Published on 12-Mar-2012
"Our IBM i offers an environment where we can meet and exceed our customers’ demands in a much more timely fashion than competitors." - Justin Porter, director of technology, Westside Produce
Business-to-Consumer, Optimizing IT, Workload Management, Workload Optimized Infrastructure Framework
Founded in 1953 as Telles Ranch Incorporated, Westside Produce was formed in the early 1990s, when it transitioned from a full-fledged farm to its current incarnation as an independent handler of cantaloupe and honeydew melons.
Westside Produce needed a scalable system to manage mission-critical functions—from significant data increases to the produce lifecycle and analytics—related to emerging food safety requirements.
Westside Produce uses an IBM® Power Systems™ server—running IBM i—that integrates a combination of relational database, security, web services, networking and storage management capabilities.
The IBM Power Systems solution provides a stable, scalable platform on which to run customized business applications and manage produce throughout a complex lifecycle, from field to shelf.
Founded in 1953 as Telles Ranch Incorporated, Westside Produce was formed in the early 1990s, when it transitioned from a full-fledged farm to its current incarnation as an independent handler of cantaloupe and honeydew melons. Headquartered in Firebaugh, California, Westside Produce contracts with outside melon growers to harvest, cool, market and ship melons throughout the United States and Canada.
Dedicated to providing quality and consistency in its operations, the company strives to provide the safest food products, eliminate waste, control costs and optimize efficiencies while delivering the highest-quality melons.
A growth business with non-disruptive changes
Westside Produce implemented their first IBM platform in the 1970s, as a means to process their paychecks. For more than 20 years, they have relied on an IBM® Power Systems™ platform running IBM i to perform a wide range of mission-critical applications. By taking advantage of new software enhancements and occasionally upgrading the hardware, Westside Produce has kept up with their changing needs while maintaining full application investment protection and compatibility. Justin Porter, director of technology at Westside Produce, explains, “For some time now, we’ve run the entire business on IBM i.”
Managing the fruits of their labor
While Westside Produce is responsible for harvesting, cooling, marketing and shipping millions of melons, it all comes down to one peak three-month period a year—and their business rides on that harvest going smoothly.
Porter explains, “Harvesting cantaloupes is very time sensitive. Our crews go through each field daily, during the three-month-long season because a melon that’s ready today will be overripe tomorrow, and wasn’t ready yesterday.”
Cooling the melons as quickly as possible is critical to maintaining their freshness and viability. “The faster you can remove field heat, the longer you can extend the shelf life and maintain product quality,” says Porter. “We do manage the cold storage and the actual temperatures from the IBM system, but it’s also a tool for our sales and shipping departments to manage how to most effectively move the product when the trucks show up.”
The IBM Power Systems platform also enables the company to do a lot of predictive analytics. The company must forecast not only how many boxes of melons will come from multiple fields, but also the different sizes, varieties and grades. Porter says, “We are well positioned with our IBM Power Systems platform, in that we have the tools and processes available to continuously build a better forecast model.”
Enabling complex traceability
As a part of the company’s ongoing commitment to consumer safety, they have been participating in a pilot project for the industry-led Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). The goal is to perfect an industry-wide methodology of seamlessly tracing product at the case level, from its point of origin to its final point-of-sale.
This initiative is designed to help protect consumers in the event of food borne illness outbreaks. Porter says that a better traceability system would allow companies to sustain less damage in terms of their financial losses, and loss of consumer confidence.
The PTI becomes mandatory at the end of the year. “Pretty much overnight, we’ll need to go from being very centralized to being incredibly distributed. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s doable,” says Porter.
Fortunately, the company’s IBM Power Systems platform is well suited for the type of scalability they’ll need to implement the new levels of traceability. Porter says, “Without doing any kind of ramping up, we can take the technology we have today and use it tomorrow to handle a lot more data—from the pallet level, down to the case level—and we’ll be able to track it through the entire supply chain.”
Porter says, “The fact that we can use our current IBM Power System to do this, and that we don’t have to rework our entire data center, or add a new server farm—that’s a huge benefit to us in delivering new services faster.”
Running home-grown applications
Westside Produce runs all their custom-designed line-of-business applications on their IBM Power System, and Porter credits the system with the company’s success:
“We simply would not be able to operate in the manner that we do, or have the type of infrastructure that we have in place, without it. Everything we do is written to our specific procedures and processes, because the margins are thin in a business like ours. We can do so much more, because we spend so little time dealing with server issues.”
Providing incredible scalability
When it comes to handling routine processes like payroll, the company’s scalability needs are unique. Every year before harvest season, their headcount rapidly scales from 12 to about 800 employees. They sustain that level of employment for the duration of the three-month peak season.
This requires a system that can scale up and down efficiently—and the IBM Power System does it well. Porter says, “The system has enabled everything from simple payroll, to running a traceability program that can go from level of detail per pallet to level of detail per box. We haven’t had to increase staff behind that infrastructure or those initiatives.”
Navigating future growth—with IBM
The IBM Power Systems server prevents Porter, a one-man IT shop, from wasting time chasing down problems or figuring out how to make it work. As he says, “Being able to skip the step of figuring out my server requirements, my new infrastructure requirements, what software platform I have to buy now—I already own it. It’s integrated, it’s simple, it’s elegant and it works.”
When they do need to upgrade, they’ll be upgrading to a new IBM system. Porter says, “Our IBM i offers an environment where we can meet and exceed our customers’ demands in a much more timely fashion than competitors.”
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