A connoisseur of robust scalability
La Madeleine satisfies its appetite for fresh data using Intel Xeon processor-based Dell servers and a Dell | EMC SAN
Challenge: Find an agile, open, scalable alternative to proprietary legacy equipment and applications; make daily financial data immediately available to managers; grow storage resources without growing server base or headcount; and simplify storage management
Solution: Replace direct attach storage with a Dell | EMC SAN with 360 GB of growing room; consolidate Microsoft® SQL ServerTM 2000 and LawsonTM ERP application onto two Intel® XeonTM processor-based DellTM PowerEdgeTM 6450* servers
Benefit: Financial visibility speeded from 30 days to 1 day; more scalable storage system; and more efficient backup and disaster recovery
When native Frenchman Patrick Esquier landed in Texas in the early 1980s, he sorely missed the
French tradition of enjoying morning coffee and croissants at the neighbourhood cafe. So Esquier opened his own—la Madeleine French Bakery and Cafe—in the middle of Dallas near Southern Methodist University. Esquier's civilized way of starting the day caught on with students and other Texans. Today, with 62 stores in six states, la Madeleine is considered by fine dining guide Bon Appetit to be one of the top 10 U.S. bakeries.
Old gear runs out of steam
La Madeleine's recipe for success includes Intel® XeonTM processor-based DellTM servers, a Dell | EMC storage area network (SAN) and Lawson enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. A beefier, centralized storage back-end allows the company to gather more data from restaurants, process it faster, and distribute it to managers within 24 hours—all of which is expected to result in better decisions and healthier profits.
The Dell | EMC SAN is part of a plan to move la Madeleine back into high-growth mode. After a spurt of entrepreneurial expansion through the '80s and early '90s, la Madeleine fell into debilitating debt. Unable to upgrade IT systems and make other improvements, the board of directors finally sold the company to a private investor in early 2002.
Realizing that its croissants were only as fresh as the data feeding its bakeries, la Madeleine used a chunk of its newly raised capital to upgrade information systems. Its old UNIX® -based systems and legacy applications were slow, out of storage capacity, and out of touch with la Madeleine's managers, who were hungry for fresh data. A glacial 30 days passed before the company could close out an accounting period—but each period was only 28 days long, meaning that managers operated on data that was a full period out of date.
"Managers didn't have the numbers to understand how they were doing," says Paul Merrifield, manager of enterprise systems at la Madeleine. "Restaurant operators were especially handicapped because month-late feedback was useless in making short-term adjustments to staffing, food orders, and menu decisions."
Also, la Madeleine wanted to switch from its UNIX platform to an open, standards-based platform that would be less expensive to support and allow the company to more quickly adopt best industry practices. The company wanted to move to applications—such as customer relationship management (CRM)—that the old gear couldn't accommodate. La Madeleine would have to kludge together several third-party tools to pull data from the old systems and feed it into newer applications. This situation created a support nightmare that Merrifield wanted to avoid.
The systems also were a big challenge to disaster recovery planning. "We were dependent on maintenance contracts with our outside vendor to make sure our systems could be replaced quickly," Merrifield says. "We had no firm UNIX knowledge in-house. Every small maintenance task required outside help, which was just too expensive. We wanted to spend those dollars elsewhere."
Dell proves all substance, no fluff
La Madeleine knew it needed a SAN for maximum storage capacity and scalability, as well as economy. The company entertained visits from Dell, IBM, and Compaq.
"The Dell team was head and shoulders above the others in terms of professionalism," Merrifield says. "Not only did the Dell team understand its product, but it was able to offer practical knowledge about our options. My staff and I were amazed at the amount of teamwork that went into Dell's recommendation, purchase, and configuration process. With IBM and Compaq, there was a lot of talk-time, but Dell got right down to brass tacks and devised a solution for us."
La Madeleine decided to purchase a Dell | EMC FC4500 SAN with 360 GB of storage. Today, half of that capacity houses active production data. "We haven't gotten to the more data-intensive part of our installation yet," Merrifield says. "We have additional Lawson modules to bring in and are about to embark on a data warehouse and data mart project that will generate a lot of data."
Connected to the Dell | EMC SAN are two Intel Xeon processor-based Dell PowerEdgeTM 6450* servers. One is a four-way database server running Microsoft® SQL ServerTM 2000, and the other is a two-way application server running the Lawson ERP software. Both are powered by Intel XeonTM processors running at 700 MHz, and run the Microsoft Windows® 2000 operating system. A Gigabit network connects the two servers to the SAN.
Dell professional services gets down to business
La Madeleine contracted with Dell Professional Services to architect, configure, and install its SAN. "Dell moved very quickly from signing the deal to getting the system configured," Merrifield says. "Dell consultants walked us through a straightforward configuration process in a series of phone calls, had us fill in a few blanks, and then mapped out the whole design. The architecture definition process took about three days. Making adjustments to accommodate our budget took another week. And getting it installed required another two days."
The Dell Professional Services team has years of experience in designing and deploying high-performance SANs. The team provided la Madeleine with comprehensive design documentation, project management, training, and a seamless transition to storage experts in Dell's technical support area. The SAN design itself allowed la Madeleine to leverage Dell's distillation of industry best practices without having to acquire SAN expertise in-house.
"Everyone at Dell was on the same page all the time, very proactive, and very efficient," Merrifield says. "When the installation team arrived, we showed them the server room and left. Dell did it all. Dell's involvement saved us a lot of time and money and ensured that we got a state-of-the-art SAN and a thorough understanding of how to use and maintain it."
Scalable storage yields business agility
Using its new Dell | EMC SAN and Lawson financial software, la Madeleine is creating an information portal that will allow managers to log onto a corporate intranet and, based on their roles and responsibilities, view piping hot sales figures from the previous day's sales. The ability to see up-to-the-minute numbers for an individual restaurant, a region, or a state will allow managers to adjust labor staffing, food orders, advertising, menu items, and other business variables to improve sales.
"A restaurant manager will be able to see immediately where sales are weak and either eliminate certain menu items or possibly run specials. He can see what times of the day or week he has too many workers on the floor and what supplies he needs to reorder," Merrifield says. "Regional managers can more easily identify under-performing stores and see if the performance is related to management, advertising, or something else."
The one-day turnaround time for financial numbers is due in large part to the Lawson software and the high-performance storage back end. "As we move into a data warehouse and data marts, the value of our SAN will increase," Merrifield says. "We'll be collecting vastly more data than before and storing it centrally to allow managers to build complex data cubes and OLAP (online analytical processing) queries. Our employees will have access to far richer data than when crunching their own little data stores on an Excel spreadsheet on their own PCs."
Company expands storage, not servers
By separating storage from server processing, la Madeleine can grow storage independently of server processing requirements. This ability will help lower the company's server investment. "With direct attach
storage, we had to buy more servers just to get more storage," Merrifield says. "With a SAN, we can expand storage without buying more servers; or, we can purchase smaller servers with lower drive capacity."
Expanding the SAN is as simple as adding another drive enclosure and populating it with disks—a task that takes a few hours and can be done during normal business hours without incurring downtime. "This is something we anticipate doing annually," Merrifield says. "We really don't know how much storage we'll
need with our move into data warehouses. But knowing I have a virtually unlimited amount of storage certainly helps me sleep better at night."
Dell provides a simple recipe for storage management
Merrifield's staff is lean—just 11 people. But bringing in the Dell| EMC SAN and two Dell PowerEdge 6450* servers has caused nary a blip in headcount. "Even with all of these new cutting-edge systems, we have not had to increase our staff," Merrifield says.
"The centralized storage is so much easier to manage than direct attach storage that we're managing 800 GB more storage than we were two years ago with the same number of people."
La Madeleine also plans to use Dell OpenManageTM server management capability to simplify the management of its Dell servers and SAN. "Instead of being reactive to server problems, as we were in the past, we can be proactive with Dell OpenManage," Merrifield says.
Dell OpenManage, which ships free of charge with all Dell PowerEdge servers and storage systems, provides around-the-clock monitoring of critical hardware components and automated management of problems when they occur.
Solution makes data safer
Down the road, the Dell | EMC SAN should allow la Madeleine to improve backup and disaster recovery. As the company's storage demands escalate, traditional backup strategies such as network writes to tape will not be adequate. "The Dell SAN offers us options, such as disk mirroring and data snapshots, to overcome those obstacles," Merrifield says. "We expect a dramatic speedup in backup times when we implement features like EMC® SnapViewTM and EMC MirrorViewTM backup and disaster recovery software.
"Also over the next year, we want to build in some of the redundancies that we had to strip out at purchase time for budgetary reasons—redundant host bus adapters and switches for SAN connectivity, for example," he continues. "Once in place, we'll have an ironclad disaster recovery plan."
Now that the company has a Dell | EMC storage solution firing its information ovens, la Madeleine can better tune its sandwiches, soups, and salads to customer appetites and watch profits rise.