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Thai firm chooses flash storage to speed up supply chain

Thailand-based SiS Distribution has adopted flash storage technology to improve internal processes and customer services

SiS Distribution in Thailand chose to implement flash technology to speed up its work processes.

The IT distribution company, which supplies IT resellers, uses SAP ERP to provide rapid, accurate information to customers to maximise workflow efficiency from queries to order processing, and then on to delivery.

As one of the largest distributors of IT products in Thailand, SiS offers same-day delivery for its Bangkok resellers and next-day delivery services across Thailand.

“Our business relies on a very short turnaround time for successful completion of the supply chain,” says Somchai Sittichaisrichart, CEO and CIO at the company.

SiS uses SAP R/3 and SAP Business Warehouse (BW) to manage its sales, inventory, finance and accounting systems. These core systems play a central role in helping the IT distributor keep pace with its customers’ growing expectations. This includes being able to achieve consistent, predictable and reliable transactions in less than a millisecond.

SiS has 150 sales staff who use the SAP systems to check stock availability, issue reports and ensure monthly targets are met. Customers can make purchases through the company’s self-service website.

However, the distributor found it increasingly challenging to achieve fast, predictable query and response times as the number of transactions increased dramatically when its business grew.

The challenge was the time taken to transfer data from R/3 to BW every day in order to generate departmental reports. The high number of transactions, coupled with large data volumes, meant that SiS could not run the reports during the day because the process took a long time and consumed a lot of power, which affected the capacity of other systems.

As a result, reports were processed after midnight so that they could be ready by 8am the next day. It used to take eight hours to complete the processing, but the increased data volume meant that was not enough time. The inability to predict when the reports would be completed was unacceptable to SiS.

Another challenge was to avoid drops in performance when business units or business functions accessed and retrieved reports at the same time.

When investments in its server infrastructure and high-speed network did not adequately address these performance issues, SiS knew it needed to move to a novel technology solution beyond its traditional hard disk drive (HDD) infrastructure.

“We wanted more than the 30% improvement that could be achieved by simply adding more hard drives,” says Sittichaisrichart. “What we needed was the kind of game-changing technology that could dramatically increase SAP performance.”

Game-changing technology

There were two possible solutions: reduce some user requirements and redesign to reduce data transfer requirements, or improve storage performance by using new technology that would scale well and support future business growth. SiS decided to do both at the same time.

As a distributor of EMC solutions in Thailand, the company was aware of flash technology and its advantages over traditional HDD storage, and decided that EMC’s XtremIO All-Flash Array technology would meet its requirements for faster storage performance.

SiS deployed EMC XtremIO comprising the Starter X-Brick with 5TB of capacity, always-on inline data deduplication, inline compression and thin provisioning.

This enabled the effective capacity for the SAP consolidated workload to be at least three times that provided by traditional storage arrays, so that the 1.4TB of data can be met by 500GB of capacity within XtremIO.

“When XtremIO was sized, I was surprised that a 5TB X-Brick would be sufficient for our needs,” says Sittichaisrichart. “Data compression and deduplication means we effectively achieve data reduction of three times by using XtremIO.”

Since moving to an all-flash array, SiS has reduced the time taken to run its back-end services and complete backup from more than eight hours to less than three hours.

“This directly affects our supply chain because it means our warehouse operations can begin operations at 6am to prepare for same-day delivery orders,” says Sittichaisrichart.

Also, the SAP system’s response time has been reduced from 20 milliseconds to less than three milliseconds. Previously, report generation took up to an hour, causing the company to halt the process during working hours and to limit the number of concurrent users placing additional load on the system.

The improved system performance means the sales team can now get instant access to order status and report data at any time.

Read more about flash storage

When resellers log into the system to check stock availability or the status of an order, SAP must be able to handle an increase from 150 staff to more than 1,000 users logging in, without a drop in performance. With XtremIO, the performance bottlenecks experienced with traditional storage have been eliminated.

SiS is in the process of migrating its self-service portal to XtremIO and is also looking at implementing big data analytics.

Having achieved faster storage access, SiS is accelerating its innovation cycles for quicker application rollouts through a flexible test and development environment. The IT team uses XtremIO writeable snapshots to quickly create copies of production data for testing.

“The snapshot feature is extremely useful for testing new software or developing a new process,” says Sittichaisrichart. “Instead of testing with very few transactions, we create a snapshot from production and have a huge amount of real-life data in a matter of seconds.”

Flash storage adoption is currently at a nascent stage in the Asean market and is gradually gaining acceptance among enterprises.

“Size and cost are the main factors hampering the adoption of flash storage among enterprises,” says Sandeep Bazaz, industry analyst, ICT – datacentre and cloud computing at Frost & Sullivan, Asia Pacific. “The effect of these factors is expected to reduce with increase in size and reduced costs. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are some of the markets that will drive the demand for flash storage systems.”

Bazaz says more enterprises are likely to use flash storage in the coming years as the barriers to adoption diminish. Today, enterprises that are more likely to adopt flash storage systems are in industries such as banking, financial services and insurance, healthcare and online retail.

“There is a strong possibility that flash storage will become the primary form of storage and will replace traditional HDD,” says Bazaz. “There is a possibility of flash replacing traditional HDD in the next five to 10 years.”

Read more on Information technology (IT) in ASEAN