-Land's system due to its array of SQL Server 7.0's powerful new features.
One particular problem for administrators of large, constantly changing databases such as Sea-Land's, for instance, is that portions of the database much be closed off to users while data is being updated.
This "locking" function ensures that out-of-date or incomplete data is not inadvertently collected. But that also means much of a database may be off-limits for lengthy periods.
SQL Server 7.0 resolves locking problems through its row-level and dynamic locking features. By allowing row-level locking as well as page locking, SQL 7.0 permits a users to change data while locking as few rows as possible, rather than an entire table that may comprise thousands of pieces of data.
"Our customers were very clear on the importance of row-level locking," says Peter Spiro, Product Unit Manager for SQL Server 7.0. "With this release it's very well-integrated into the product, and we're seeing some outstanding results from it."
Schroeder agrees the change is a big one for him. "Row-level locking is going to allow us to have more users on the system while allowing us to grow." It also will make the system more efficient, he notes. "It's just dead time when you're waiting to get access to part of the system and someone has a lock on it."
"We're hitting 80 percent of the tables all of the time," Rowland says."Blocking within the database is an issue we deal with daily. With SQL Server 7.0, we will be able to process more transactions perminutes which eqiates to faster response time. And that equates to hard-dollar savings you can measure."
SQL Server 7.0 also incorporates dynamic locking, in which its storage engine dynamically works with the query processor to choose the lowest-cost locking strategy based on the characteristics of the schema and query.
Schroeder says that row-level locking was a feature he had specifically requested that Microsoft add. He praises Microsoft's responsiveness on that and other issues in its preparation of SQL Server 7.0, such as its enhanced self-tuning feature and performance of administrative tasks.
Schroeder says that running a particular database utility at Sea-Land used to take up to six hours, a huge maintenance window in a global company that needs as much around-the-clock data access as possible. Now, he says, that database "de-frag" will take about half as long.
Other advantages SQL Server 7.0 brings to Sea-Land include lower costs associated with client/server architecture when compared to mainframe computers; better data access for customers and customer-service employees; greater reliability through the deployment of independent and fault-tolerant regional server centers; and better access for merchants needing detailed Internet data on shipment status.
Microsoft believes its attention to customer needs and powerful features will allow SQL Server 7.0 to transform the database industry. "We designed SQL Server 7.0 so it would be easy for the customer to buy it, install it and not have to worry about this sophisticated technology that was taking care of their data," says Paul Flessner, general manager for the SQL Server 7.0 release.
"We've put a lot into it," Flessner adds. "Some people here have been working on this release for 30 months."
Spiro says that SQL Server 7.0 benefits from the vast trove of database knowledge stored by Microsoft developers.
"Including everyone on the team, we have worked on nine or 10 different databases," he says. "We've learned a lot in the past 20 years about databases, and we were able to apply that collective knowledge toward doing things in the very best fashion. It was a real plus, and we think SQL Server 7.0 will be the best database solution for the next 10-20 years."
Last Updated: November 16, 1998