GNC Mexico: A rapid transition to open source

Published on 03-Jun-2010

Validated on 03 Jun 2013

"The entire project took only 15 weeks. That shows what competent partners like IBM and Genesys, and a clear focus, can accomplish." - Javier Flores, IT manager, GNC Mexico

GNC Mexico


Deployment country:

IBM Business Partner:


Headquartered in the northeastern city of Monterrey, GNC Mexico directly operates all the GNC retail stores in the country. With 331 stores in Mexico’s 32 states, the company is also the world’s largest GNC franchisee.

Business need:
GNC Mexico, the leading retailer of nutritional supplements in the Mexican marketplace, needed to quickly increase the capacity of its IT infrastructure to accommodate growth. In addition, the company sought to reduce its cost of ownership by moving its enterprise applications and database from a proprietary UNIX® platform to Linux®-based servers.

Working with IBM and local IBM Business partner Genesys Informatica, GNC Mexico migrated its existing Oracle database and Oracle E-Business Suite applications not only from UNIX to Linux, but also to an entirely new hardware platform consisting of IBM System x® servers and IBM System Storage.®

• Achieved rapid time-to-value–initial sizing to full production in only 15 weeks • Reduced purchase and operational costs through support for open standards and use of open-source operating systems • Delivered performance improvements of up to 80 percent for some application interface processes

Case Study

Seizing opportunity

Headquartered in the northeastern city of Monterrey, GNC Mexico directly operates all the GNC retail stores in the country. With 331 stores in Mexico’s 32 states, the company is also the world’s largest GNC franchisee.

In its 18 years of existence, GNC Mexico has enjoyed strong growth and today holds a market-leading position. That same growth, however, posed a challenge: GNC was reaching a turning point in terms of its ability to provide operational support for the business. Its chosen enterprise solution–Oracle 10g database and Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS), along with additional applications for accounting, point-of-sale and executive reporting–was serving it well from a functionality standpoint, but the hardware platform was running out of capacity. It was time to move up.

“We could have stayed with our existing vendor, but we saw an opportunity not only to improve our hardware, but also to lower our costs,” says Javier Flores, IT Manager at GNC Mexico. “It was clear to us that Linux–and the support for it by Oracle and by hardware vendors like IBM–has reached a level of maturity sufficient to support enterprise-class operations like ours. That kind of industry leadership is important when considering a major migration such as this.”

The stability of Linux was an important decision factor, but the primary motivators were cost and freedom of choice. A move to the open-source operating system would eliminate the recurring license fees associated with the company’s existing proprietary UNIX deployment. Because Linux is platform-neutral, it would also allow GNC Mexico to choose the best platform for the job. “We wanted to do away with our dependence on a single technology vendor,” Flores says. “When we added up all the factors–the maturity of Linux plus the openness, quality and performance of the available technology, it became clear that it was a good time to make our move.”

Making a difference with the right vendors
Getting buy-in for the project from company leadership was straightforward. The need was urgent–the existing infrastructure was overloaded with the database at 320GB, and growing at 1GB per month. “That put the project on a very fast track,” Flores says. “We were able to make a very strong business case based on cost, as well as expected performance and scalability gains.”

The first step in the project was an independent sizing project by a consulting firm, to define requirements for the new platform extending out a minimum of three years. GNC Mexico was looking for the best blend of capability, technology, cost and responsiveness, and selected IBM and IBM Business Partner Genesys Informatica for the deployment.

“We had an existing relationship with IBM and Genesys,” Flores notes. “They had given us good service, so we had a level of comfort with them. But what drove our decision was really a combination of factors, not just our business relationship. We liked the IBM commitment to, and investment in, open standards and Linux. The company is clearly a leader here–and that was important to our assessment of risk. This system is absolutely mission-critical and the project involved not only a change of operating system, but also a move to a completely new hardware platform. Essentially, everything except the database and application environment had to change completely. When you’re talking about that level of risk, your vendors had better know what they are doing.”

Flores says that the speed of action of the IBM and Genesys team complemented the GNC Mexico approach well. “Our business style is very fast-moving, so we greatly appreciated their responsiveness. They gave prompt reaction to every request. It’s a non-technical concern, but it was very important to us and it helped us keep to a tight timeline.”

Powerful, open systems to meet the need
The IT platform is based on two IBM System x servers running Red Hat Linux Enterprise Advanced, with the Oracle database running on one server in 64-bit for increased performance, and the applications running on the other server under 32-bit. GNC Mexico also moved to a pair of direct-attached IBM System Storage devices housing a total of 24 450GB SAS drives, to save on storage costs. “For our needs, we could not justify the cost of a storage area net-work, and the SAS drives give us much better performance than Parallel SCSI drives. And the IBM open design means we’re still able to scale easily to handle growth,” Flores says. “We’re saving money without sacrificing capability.”

System performance has also increased. Most of GNC’s processing loads involve applications interfacing with one another. The new platform offers speed improvements for these loads of 60 percent on average, with some processes running dramatically faster. For example, the generation of the stores’ profit and loss statements, which had taken three hours, can now be completed in 30 minutes. End-of-month closing now takes four hours instead of 16 and bank reconciliation has gone from 16 hours to just 30 minutes.

A solution with enhanced value
GNC Mexico has achieved its primary goals of cost reduction through the elimination of user license fees and increased IT capacity thanks to newer, better systems with low purchase and maintenance costs. “We estimate that we get at least four times the processing power per dollar with the new systems,” says Flores. “Also, our licensing and support costs have been cut in half.” With the move to open standards-based hardware, the company sees other benefits as well. Open standards would assure GNC Mexico of modularity, compatibility and ease of scalability in the future. Growth can be accommodated without the risk of technological obsolescence or the restrictions of licensing contracts that tie the company to a particular technology, vendor or term.

The greatest value to GNC, however, was the incredible speed with which the project was completed. “Once we awarded the contract, the pace of execution was impressive,” Flores says. “The initial sizing took two weeks. We spent another two weeks on the proposal process, plus a week to negotiate and cut purchase orders. From that point forward it was only 10 weeks until we were in full production–the entire project took only 15 weeks. That shows what competent partners like IBM and Genesys, and a clear focus, can accomplish.”

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