A Boon to E

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2002-07-02 Print this article Print

Online exclusive: The cosmetics giant is tackling its hardware woes by centralizing on big iron with a familiar OS face.


A Boon to E-Commerce

But performance wasn't Mary Kay's only concern. The move has made the company's continually expanding online operations much more manageable, giving Jodie and his team a more sustainable roadmap for scaling up the infrastructure behind the Web applications the company first launched in 1999.

Called Mary Kay InTouch, the Web site and back-end software makes it possible for all Mary Kay's independent sales reps to communicate with the company and submit orders. It even allows them to set up their own Web pages; the company now supports over 125,000 personal sales sites. The system is built on the company's earlier sales force automation efforts, which used client software written in the Visual Basic programming language and submitted orders via File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

Three years later, over 70% of the company's business and 80% of its $1.3 billion in annual sales revenue come in over the Internet. And the Web has also completely changed how and when those sales reps enter their orders.

Jodie's commodity infrastructure was buckling under the peak loads, and the storage and network management requirements of the growing server farm were becoming simply unmanageable. Furthermore, Mary Kay's custom-written supply chain software, running on Compaq Alpha servers and the OpenVMS business operating system, couldn't keep up with the growing load.

Moving completely out of the Microsoft fold would have been too much for the company to take. The desire to take advantage of the company's hard-earned expertise in Windows, says Jodie, led the company to Unisys' ES7000, a server with 32 Intel processors that can be "partitioned" into multiple virtual servers, each running independently of the others but sharing the system's storage and networking resources.

Initially, Mary Kay purchased one ES7000 to handle the back-end processing for e-commerce sales. The server, which replaced six four-processor Compaq and Dell servers, was divided into four eight-processor partitions, each running a Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database. Mary Kay eventually re-arranged the partitions, putting the main production database for e-commerce on a 16-processor partition.

At the same time, Mary Kay was evaluating its supply-chain options. But Jodie says that he and his team were unimpressed by the existing ERP software packages that ran on commodity Windows hardware. Again, Mary Kay turned to Unisys and Microsoft – and to business software producer J.D. Edwards, which had worked closely with Unisys and Microsoft to develop a version of its OneWorld software for the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server.

"Even though there weren't hundreds of deployments of J.D. Edwards on Windows," says Jodie, "we felt like there wasn't too much risk because of the level of work they (Unisys, Microsoft and J.D. Edwards) were doing together." So on June 10, Mary Kay kicked off its efforts to upgrade its infrastructure with the installation of three additional ES7000 servers as part of its efforts to "re-engineer" its supply chain. Two will run J.D. Edwards' OneWorld, Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 database and BizTalk 2002 business-to-business e-commerce and process integration software, while the third will be used for development and staging of software for deployment across the company.

Mary Kay doesn't have the new system in production yet, and Jodie says that his team doesn't yet have a handle on the performance of the new hardware and software. But he's encouraged by the results of the e-commerce consolidation—the time it takes its sales representatives to enter orders online has gone down by a whopping 50%.

Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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