Follett Higher Education Group keeps online book sales on track

Delivering top performance for e-retail systems with flash technology

Published on 10-Apr-2013

"The TMS RamSans have eliminated our I/O bottlenecks, reducing system response times and enabling the system to handle far greater concurrent transactions. The solution has handled every demand we’ve thrown at it, and we would not hesitate to recommend it." - Clyde Remedios, Senior Database Administrator, Follett Higher Education Group

Customer:
Follett Higher Education Group

Industry:
Education, Consumer Products

Deployment country:
United States

Solution:
Business Resiliency

Overview

Follett Higher Education Group (Follett) is a family-owned bookstore provider that supplies management systems, support services, and used textbooks to more than 1,800 independently managed bookstores. The company is also the largest operator of college bookstores in North America, with more than 930 stores. Founded in 1873, Follett has grown into a $2.36 billion enterprise and is ranked at 133 on the Forbes Magazine list of the largest private companies in the United States.

Business need:
As demand for its innovative e-retail platform soared, Follett Higher Education Group (Follett) wanted to boost system performance to ensure fast, reliable access to its online catalogue.

Solution:
Follett chose to replace disk-based storage with solid-state storage technology from Texas Memory Systems (TMS), an IBM Company. Follett currently operates two pairs of TMS RAM-based RamSan®-440 and flash-based RamSan-710 systems.

Benefits:
Eliminates storage bottlenecks to deliver the consistently high performance that Follett needs to support its e-retail platform, even as web traffic has increased by more than 50 percent.

Case Study

Follett Higher Education Group (Follett) is a family-owned bookstore provider that supplies management systems, support services, and used textbooks to more than 1,800 independently managed bookstores. The company is also the largest operator of college bookstores in North America, with more than 930 stores. Founded in 1873, Follett has grown into a $2.36 billion enterprise and is ranked at 133 on the Forbes Magazine list of the largest private companies in the United States.

Innovative e-commerce platform
Follett pioneered selling college textbooks online in 1995 and now serves some four million students at more than 1,000 campuses nationwide through efollett.com – the most widely used e-commerce platform in the college bookstore industry.

On efollett.com, customers can virtually access products and services from Follett’s entire network of bookstores. Orders are fulfilled from the company’s warehouse inventory in Illinois, select efollett.com partners, and individual campus bookstores.

Follett’s online presence is powered by two separate systems: the efollett.com platform is built on a custom Oracle database running on the IBM® AIX® operating system with Network Appliance (NetApp) FAS3020 filers.

This e-commerce platform is backed by a non-public-facing inventory control system also built on an Oracle database, using IBM Sterling Commerce® software and IBM WebSphere® middleware to tie everything together. The inventory control system is hosted on NetApp FAS3240 storage.

Solving performance problems
Early on in the efollett.com deployment, the company identified performance issues with its Oracle database and looked for a solid state storage solution to eliminate the I/O bottleneck and latency issues caused by disk-based storage.

Clyde Remedios, Senior Database Administrator at Follett Higher Education Group, explains: “Since solid state storage was a rarity at the time, we had to create a proof of concept to demonstrate the viability of using this kind of storage in the efollett.com application. Outside of High Performance Computing and scientific applications, nobody was using RAM-based storage, but we had an I/O bottleneck and making the move to a solid state solution was really the only option.”

After evaluating a number of solid state storage solutions available on the market, Follett ultimately decided on Texas Memory Systems, an IBM Company, based on TMS’ reputation, the quality of its products, and the company’s proven expertise as an Oracle Partner.

Powerful solid state solution
Follett originally chose to deploy a mirrored pair of TMS RAM-based RamSan-320 systems to support its efollett.com platform. To solve its I/O bottleneck problem, the company moved high-volume Oracle database tables to the RamSan storage. Unlike disk-based storage, no extra optimization or third-party application tuning was required to extract maximum performance from the RamSan.

As the popularity of its online platform continued to grow over the years, Follett needed more performance, and today operates with two TMS RamSan-440 systems, deployed in a mirrored high-availability configuration with redundant data paths over 8-Gbit Fibre Channel connections.
High capacity for inventory control systems

The back-end inventory control system for the efollett.com platform runs on NetApp filers, with performance-oriented tables of the Oracle database offloaded to two mirrored pair of TMS RamSan-710 all-flash arrays, the predecessor to the IBM FlashSystem 710.
The RamSan-710 operates at 100 milliseconds latency, delivering up to 450,000 IOPS within 5 TB of usable capacity, well suited for Follett’s inventory control system. Clyde Remedios says: “We certainly needed the speed but capacity was a much greater issue. The RamSan-710 is a very good fit for this application.”

Keeping up with strong demand
With flash technology supporting optimum performance for its efollett.com platform, Follett can easily withstand the seasonal college bookstore buying frenzy at the beginning of a semester. The company can also rest assured that customers will enjoy fast, reliable access to its online catalogue even as the business continues to grow.

For Follett, the all-flash arrays have certainly lived up to TMS’ reputation for performance and product quality. Even with the higher price of solid state storage, Follett has seen a positive return on its investments in the all-flash systems.

Clyde Remedios concludes: “The TMS RamSans have eliminated our I/O bottlenecks, reducing system response times and enabling the system to handle far greater concurrent transactions. The solution has handled every demand we’ve thrown at it, and we would not hesitate to recommend it.”

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

Hardware:
Storage: IBM FlashSystem 710

Software:
WebSphere MQ, WebSphere Application Server, AIX

Operating system:
AIX

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2013 IBM Corporation 1 New Orchard Road Armonk, New York 10504-1722 United States Produced in the United States of America April 2013 IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, AIX and WebSphere are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml Behavioral Fingerprinting®, Connect Control Center®, Connect:Direct®, Connect:Enterprise®, Cruiser™, Data Factory™, Gentran®, Gentran:Basic®, Gentran:Control®, Gentran:Director®, Gentran:Plus®, Gentran:Realtime®, Gentran:Server®, Gentran:Viewpoint®, Mantra®, N® logo, Netezza®, Netezza Performance Server®, NPS®, Pintail™, Skimmer®, Sterling Commerce®, Sterling Information Broker®, Sterling Integrator® and TwinFin® are trademarks or registered trademarks of IBM International Group B.V., an IBM Company. This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. The client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. ·It is the user’s responsibility to evaluate and verify the operation of any other products or programs with IBM products and programs. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided