applied solutions: Cox Communications On DASD Diet

Atlanta-based Cox Communications Inc., is among the largest broadband communications companies in the U.S. From an initial cable TV core business, the company has expanded into high speed data and local and long distance telephony, and now provides electronic communications services to 3.8 million customers from 26 cable sites, or service locations, nationwide.

Over the past five years, the company doubled in size and expects to double again in the next three. Rapid growth and constant system upgrades mean that without uniform, regular management of disk storage space, purchases of additional DASD would grow unreasonably. A move to centralize its computer services provided Cox an opportunity to gain control over it.

According to James Wright, AS/400 technical support specialist, the IBM AS/400 is the processing platform of choice, which runs Cox's core billing systems, including billing for services, new installations, work orders, trouble calls, etc. Initially, separate AS/400s were located remotely at its cable sites.

Two years ago, the company centralized its billing system databases in a single data center in Atlanta with communications to and from the cable sites via an asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) circuit over T-1 lines. "The intent was to move our systems--hardware, software and people--to a central location in one consolidated resource that would give us more control over our computing environment," Wright says.

Increased control was necessary because of the rate at which Cox was growing. Upgrades to its computing environment are ongoing--seven times since 1997. "We're a beta test site for IBM," Wright says. "We get the latest and greatest, and by the time that's generally available, we're already looking ahead at what's next."

Today, Cox runs eight RISC-based AS/400s, two model 740s, two 650s, two 530s, two 640s, and an older F-10, soon to be retired. Billing system databases for multiple cable sites reside on separate AS/400s, four or five libraries per database, and an average of 12 databases running on each machine, with 3,736 GB total DASD.

"When we consolidated, we needed a product to manage our disk storage space," Wright says. "Since we're constantly upgrading and adding DASD and memory, if we didn't have something to manage the DASD we have we would probably double or triple our purchasing of additional DASD."

Cox chose S400-DASD Plus, from Solution400 International, based in Oceanside, CA, a tool that automates the management of disk storage space on the AS/400. S400-DASD Plus performs up to 25 different routines including clearing history logs and resizing libraries, clearing job queues and reorganizing files, tasks that can be performed automatically and on a regular basis.

In addition, DASD Plus includes disk analysis functions that analyze disk space utilization and run a variety of reports on the results and provide trend reports that forecast future disk needs based on historical trends.

Before acquiring DASD Plus, managing disk space was cumbersome. "I'd spend hours trying to go through it, finding out the last time this report was used, or when that out queue was cleaned," Wright says. "We were looking for a product to help us manage the out queues and logs. It was a labor intensive manual process and we wanted to find a software solution to support that function."

Cox uses DASD Plus regularly to reclaim disk space and for periodic analysis. According to Wright, the company already has a good idea of what trends to expect.

"We know where we're headed and what we're doing when we acquire a new cable site, for example," Wright says. "We can tell what it's going to take in terms of resources to maintain it and what the file growth is likely be. We can handle that. The problem is more one of disk analysis, what's out there? Has somebody left something out there on disk that's eating up DASD? What is it and when was the last time it was used?"

The disk analysis function is run once a month. Regular disk clean up, such as clearing out queues and removing spool files, is done every day, seven days a week .

In Wright's view, in addition to avoiding the unnecessary purchase of additional DASD, the immediate benefit of DASD Plus has been to allow the AS/400 support team to concentrate on more productive tasks. In a company that is growing as rapidly as Cox, without it adding more support staff would have been unavoidable.

"To me, the benefit is time," Wright says. "It has made my job easier. We have four people who work on the AS/400 side. We support the end users when their terminals or key boards don't work, or when they have a problem doing whatever they are trying to do. Having to manage DASD too would take away from that level of end user support."

The alternative would be hiring additional staff just to manage the disk space. "If we didn't have this product, it would essentially take another person for our nine machines," Wright says.

"We're a company that has done well," he adds. "We're into technical areas other companies only talk about. We don't sit still--we're constantly asking: What's next? We need products like this to move us ahead and accomplish our goals."