CASE STUDY - A flourishing future for FloraHolland

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With six locations, 36 auction clocks and more then 4,000 employees, FloraHolland is the world leading trader of plants, flowers and horticultural products.  On a daily basis,180,000 commercial transactions take place and some 7,000 suppliers and 4500 buyers meet and interact with each other. 

Looking in on the auction in the location Naaldwijk at any given moment it is likely that you would see one of the 2,000 flower carts that roll across the auction floor every day.  In order to monitor, and perform against, the service level agreements which are critical to ensuring ongoing business success, each cart is tracked by the means of a bar code and a radio frequency identification (RFID) system.

All commercial and logistical data taken from the RFID system is immediately loaded into a data warehouse, from which FloraHolland runs a large number of algorithms to analyse the information in a number of different ways, at speed.  The system performs analysis on the lead time of flower carts, delivery times, efficiency of employees and overall error margins. Product information, such as colour, stalk length, quality and price is also reviewed.  In addition to this, a series of what if analyses are also important as growers and buyers reference this data to determine their own market position. They perform benchmarks with respect to the total price, their region, or on country level. Perhaps most critically, they also perform data reviews on which products sell well and which dont in order to ensure that assortment and corresponding proceeds are optimised.

Hans Uithol, corporate information officer at FloraHolland said: We are a market place for growers and buyers and need to support them accordingly. We capture commercial and logistical data in our data warehouse from which customers can then find information on quality, money, deliveries and cost development on a central intranet. It is critical that we maintain a high level of processing speed in order to keep a competitive edge.

Challenges for the data warehouse

As the level of data grew, and with FloraHolland still wanting to place increasing amounts of information at the disposal of growers and buyers, its existing data warehouse was subjected to more and more pressure. The number of simultaneous users increased, and the emphasis was shifted from standard queries towards more complex, ad hoc, queries.  The end result was that the performance of the data warehouse declined noticeably.

The Company also wanted to use RFID technology to follow every flower cart continuously, as each year carts disappear from the stock lists. With one cart costing 600, the ongoing replacement of the carts was proving to be very expensive drain on the business. The benefit of using RFID was that the auction house believed it could save substantial money every year, but the downside was that the amount of data to manage would rise exponentially and tuning the system to handle this increase would become more time-consuming and expensive.  Alongside this, there was also a business need to manage scalability to support future developments more effectively.

Research showed that an upgrade of the system would not only involve a very high cost, but that alternative solutions were also expensive to manage or were unpredictable with regard to scalability. Another obstacle to replacing the existing system was that the alternatives offered a poor link-up to the existing business software solutions used within FloraHolland: Informatica PowerCenter for ETL and Business Objects for reporting and analysis.

Introducing the Netezza Performance Server

With vast experience in business intelligence solutions Inergy, an IT partner of FloraHolland, introduced the company to the Netezza Performance Server (NPS) system - data warehouse appliances with unprecedented performance, scalability and overall low management requirements. The system runs on a unique combination of hardware, operating systems and databases, processing, in parallel, large amounts of data at impressive speeds. The additional business benefit that the Netezza solution brings is that it costs far less than other traditional solutions.

To demonstrate what the NPS could deliver, Inergy carried out a successful proof of concept; meeting the very high processing and query targets set by FloraHolland. Not only did the NPS system pass the difficult challenge of processing more than 500 million commercial transactions that had taken place over the last five years, but it also delivered significant improvements with respect to querying data and, on average, returned queries 30 times faster than the previous system had.  Some were identified as running up to an impressive 200 times faster. 

The data loading speed on the NPS was also extremely fast. One of FloraHollands most business critical demands is that the performance levels with 50 simultaneous users should be at least equal to the performance of the current data warehouse operating with just one user. Despite this challenge, the NPS system was recorded to be twice as fast.  Not only did the POC display in detail the level of functionality within the system but it also convinced FloraHolland to purchase it and within a short period of time and with very little effort, the migration to the new system was completed.

Uithol, continued, Netezzas claim on speed and performance was exceptional, so much so that we had to see it to believe it. They proved it. It was super-fast and very impressive. This is a huge leap forward in technology. 

Faster and practically maintenance- free

As a result of the successes already seen, FloraHolland now has two Netezza Performance Servers at its disposal, each with 28 snipping processing units (SPUs): a total storage capacity of 3 TB. These SPUs process queries in parallel which ultimately delivers queries back faster.  Moreover, queries are now performed in the hardware itself, which leads to a considerable time gain during the analysis of commercial and logistic data. The NPS is practically maintenance free, so no more internal resource needs to be dedicated to indexing, aggregating and partitioning.  Since purchasing the NPS system, FloraHolland has also reduced its spend on ongoing IT investments such as system management and maintenance.

Overall, FloraHolland is very satisfied with the system. When expansion of the storage capacity or performance improvement is needed, a simple upgrade to a larger model is possible without high costs and time-consuming effort. The performance of the NPS system is linearly scalable; doubling the number of SPUs, halves the lead time of a query. The architecture of Netezza appliances means that scalability is limitless and that all valuable business data is available all of the time. 

Uithol commented, We are now fully available, and scalable. Performance is great and our data warehouse finally creates an added value for the user which is a significant development for FloraHolland.  The only difference that the user notices is that their queries return faster, so as a result, user satisfaction is very high.

The Netezza Performance Server is a dream-solution for us. It helps us exactly where we need it to in the heart of our data warehouse.

                                                                              

Results Proof of Concept Demands                -    Netezza results
 
reports 10 x faster                                          -    26 x
 
data extraction 5 to 10 x faster                       -   30 x faster
 
performance with 50 simultaneous
users at least equals the performance
of the current data warehouse with 1 user            -  2 x faster
 
NPS stable during Proof of Concept                    -  OK
 
link up with Informatica PowerCenter                  -  OK
 
simple system management of data warehouse     -  OK
 

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