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Medical Equipment Maker Stays Healthy With Storage Array

Time is money for home health-care device manufacturer Invacare International, both for its IT systems and on the factory floor. The company's manufacturing processes are so intertwined with information technology that application outages can bring assembly lines to a grinding halt.

The company's seven factories, which make devices such as wheelchairs, hospital beds and mobile respirators, depend on an ERP system for information, including stock availability, order status, invoices and shipments.

"If we stop the ERP system," says Christophe Masquet, Invacare International's European IT infrastructure manager, "we stop the company." Masquet wanted a business-continuity system to ensure that the ERP system wouldn't be responsible for halting production.

He also needed to address the company's growing storage needs. Invacare acquires one to three new companies every year, began to put a strain on the operation's 3-TB storage capacity.

So how does Invacare keep its operations healthy?

Masquet turned to a Hewlett-Packard StorageWorks XP10000 Disk Array. The system offers Invacare several key capabilities. According to Masquet, it provides the desired level of business continuity and data availability for the ERP system. In addition, with a capacity of 69 TB, the system meets the storage demands of the company's acquisition-driven growth strategy. Finally, it creates a single storage resource compatible with critical apps, including its Oracle 10g database, a new Siebel Systems CRM platform and an impending e-commerce solution.

NO TIME TO LOSE

Invacare International is the European subsidiary of an American company, the $1.5 billion Invacare Corp. The European group runs an MFG/PRO ERP system from GAD that supports manufacturing operations in seven factories throughout the European Union.

By the beginning of 2005, not long after Masquet had joined Invacare International, it had become apparent the company needed to upgrade its back-end storage environment. At the time, Invacare relied on another HP product, a StorageWorks XP128 Disk Array; the company's lease on that system had not only run out, but--with about a 3-TB capacity limit--the array had reached the end of its expansion capabilities, making it unsuitable to handle the company's projected data-storage needs.

In planning the migration to a new back-end storage array, Masquet says there were two underlying factors at work. For one, Masquet and Invacare International wanted to ensure that the company's enterprise systems were up and running 24/7.

Manufacturing, in particular, needs the ERP system accessible for at least two eight-hour shifts. In addition, an occasional third shift performs inventory- or production-related work as well as producing reports for production forecasts. Moreover, the company's sales force must access data and produce sales forecast and analysis reports every day before 8 a.m.

The other factor driving the storage upgrade: Masquet wanted to centralize management of the company's enterprise applications--the ERP system and the Oracle database (which houses a backup copy of the data in the ERP system). The company also is deploying a new e-commerce solution, and a Siebel CRM platform, both of which would be centrally controlled and supported by the storage array.

Centralization delivers two key benefits to Invacare International, Masquet says. First, it reduces the company's cost of running its enterprise applications. Second, it helps standardize the way employees use business-critical applications.

Before the upgrade, sales and manufacturing personnel within each geographically dispersed unit would "generate different reports using different sets of rules," he says. For instance, "They would each calculate shipment time, depending on manufacturing, differently, so the numbers they produced were different." Centralizing the ERP system standardizes the way in which these reports deliver key information to business units.

Out With The Old, In With The New

When planning a replacement of the StorageWorks XP128 system, Masquet and his 40-person IT staff didn't look far afield. The company's data center is primarily an HP environment, already populated with two HP 9000 rp7420 servers running HP-UX, HP's Unix derivative, and hosting the company's ERP system.

Masquet found the Fibre Channel-based StorageWorks XP10000 array to be the logical choice to house his critical data resources. "We chose it because of the redundancy of all its components, allowing it to be up 24/7," he says.

According to HP, the system's disk drives, processors, input/output interfaces, power supplies, batteries, fans and control processors are all hot-swappable. The redundancy includes the array's firmware, which can be updated on the fly, according to Masquet.

Another key factor in his selection of the XP10000: It lets Masquet and Invacare International "increase the volume of data stored without limitation. And, to be honest, we got a discount, so the offer was great and technically interesting."

Masquet says the January 2006 deployment of the new storage array "was totally transparent to our users," mostly because it took place over the course of two weekends. A single IT staffer, working in conjunction with the vendor, handled the switchover, which required merely copying data from the XP128 to the XP10000.

New Initiatives

Since the switchover, Masquet and Invacare International have focused on two other major initiatives.

On the one hand, they are responding to demands from the company's customers--its business partners, which are European medical supply firms--that Invacare International post a catalog that will let resellers order the company's products online. The e-commerce solution will give Invacare International's resellers Web access to a product configurator, with drop-down menus for selecting options, and even the tools to order spare parts. The platform, based on the Galileo CSS, is in use by Invacare International's inside sales force and will go live for the company's resellers in early 2007, according to Masquet.

Invacare International is also in the process of designing and deploying another important element: its Siebel CRM system. That platform will let the company more effectively manage relationships with its business-to-business partners, according to Masquet.

15 Minutes

Christophe Masquet
Invacare International Glad, Switzerland

Masquet, 31, is the it infrastructure manager for Invacare International's European operations. Masquet joined Invacare International, a subsidiary of Invacare Corp., about a year and a half ago. He and his 40-person it staff support 22 sites in Europe, including manufacturing facilities in France, Germany, The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark.

Best part of your job: "Trying to improve the answers we give to business requests. That's the most interesting [part of my job]."

Best day on the job: "In the near future (on Dec. 1), when we go live with the Siebel CRM solution."

Wish list for the IT department: "No, no, no--I'm very OK with everything I have."

What my co-workers don't know about me: "There are lots of things they don't know about me."

Subject that makes me rant: "I really don't know--nothing."

What keeps me awake at night: "My job, my work."

Favorite hangout: "Anywhere on the sea--wind surfing and sailing."

Favorite sport: "It's rugby, and of course it's France's national team [which is the international rugby's No. 2-rated team and is noted for posing for an annual semi-nude calendar]."

Ideal holiday: "Anywhere, as long as it's on a boat."

Type of car I drive: "It's a French car, a Renault, a big car with a lot of space."

In my car CD player right now: "A CD from a well-known artist in France known as M."

White wine or red: "Red wine."

Comfort food: "Foie gras."

Next career: "For sure, not a Sarbanes-Oxley expert. Hopefully, I will stay in IT."

The Hardsell

Christophe Masquet, IT infrastructure manager of Invacare International's European operations, expects the company to see plenty of ROI benefits from its new StorageWorks XP10000 storage system. In addition to equipment costs, the company invested 32 IT hours to install the system. HP professional services was on hand to assist with the installation, but the cost comes out of an existing service contract and doesn't add to the bottom line.

Although Masquet says it's hard to define ROI precisely, he notes that if the ERP system fails, one hour of lost manufacturing costs the company around 100,000 euros. And when the company's online catalog goes up, outages there could affect sales revenues. "We can't risk the system being down," Masquet explains. He says the StorageWorks XP10000 "is like insurance" in a couple of ways.

On a purely pragmatic level, he says the system's 69-TB capacity "is able to store all our data and prevent us from having to purchase additional disk space. But that's peanuts compared to preventing downtime."

The product boasts an array of hot-swappable components, including disk drives, processors, input/output interfaces, power supplies, batteries, fans and control processors. This redundancy helps ensure Invacare International's operations meet the goal of 24/7 availability.

Jim Carr is an Aptos, Calif.-based freelance business and technology writer.