RAID Controller Improves Data Collection In Warehouse
VAR uses RAID to reduce processing time between main computer and employee handhelds which more than doubles productivity.
Business Solutions, February 1998
Filling Orders In A Warehouse
The warehouse in Brantford contains about 300,000 sq. ft. and is one of two such facilities owned by Ace Hardware in Canada. Over 23,000 stock items are located in bins on shelves in the warehouse. A number of employees at the warehouse are responsible for filling orders for retail stores. The order is stored in the warehouse's main computer and relayed, item-by-item, to an employee's handheld computer on the floor. The employee fills an order by collecting the items displayed on the handheld terminal. To fill an order for 100 hammers, for example, the employee drives an electric cart to a bin that holds hammers. Once the hammers are loaded onto the cart, the employee records this on the handheld and the computer relays the next item on the order to be picked by the employee.
System Delays Cost Company Money
Ideally, all of the orders would be filled and shipped within an eight-hour period. However, this was not the case. After an employee picked an item, there would be at least a 30-second wait before the computer would relay what item to pick next. In some cases, the employee would have to wait as long as four minutes. The delay time would increase when warehouse officials were updating the inventory database, adding new orders to the system, or running other batch jobs.
The delays led to overtime for the warehouse employees and also pushed back the shipping schedule on a daily basis, according to Curtis Brown, president of Strategic Concepts Group. His company was contacted by Digital Equipment Corporation officials, who installed the original system in the warehouse, to correct the problem. Strategic Concepts Group is Digital's largest Canadian VAR and is located in Mississauga, Ontario. "Ace Hardware representatives wanted to reduce the average transmission time of the computer from 30 seconds to eight seconds," recalls Brown.
VAR Skeptical Of RAID Performance
One possible solution to the warehouse problem was installing a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) system. However, Brown has been reluctant to use RAID. "I have found that accessing information from a RAID system is not instantaneous," states Brown.
After evaluating a new RAID controller from CMD Technologies, Inc., the CRD 5500, Brown determined that it was possible to use RAID in a performance environment. The CRD 5500 had two features that Brown had not seen before. The first allowed him to divide up the work of the disk drives. Some of the disk drives contain warehouse inventory data and others contain retail order information for processing. The second feature of the CRD 5500 allowed the controller to read ahead, access order information, and store it until an employee on the floor requests it. This cached information is then immediately relayed to the employee. In addition to the CRD 5500, the system also included a RAID enclosure from JMR Electronics, and Digital's StorageWorks disk drives.
The new system now relays orders to workers in only five seconds - three seconds better than Ace Hardware's goal. Filling a day's worth of orders used to take eight hours and it now takes only three hours.