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Furniture maker kicks back with Datacenter Sinks into comfort of maximum reliability and avai

DataCenter Server allows La-Z-Boy to rest easy.

La-Z-Boy Inc. is a standout in the furniture business, but the reasons have as much to do with the company's usual computing prowess in a low-tech industry as its comfy signature recliner chairs.

The Monroe, Mich., company is anything but laid back when it comes to getting the most out of its server operating system hardware and software. La-Z-Boy was always a big Microsoft shop and it never really considered changing its operating system software. To do so, despite times when Unix is more feasible, would require staff to retrain and would raise the systems' total cost of ownership, according to Jeff Smith, manager of corporate network services at La-Z-Boy.

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But the real issue was the company's desire to save money and consolidate its operating-system and database software onto as few platforms as possible. La-Z-Boy chose to upgrade its Windows NT 4.0 and 2000 operating system software, as well as its PC servers, to Microsoft's Datacenter Server, which runs on a Unisys ES7000 server.

La-Z-Boy has about 15 different operating units, including the Pennsylvania House, Kincaid and Sam Moore furniture brands. It has about 50 locations in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia, including manufacturing facilities and warehouses. Its IT group supports about 3,500 end users.

The Datacenter Server, which is the keystone to the company's application services, has 12 processors in three partitions, with 12 gigabytes of memory split between them. The server is connected to an EMC Corp.'s Clariion storage area network (SAN) with about 2.8 terabytes of capacity.

Each partition has four processors and varying amounts of memory, which are connected to the SAN. The company's workhorse database application is housed in the first partition, which contains seven copies of SQL Server.

There are nearly 30 databases running within the partition, all of which can have between 10 and 100 users accessing them at any given time, said Mark Richards, a principal consultant at La-Z-Boy. The software stores data for all enterprise applications including the administration, financial and back-office databases for network management and intranets and extranets, Smith said.

The configuration replaced five individual SQL Server databases that ran on separate Compaq Computer Corp. servers running either NT 4.0 or Windows 2000.

A second partition runs enterprise-wide applications other than SQL Server. The partitions are split that way because Microsoft requires that any service touching the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server kernel must be certified through Microsoft.

"Certification means anything that could normally bring down a system, namely anything that touches the kernel, has already been tested for compatibility and reliability," Richards said.

Finally, a third partition runs Microsoft Terminal Services in conjunction with Citrix Metaframe XP. This partition runs the virtual desktop for seven applications that support more than 40 users.

La-Z-Boy was interested in a number of Datacenter Server features but the company liked its "affinity settings" in particular -- Windows' ability to let the operator manage how a process will run. This feature lets the IT manager set boundaries that were formerly set by the size of the hardware.

"If we take a partition that is configured with four processors and 8 gigabytes of memory, we can take a process like Veritas Netbackup, for example, and limit the process to use only one or two processors and 1 gigabyte of memory," Richards said. "It improves both scalability and availability for anything else running on the same system."

Datacenter Server also lets IT managers set quotas for how much disk space each end user can have. If the user gets near or exceeds that quota, the software fires off an alert.

Unisys has added to its hardware a customized version of NetIQ's Appmanager, which lets IT dynamically control the number of processing resources.

Though the Unisys hardware plays a big role in the applications' redundancy, scalability and availability, Datacenter Server is important to making the hardware do what it promises, Richards said.

La-Z-Boy had run its Hewlett-Packard Co. OpenView network management software on one Compaq server with four processors and 1 Gigabyte of memory. Previously, the application was "buried," he said.

And today? "Across all three partitions, we've never averaged higher than 10 percent utilization," Richards said.

Margie Semilof is a senior writer for

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