Coeo worked closely with Fat Face to stabilise and consolidate its failing SQL Server environment, and to design a future-proof system that would optimise data management and support faster, dependable reporting processes. Founded in 1988, Fat Face is a multi-channel brand with a network of over 200 UK stores, mail order catalogues, a fully interactive website and a growing wholesale operation.
Born on the ski slopes of the French Alps, the Fat Face brand is now equally at home on the British high street. Its active lifestyle philosophy has supported extensive growth and, as with many organically grown businesses, the company reached a point where expert SQL Server knowledge and experience was required to help consolidate, upgrade and maintain systems.
“We’ve now got much greater confidence in platform stability and availability, and our infrastructure is future-proofed to accommodate new applications and increasing volumes of data as the business grows.”
Lee Reynolds, Business Information Manager, Fat Face
Challenge / business problem
Across the company, retail sales and stock information, and KPIs such as intake, procurement and margins, are transferred from various business systems into the SQL Server environment, where the raw data is aggregated or transformed into more meaningful formats for presentation and reporting.
The largely unmanaged SQL Server infrastructure was slowing down and stability had become a constant concern. “Data pumps were failing overnight for example, so reports such as sales and stock, needed first thing, might be delayed until lunchtime,” says Lee Reynolds, Business Information Manager at Fat Face. “Fixing the problem was one thing but without being able to determine the underlying cause we were unable to guarantee it wouldn’t happen again.”
Further, reliance on a single and aging piece of hardware, with no disaster recovery in place, meant that if the system went down completely there would have been little chance of a quick recovery. “We had tried managing the situation ourselves for several months, but there were too many unknowns and it was clear that we needed expert help,” says Reynolds.
Coeo started with a 45-point health-check, reviewing the existing set up from a SQL Server viewpoint, and implementing a remediation process to stabilise systems, manage performance and reduce downtime.
Coeo then initiated consolidation and upgrade, a multi-phase process starting with an exploration of every corner of the landscape to assess what was in scope.
Taking these findings into the model phase, Coeo worked with Fat Face to define business requirements in terms of system availability, disaster recovery and upgrade capacity. Modelling also considered the needs of in-house and third-party applications, and any issues around migrating them to the new platform.
With modelling complete, the team developed a logical then physical solution design followed by a detailed implementation plan.
Consolidation delivered savings, stability and speed
Prior to this project, Fat Face had different versions of SQL Server dotted around the business, including SQL Server 2000 and 2005, explains Reynolds. “As the implementation phase rolled out, we upgraded to SQL Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008 R2, consolidating servers and reducing our licensing costs in the process.”
“The combination of new hardware, performance optimisations, and an upgrade to SQL Server 2008 R2 made everything at least 100% faster,” says Reynolds. “Enhanced performance has given us much greater reliability but also much more leeway, so that all the processes running overnight have plenty of time to finish. For example, the previous day’s sales figures are critical for stock control, merchandising and finance functions.”
Everything had previously been operating on a knife-edge. With a tight timeframe for loading data and a limited maintenance window, it only took one late item to cause a massive knock-on effect.
Reynolds is glad to say those days are in the past. “We’ve now got much greater confidence in platform stability and availability, and our infrastructure is future-proofed to accommodate new applications and increasing volumes of data as the business grows.”
Storage and capacity gains were included in the consolidation process, while reducing the SQL servers from seven to four has also saved rack space and helped optimise the virtualised infrastructure. Fat Face also took advantage of the data and back-up compression features available with SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition, saving an anticipated investment in a new storage area network (SAN).
The project was a great success for Fat Face and Reynolds credits the relationship between the firms. “Coeo understood very well what we were trying to do and to be honest their SQL Server knowledge is second to none. As a result, we now have a very sound and scalable environment which will take Fat Face forward for the next five years.”