Protecting Servers From A Crash

Movie Gallery, a $267 million video rental chain, keeps its 900 locations up and running by implementing uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices.

Movie Gallery opened its first video rental store in Dothan, AL, in 1987. By 1994, the company completed its initial public offering (IPO) and raised enough capital to start acquiring video rental stores throughout the United States. There were many acquisitions. By 1996, the company had 850 locations.

Despite the company's success-through-acquisition philosophy, Movie Gallery spent 1997 and 1998 trying to catch its breath. During those two years, Movie Gallery committed itself to revamping its infrastructure to support the company's suddenly large volume of stores and customers. One of the infrastructure concerns included the installation of new uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices for each store's server. In the event that there is an electrical failure, these devices use batteries to keep the servers temporarily online. If the electrical failure is resolved within 20 minutes, for example, the UPS devices keep the servers up and running in the meantime. If the electrical failure cannot be resolved quickly, the UPS devices allow time for Movie Gallery personnel to safely take the servers offline.

UPS Devices Prevent Server Crashes
Movie Gallery had its power protection plan in place. However, the company realized that its UPS devices were causing more problems than they were solving. The company has since grown to 900 stores in 29 states in 1999, and its UPS devices experienced sporadic failures. For example, a battery on a UPS device might need to be replaced. In this case, a replacement battery was sent to the proper location, and a Movie Gallery employee would perform the installation. "The people who work in the video stores are not computer technicians. They would either incorrectly install the battery or not re-cable the device correctly," explains Tracy Trezise, network engineer at Movie Gallery. "With the product that we were using, the incorrect configuration would cause a memory leak and would crash the server. That is the worst thing that can happen. If there is a problem with the installation, the software should let us know by some other method than crashing the server."

To solve its power dilemma, Movie Gallery turned to Tripp Lite (Chicago), a manufacturer of power protection and conditioning devices. Originally, Movie Gallery chose the Tripp Lite SmartPro 450, but the company has since installed the vendor's SmartPro 700 series. While the UPS devices provide more than 20 minutes of battery backup, Trezise says he takes a more cautious approach. "If we are going to be without power for more than 20 minutes, we will go ahead and down the server on our own," comments Trezise. "If the power can't be restored in 20 minutes, odds are you won't get the power back anytime soon."

Polling Data After Hours
Even with 900 locations across the country, Movie Gallery still needs to access daily sales and rental activity at each store. At the end of each business day, Movie Gallery employees at each location balance their cash drawers and follow closing procedures. After closing, however, the server is still running. During the night, each location is contacted through an analog dial-up connection. Daily activity for each store is polled and downloaded to Movie Gallery headquarters in Dothan, AL. Reports are automatically generated from the data, and company officials review the reports the next morning. "We may encounter power ‘hitches' during the night, but the UPS device handles them," states Trezise. "When the employees come in to work in the morning, they don't even know there was a problem. The server doesn't go down, and no other systems have crashed."

Ed Hess