Business challenge

NS manages an extensive intermodal rail freight network. To coordinate logistics across approximately 20,000 miles of railroad, the company wanted to ensure it could always access its shipment data.

Transformation

Enabling business continuity with an IBM® Db2® with pureScale® cluster, NS users can now access critical information across its rail yard and intermodal systems even in the event of a server failure.

Results

24/7

insight into shipment status boosts user and customer satisfaction

Protects

the business against interruptions to time-sensitive operations

Increases

agility by enabling changes to databases on the fly

Business challenge story

No time for downtime

Operating around the clock across three separate time zones, with railroads stretching from New Orleans to New York, and Florida to Chicago, NS must keep thousands of shipments moving across its network with the regularity and precision of clockwork.

“What we do can be compared to air traffic control, but everything takes place on the ground, and there are even more moving parts to manage,” explains Denese Whitney, Manager of Database Systems at NS. “We must seamlessly coordinate the movement of shipments and equipment, and a single delay can cause knock-on effects for the rest of our schedule. At NS, there is simply no good time for downtime.”

In such a highly time-sensitive environment, NS needs a live view of where its shipments are at all times. Increasingly, customers and business partners are also coming to expect these insights. As a result, users from inside and outside NS are constantly querying the company’s two most important systems: the Thoroughbred Yard Enterprise System (TYES), which is used to manage yard inventory, and a strategic intermodal application.

Samer Bashir, Senior Technology Lead at NS, says: “As our business grows, so does the demand for real-time data. The ability to provide customized reports to customers has become a key part of what differentiates us from other freight companies. The NS IT department has always delivered exceptional availability for these services to the business, but as transactions and volumes escalated, we became concerned that the technology we had in place was approaching breaking point.”

With plans to incorporate more sophisticated technology into its yard systems, NS decided it was the right time for change. Denese Whitney says: “We are currently developing a new yard system that is entirely driven by artificial intelligence; such a dynamic environment will only increase our reliance on real-time data, so we knew we needed to make sure our database infrastructure would be fit for purpose.”

IBM Db2 with pureScale enables real-time insight into where shipments are in our network, 24/7.

—Denese Whitney, Manager of Database Systems, Norfolk Southern Corp.

Transformation story

Pioneering approach

NS decided to reduce the risk of interruptions to its business-critical yard and intermodal systems by deploying an IBM Db2 with pureScale cluster, running on IBM Power® 750 Express servers located at the company’s two data centers.

Kedar Shetye, Senior Technology Engineer at NS, takes up the story: “We used to replicate data from our primary database to a separate database instance running on a backup server at our second site. With IBM Db2 with pureScale, we can have a single database instance running on a cluster of servers, with separate nodes for OLTP, batch and reporting workloads. The environments are distinct, but they all access the same data, which eliminates latency and synchronization issues, and simplifies the overall management of the database platform.”

Working closely with the IBM Toronto Software Lab, NS prepared a detailed migration plan, which it used to complete the move to Db2 with pureScale within the company’s usual weekly maintenance window. Denese Whitney comments: “We were able to migrate our TYES application to Db2 with pureScale in less than an hour, and our intermodal application well within our scheduled downtime window, so there was no noticeable impact on the business.”

The multi-node design of the solution offers NS a number of advantages. These include higher availability than ever before; the ability to make changes to database structures on the fly, without the need for scheduled downtime; and new scalability options.

Samer Bashir elaborates: “Now, if the server hosting one of our Db2 with pureScale nodes fails, the solution automatically fails over to another node, helping us to ensure 24/7 availability of data. And if a change request comes in from one of our partners, we can alter tables and so on without taking the system down. This unprecedented flexibility means that we’re not even using our weekly scheduled maintenance window any more—with Db2 with pureScale, we simply don’t need it.”

Kedar Shetye adds: “With IBM Db2 with pureScale, we can scale horizontally by adding nodes, or vertically by adding resources to an existing node.”

Results story

Staying ahead of a dynamic business

By embracing IBM Db2 with pureScale technology, NS can reliably deliver real-time shipment data to internal users, partners and customers, enhancing satisfaction with its services across the board.

Denese Whitney comments: “In an environment where there is so little tolerance for delays, IBM Db2 with pureScale enables our users to gain real-time insight into where shipments are in our network, 24/7. As a result, our employees can make the decisions that keep operations running smoothly, partners can work with us seamlessly and customers are kept well-informed.”

Samer Bashir continues: “And because we are now working from a single version of the truth, we can be confident in the accuracy of the data that we provide to users. As reliance on real-time data increases across NS and our customer base, this is a key benefit.”

With business volumes and use of leading-edge equipment increasing at NS, the company must ensure that it has the technology in place to meet both current and future needs. By offering NS the flexibility to make changes and scale up with ease and at speed, the IBM solution is expected to play a key role in the company’s evolution.

Denese Whitney concludes: “The flexibility provided by Db2 with pureScale will help us to adapt to changing demands from the business, so that we can better meet upcoming challenges. By ensuring that we can reliably process millions of transactions each day and satisfy a growing appetite for analytics, the IBM solution plays an essential part in keeping our operations working around the clock.”

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About Norfolk Southern Corp

Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS) is a leading U.S. transportation company. It operates 20,000 route miles of railroad in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and the most extensive intermodal network in the eastern United States. Headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, NS employs approximately 30,000 people.

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