Murphy's Jukebox Law

Making the sale is important. But after the sale is made, this jukebox integrator says to be prepared for what you find at the installation site.

When a large utility company in the southern United States learned the government mandated documents retention for 21 years, it knew it had a problem. It was dealing with 11,000 new documents a day. It needed to scan those documents, store them on CD-ROMs, and retrieve them in cases of customer requests and internal review.

This particular utility company, like many large entities, moves at a deliberately slow speed through selection and approval processes. And, you can imagine how hard it is to make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

By the time McCoy Enterprises (Southern Technology Group) (Huntsville, AL) got involved, the imaging part of the project was already underway. The utility company could capture the images it needed, but it had no way to store them. Worse yet, it had no way to retrieve them.

Bob McCoy, president of Southern Technology Group, developed and automated the storage process for the utility company. His mass storage solution used CD jukebox technology from JVC (Cypress, CA) in conjunction with K-Par's (Bristol, UK) Archimedia HSM (hierarchical storage management) software. The solution eliminated paper handling, once the documents were imaged. The solution provided rapid access to information when sporadic retrieval was needed.

A dedicated task force from the utility company had already purchased its scanners from another VAR during the imaging phase of the project. Unfortunately, that VAR did not have any experience with mass storage. A vendor that the utility company trusted recommended McCoy's company. "[This customer] put us through the grinder," said McCoy. "We were not a household name, so we had to convince the customer we knew what we were talking about. We did that by leveraging JVC's name."

Expect The Unexpected, And Plan For It
Southern Technology Group installed the $40,000 solution. It included a JVC 2606 jukebox that can hold 600 CDs, an Adaptec SCSI (small computer system interface) card, and K-Par Archimedia software.

Jukeboxes can store a massive amount of information in a small amount of space. The 11,000 documents the utility company handles every day are enough to fill a filing cabinet. In the size of one 600-disk jukebox, a two foot by three foot by six foot tall space, the equivalent of at least 600 file cabinets' worth of documents can be stored.

"We physically delivered the jukebox in the back of a van," said McCoy. "The jukebox is pretty tall, and the utility company's data center is on the eighth floor, so getting it into the building wasn't easy. When we rolled it up to the server, we found that the IT staff hadn't allocated enough physical space for the jukebox. The computer room was jam-packed with hardware. The company had racks and racks of computers up there."

McCoy said the room was filled with IBM mainframes and at least 20 different servers, in row after row. He had given his customer all the necessary specifications. It had all been planned to the last detail. But, when it came to the day of installation, the physical labor hadn't been performed yet. So, filing cabinets were moved out of the way. And, the jukebox was placed behind a server cabinet next to a couple of IBM DLTtape libraries. During the installation, the false floor in the computer room posed a bit of a challenge. The SCSI cables couldn't be looped too long under it.

McCoy said that unpredictable situations like this one occur frequently in his business. He tells his clients how much room they need to provide; but sometimes, they just don't get around to it.

"Murphy's Law always strikes. I put in writing all the things I want the customers to do, but I know they won't always do them. I always plan for complications," he said.

DVD-RAM Upgrade Increases Storage Capacity
When the jukebox was installed in early 1999, the utility company anticipated that it would take about three years to fill it. In the next year or so, McCoy anticipates adding a DVD-RAM jukebox to the utility company's setup. DVD-RAM will give it even more storage capacity per disk.

But McCoy knows he must be patient. The utility company will deliberate and look at all the options. It will make sure it doesn't go wrong in any step along the way. The company will test and retest before it makes a final decision. Maybe next time it will make sure to clear the floor before the next piece of hardware rolls in.

Ann DeDad