Engine of growth

Retail firm Kamal Osman Jamjoom has sped up its global expansion plans fuelled by recent deployments of advanced network and security solutions.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  February 3, 2008

Retail firm Kamal Osman Jamjoom has sped up its global expansion plans fuelled by recent deployments of advanced network and security solutions.

Kamal Osman Jamjoom's (KOJ) IT team had an active 2007. In the last year, the team has worked on putting in place a new network backbone, added new servers and storage capacity and upgraded the firm's primary datacentre to take on the extra load.

All of this has been done in parallel with the company's existing work load including software implementation and service and support provisions. Most projects done in 2007 have been worked on for a larger IT goal, called the SMART(specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) programme.

"The SMART programme was started in 2005 and encompasses everything related to the implementation of Oracle in the company. We launched the programme following a detailed SWOT analysis where we found weaknesses in our merchandising, planning and ordering systems.

These elements are very important to a core retailer like us," says Mohammed Thameem Rizvon, group IT manager at KOJ.

"To rectify these and add efficiency to the business, we did a system selection project for six months where we considered our core competence and what we wanted and surveyed the retail applications which would provide us the tools to reach our goals. We finally decided on Oracle retail, which we found to be one of the best in the world and something that suited our needs," he adds.

Once the firm chose Oracle, it realised the need to improve or upgrade its existing network infrastructure and hardware to better support Oracle.

SMART includes 11 projects, some of them technology and some business projects, which aim to implement a state of the art IT infrastructure that runs Oracle across the business chain.

Infrastructure upgrade

The team worked to set up infrastructure across the datacentre and the network backbone to support the needs of Oracle sufficiently. Actual deployment was preceded by a sizing exercise, where the team calculated needs in terms of the organisation, people joining and leaving, applications and other considerations until 2010.

Based on these calculations, KOJ decided to add around 24 Sun Solaris servers to its primary datacentre to take on the demands of Oracle.

Prior to the project, we were largely a Microsoft environment running on HP servers of which there were 26. Not all of these servers will continue to stay in the datacentre.

We will reduce the number of HP storage servers, as most application storage will move to Sun Solaris with Oracle. The application and POS servers will also become redundant," says Rizvon.

According to him, the company will consider blade infrastructure for the remaining HP servers in the near future.

"We are also completely upgrading our storage requirements because Oracle requires a lot of storage. Oracle's retail data warehouse uses a lot of data to do cube analysis and other in-depth metrics and all of this has to be stored," points out Rizvon.

The firm has also invested in building redundancy into the power and cooling systems in the datacentre. There are two failovers for the air conditioning and the UPS. A generator is also being put in place to provide alternate power if needed.

"We have put in several levels of redundancy in the datacentre. Since IT has become more of a utility, there should be no chance of any failure," says Rizvon. Around 90% of the datacentre is complete; in a couple of months the datacentre will be capable of supporting Oracle till 2009.

The company is also planning on setting up a disaster recovery site by next year. Work on the datacentre is running in parallel to the task of upgrading the company's network backbone.

Our company is growing really fast. We opened close to 100 stores last year alone. We are present in six countries and we are going to be in the seventh country in the next few months.

As we expand, we step into multiple time zones and this means the systems have to run 24/7. Our IT systems needed to be very strong, secure and stable and with this in mind our networks were upgraded. For the project of making our network highly available and secure we went with GBM," says Rizvon.

GBM has brought in a combination of Cisco 6500 switches and F5 for the upgrade. While previously everything was done via VPN, the company found this to be a restrictive approach especially across several telecom service providers in multiple countries. This has now been replaced with IPsec by the firm.

For connectivity we have gone for a mix of leased lines and ADSL for backup.

The leased line in Dubai is already done and the offices in Saudi, including Jeddah and Riyadh, will also be connected on a line soon. We are going for a distributed WAN where we have our offices and the stores connecting to the datacentre.

Offices remain online throughout, stores remain offline and whenever the connection is established will be able to send in information to the datacentre.

We use WAN links only for two important things - e-mail which the company hosts internally and PoS which will be upgraded with the Oracle implementation to work on the online mode," says Rizvon.

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