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UPS Shifts From Trucks to Tech

Switches to SAN to boost reliability, manage costs, and reduce data-center floor space

The main storage issue at United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS) used to be how to fit the most boxes in each truck. Now the company's storage focus is on maintaining critical data that allowed the company to ship and track 3.4 billion packages and documents last year.

"We evolved from a trucking company to a technology company," says Jim Medeiros, information systems and services manager for UPS, based in Atlanta. "Our business can't operate unless our data operates as designed, not only for uptime but for performance as well."

UPS calls what it does "synchronized commerce." It moves packages by truck and air to 200 countries and territories, allowing every customer who ships or receives a package via UPS to track its whereabouts every step of the way. The company also handles international payment through its own banking company.

The data that makes all that possible is stored in data centers in Atlanta and Mahwah, N.J. The data centers include 15 mainframes, 300 Tbytes of storage, and 1,500 midrange servers. In addition, UPS has 1,500 sort centers around the world that store another 400 Tbytes on 5,000 Intel-based servers. And that's not counting 105,000 tape cartridges on the network.

"We used to pick, pack, and ship," says Medeiros, who's in charge of UPS's data centers. "Now we're becoming a conduit to allow customers to leverage us, and our shippers want their customers to use the same data as we do. We invested $16 billion in technology over 15 years, and that provided us with a competitive advantage." [Ed. note: And, no doubt, tons of free vendor polo shirts!]

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