If you’re picking up a bottle of water at a store in the USA, there’s a good chance that Niagara Bottling was responsible for every step of its journey to your shopping cart. To enable the responsive electronic document interchange (EDI) services that make this journey possible, the company uses a high-availability IBM® Sterling B2B Integrator solution.
As Niagara Bottling took on new markets and business models, demand on its trading partner integration platform was rising fast. How could the company boost the availability of its vital EDI services?
Niagara Bottling migrated to a modular, multi-node EDI platform based on IBM Sterling B2B Integrator and IBM MQ, enabling seamless continuity of EDI services in the event of unplanned downtime.
Few things are more satisfying than opening a cool bottle of water on a hot summer’s day — and for over 50 years, Niagara Bottling has played a key role in the production, packaging and delivery of bottled water across the United States.
Paul Gonzalez, Senior Database Administrator at Niagara Bottling, LLC., begins: “We service a wide range of customers, from online, big-box and convenience retailers and government organizations. One of the key factors in our success is the ability to take on the manufacturing, filling and packaging of bottled water based on each customer’s unique needs, and deliver the finished products where they need to be in a timely, cost-efficient way.”
He continues: “Over the last 10 years, we’ve been growing at a steady rate. More recently, much of our growth is the result of our move into contract manufacturing — a business model that enables us to take on the end-to-end manufacturing process for some of the country’s best-known beverage producers, right down to drop shipping consignments to their customers.”
To orchestrate its supply chain processes effectively, Niagara Bottling has relied for many years on a trading partner integration gateway based on IBM Sterling B2B Integrator and protected with a demilitarized zone (DMZ) subnetwork based on IBM Sterling Secure Proxy.
Michelle Chen, EDI Specialist at Niagara Bottling, LLC., comments: “We have stringent service-level agreements [SLAs] with our customers—and if we are unable to meet them, we risk delays in processing orders and increased operational costs. As our EDI volumes were growing, it was becoming increasingly challenging to achieve the level of availability we needed to meet our SLAs.”
Gonzalez adds: “We believe that EDI should be just like the electrical cabling in your walls or the plumbing under your floor: you don’t need to think about it, it just works. To deliver 100 percent apparent uptime for our customers, we decided to move to a high-availability configuration with IBM Sterling B2B Integrator.”
Niagara Bottling worked with IBM to design a 16-node architecture for its IBM Sterling B2B Integrator platform, supported by a robust, failure-tolerant middleware layer based on IBM MQ and a value-added network (VAN) driven by IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Network. The new solution uses IBM B2B Advanced Communications to isolate the AS2 protocol from the core message processing platform — enabling 100 percent apparent uptime even if the IBM Sterling B2B Integrator environment is unavailable.
“While our single-node IBM Sterling B2B Integrator environment was easy to manage, we knew that we needed a fresh approach to continue to serve our trading partner communities effectively,” Gonzalez recalls. “I sit on the IBM customer advisory council for IBM Sterling B2B Integrator, and keenly advocated for the ability to create high-availability configurations by separating communication and protocol support from the platform. IBM delivered exactly what we needed with the release of IBM B2B Advanced Communications, and our close collaboration with the product design team convinced us that we could use the solution to hit our availability targets.”
Today, Niagara Bottling supports AS2 transactions using IBM B2B Advanced Communications. In the event of unplanned IBM Sterling B2B Integrator downtime, IBM B2B Advanced Communications acknowledges inbound EDI documents with the appropriate message disposition notification (MDN), and then queues up the transactions in IBM MQ. Once IBM Sterling B2B Integrator is back online, the platform processes the queued transactions seamlessly.
“Every failed EDI transaction drives up our operational costs because of the manual work involved in retriggering and reprocessing the file,” says Chen. “In the past, if a customer sent an AS2 message and our B2B platform was offline, we’d be unable to send an MDN to confirm that we’d received it, and our partner would record it as a failed transaction.
“Now, that’s all changed. Our high-availability configuration enables us to send MDNs to our customers immediately. Even if our B2B platform is offline, we can queue up transactions in IBM MQ in the meantime and then process them swiftly once connectivity is restored — helping us meet our SLAs, no matter what.”
Gonzalez adds: “From the outset, we designed our 16-node architecture to future-proof our business. As well as delivering the availability we need to meet our EDI requirements in the near-term, the architecture allows us to integrate additional functionalities to IBM Sterling B2B Integrator in a modular way — helping us adapt rapidly to new standards and protocols.”
To deliver the high performance required to drive the EDI environment, Niagara Bottling uses IBM Power Systems™ E850C servers running IBM AIX®. The platform is connected to a storage area network (SAN) based on IBM Storwize® V7000 and managed with IBM Easy Tier® software.
“In my opinion, a true high-availability solution combines architecture, processes, software and hardware,” says Gonzalez. “We have utilized IBM Power Systems servers and IBM Storwize® V7000 for years, and the platforms have never let us down. In fact, we recently used logical partitions [LPARs] in IBM AIX to migrate all our EDI nodes from POWER7® to POWER8®-processor based systems with absolutely no interruption to our services. Better still, dynamic compression and storage virtualization on IBM Storwize V7000 enables us to over-provision our storage substantially — avoiding the need to invest in additional disks.”
With a future-ready, high-availability platform supporting its trading partner integration processes, Niagara Bottling can continue moving forward into new markets and business models with confidence.
“Although it has never actually happened to us, we estimate that it would take us between one and two hours to rebuild our EDI databases from a backup after an unplanned outage,” explains Gonzalez. “If that were to happen, IBM MQ would queue up all of our EDI transactions while we worked to bring our system back online. Crucially, our trading partners would never even know anything was wrong: they’d continue to receive their MDNs regardless of the status of our EDI environment.”
Chen adds: “Some of our most demanding clients require that our EDI systems are never offline — even for planned maintenance windows. With our multi-node architecture, we can perform upgrades on half of the nodes in our cluster at a time — leaving the other half online to continue processing messages without interruption. As we continue to add new partners and grow our EDI volumes, these capabilities will definitely help us to maintain very high levels of service.”
Niagara Bottling’s modular IBM Sterling B2B Integrator architecture is already enabling it to adapt to evolving partner requirements in a more nimble and cost-efficient way.
“We recently engaged a new banking partner, who offered to manage our invoicing and reconciliation processes on our behalf — lightening our back-office workload,” Gonzalez comments. “To deliver these value-added services, the bank required an AS2 protocol with an additional SSL certificate and credentials.
“If the business had asked us to deliver these capabilities in our previous single-node environment, it would have been practically impossible to achieve without major interruption to our services — but thanks to our modular architecture, we were able to bolt on the new functionalities in a fast and straightforward way.”
Looking to the future, Niagara Bottling is planning to deploy new capabilities to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of its trading partner integration processes.
“We are very interested in extending our use of IBM Sterling Control Center, which we currently use to help monitor our B2B processes and detect potential errors,” says Gonzalez. “In the longer term, we see potential to use IBM Sterling Control Center alerts to trigger actions such as a rolling restart of all of our EDI nodes. This would enable us to remediate some technical issues with almost zero human involvement, freeing our personnel to focus on delivering value-added services.”
As a member of the IBM Preview Program, Niagara Bottling is evaluating artificial intelligence (AI) solutions such as IBM Watson® with interest.
“We want to harness the intelligence of IBM Watson to enable greater self-service for our partner community,” Gonzalez continues. “By deploying solutions such as IBM Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence and IBM Sterling Supply Chain Insights, we could enable our users to type in their questions about the status of a B2B message in natural language and receive answers in real time. At the moment, we spend multiple hours each day digging through our data to find answers to these kinds of questions—and an IBM Watson solution could potentially save us hundreds of hours per year.”
He concludes: “Our main challenge is: ‘how do we manage sustained growth effectively?’, which is a great challenge to have. Thanks to our work with IBM, we are confident that we’ve created a trading partner integration platform that will meet our needs for at least the next decade to come.”
Founded in 1963 and headquartered in Ontario, California, Niagara Bottling is a leading beverage manufacturer in the USA, supplying major retailers across the nation. With manufacturing locations across the country, Niagara Bottling produces and delivers single-serve private label beverages for grocery, club, convenience and wholesale customers.
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