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Case Study: iTera's Echo2 High Availability

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For nearly six years, Boyd Gaming had been utilizing a major iSeries high availability (HA) solution to mirror its accounting and other front-office applications. Boyd's experience with the product was disappointing. Chronic problems included a frequent need to resynchronize objects between the two systems, difficulty testing role swaps (the backup system assuming the role of the production system), and poor customer support.


Boyd decided to evaluate its HA software strategy, so Application Services Manager Marv Magnani brought in iSeries veteran Jim Ravens as Business Recovery Manager to head up the project. For months, Ravens worked with Boyd's existing HA product but was continually frustrated with the time it took to manage the system, the frequency of out-of-sync conditions, and worst of all, the level of vendor support.

Ravens contracted with a reseller of the HA solution for help getting these problems resolved. After the contractor performed a significant reconfiguration of the system, Ravens and his team came close to a successful role swap. However, when attempting to test the role swap a second time, Ravens discovered that errors had cropped up again, which took a great deal of time to resolve. Ravens and Magnani agreed that Boyd needed to start looking at other HA solutions.

At an IBM Technical Conference in Las Vegas, Magnani ran across iTera's booth and learned about the Echo2 High Availability solution. Magnani and Ravens took a closer look at the product and were encouraged. Says Ravens, "The product seemed very simple and efficient, particularly because of how iTera had incorporated remote journaling into the solution."

Echo2 cost significantly less than Boyd's current HA solution, but Magnani and Ravens were understandably worried that they might encounter with Echo2 the same HA problems they were already experiencing. Plus, Boyd wanted to give its existing HA vendor one last chance. It was about this time that Boyd's lease was close to expiring on its Model 740 iSeries that ran its back-office financial applications, and the company was looking to replace it with a new Model 820. Boyd still had a few months left on the lease when management had the idea to bring the new machine in early to use as an HA target box if both iTera and the existing HA vendor would be willing to install their solutions one at a time and let Boyd test each solution on the same set of data. Both HA vendors agreed, and IBM even let Boyd bring in the machine before the scheduled delivery date at no extra charge to conduct the test.

Boyd Puts Echo2 HA to the Test

Each vendor was given three days to install the HA software, have the application data fully replicated, and successfully perform a role swap. iTera was the first to install, and within three days the role swap was not only executed successfully, it was completed in about five minutes. Echo2 was then taken off the systems, and the other HA solution was installed. At the end of three days, the other vendor was still having difficulty mirroring application data from the source to the target, and because of this, the role swap was only partially successful.

When the test was complete, Ravens and his staff were very excited about the potential of Echo2. However, before switching entirely to Echo2, management wanted to perform one final test by installing Echo2 on the two Model 820 front-office machines (where the hotel and gaming applications run), role swap to the target machine, and finally, run these applications for a month on the backup machine before switching back.

Once Echo2 was installed on these machines and all selected data was replicated, Ravens did a role swap and successfully moved all users and interfaces to the second machine. For six weeks, Boyd ran its hotel and gaming applications on its backup machine without encountering any data integrity problems or having any objects go out of sync. At the end of the six weeks, Ravens then reversed the role swap without incident. Boyd management was now happy to select Echo2 as its exclusive iSeries HA solution.

Says Ravens, "These tests certainly gave me a good sense of how both HA solutions function, the effort needed to manage the systems on a daily basis, and what is needed to perform a role swap. It also gave our operators an opportunity to use both products." Continues Ravens, "We regularly and successfully test the role swap process; in fact, we have seen role swaps execute in as little as 24 seconds."

Unexpected Benefits

As Boyd continued to use Echo2, a variety of unexpected downtime-reducing benefits were revealed.

When Boyd did its final migration to the 820 machine (the one that replaced the 740 machine used for back-office applications), Echo2's replication process simply preloaded all of the necessary data on the 820 without the need for a manual tape backup and restore. In fact, when it was time to pull the plug on the old machine, Boyd simply did a role swap, moved the interfaces, and let IBM take away the old box. "We saved the users about six hours worth of downtime," says Ravens. "The only downtime that users experienced was the time it took to take the cables off of the 740 and connect them to the 820."

Echo2 also saved considerable downtime when Boyd needed to do a V5R2 upgrade to OS/400 on its front-office 820 machines. A role swap moved users to the target, the source machine's OS was upgraded, and users stayed on the target for two weeks, after which they were moved back to the source and the OS upgrade was executed on the target. Because Echo2 can continue mirroring even when source and target machines are on different levels of the OS, mirroring never had to be suspended.

Another significant benefit was realized when data warehousing, report generation, and tape backup processes were all moved to the target machine, thus relieving the source machine of this overhead and of the downtime normally needed for tape backups.

Recently, Boyd has purchased iTera's Check Point Recovery (CPR) product to speed up the process of ending, moving, and restarting interfaces during the role swap process. Currently, when Boyd needs to move users to the target machine, the role swap itself takes only a minute or less; however, operators still need to end all of the interfaces to other devices and systems before the role swap and then move and restart the interfaces after the role swap. This entire process typically takes about two hours, but once CPR is installed, Boyd is confident that the time can be cut to just 30 to 45 minutes.

Bill Rice is an information technology freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Salt Lake City, Utah. He can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About Boyd Gaming

Boyd Gaming Corporation owns and operates 13 casino entertainment properties with operations in Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, Indiana, New Jersey, and Illinois. Boyd properties include the Stardust, California, and Sam's Town hotel/casinos in Las Vegas, and Boyd is about to open the luxurious new Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City through a joint venture with MGM/Mirage.

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/iTera%20-%20Boyd%20Gaming%20Case%20Study%20-%20MC%20PressV600.jpg

iTera, Inc.
150 N. Wright Brothers Drive, Suite 500
Salt Lake City, UT 84116
Tel: 800-957-4511
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Web: www.iterainc.com

Bill Rice

Bill Rice is a technology marketer and founder of Humanized Communications, a digital marketing agency. He is a former editor of MC Showcase, is a former marketing communications director for Vision Solutions, and even did a stint as an IT manager for a shop that had an AS/400 model C10 (this just dated him). He can be reached at billr@humanizedcommunications.com.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
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  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
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  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
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    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
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    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.