Baldor Electric and Welch Foods have much in common. Both are growing, mid-sized companies with similarly sized IT departments. Each uses packaged ERP applications and is run by IT managers who want complete alignment with the business. But when it comes to the hardware running these systems, the companies are polar opposites.

Baldor has consolidated its hardware to an IBM z990 running Linux that hosts its SAP ERP applications. The company, which makes electric motors, moved off IBM pSeries servers running AIX and is planning to switch applications on its Intel servers to applications that run on the mainframe, including moving a Windows-based mail server to Lotus Domino.

Welch Foods, which produces juice, jam and jelly, is moving from a System 390 IBM mainframe as well as an IBM midrange AS/400 (now the iSeries) running a mix of applications to an Oracle ERP system that will run on Intel-based Linux servers.

The vendors involved in these projects -- Dell, which supplied the servers to Welch Foods, and IBM, which supplied Baldor -- announced the migrations last week.

Mark Shackelford, Baldor's IT director, had three mainframes and eight Unix servers. Late last year, the company decided to consolidate to one new mainframe, the z990, running Linux and z/OS operating systems and using zSeries virtualisation technologies.

Weighing heavily in support of the mainframe was its track record: There hadn't been any mainframe downtime since 1997, said Shackelford. The ERP applications run the business, manufacturing, finance, sales, distribution and Web applications, among others. "We have a very stringent requirement of being up all the time," he said.

The move to the mainframe was completed in June and has increased performance by 40 per cent, Shackelford said. The cost of the z990 was offset through staff reductions; the mainframe/Unix management staff was cut from eight to three because Unix servers were eliminated, so he now has an IT staff of 38.

IT spending has declined from 1.7 per cent of sales to 1.2 per cent, and Shackelford said he expects additional reductions.

Three years ago, Shackelford had investigated migrating to a Windows server environment with cluster fail-over. "We thought we were going to save a ton of money," but the systems crashed all the time, he noted, and the idea was quickly abandoned.

Larry Rencken, Welch Foods' vice president of information services, joined the company in June, when the path was already set, but it's one he supports.

Welch's decision to adopt the Intel platform with Oracle and a virtualised environment using VMware was heavily influenced by the vendor's recommendation, as well as Oracle's example of running on a Linux and Intel environment itself, said Rencken.

Welch Foods has 100 physical Intel servers virtualised to 200. Rencken said he likes being able to add servers as needed for performance and scale, as well as building "on a foundation with common processes that have been streamlined and fully integrated."

Jacob Matusevich, Welch's manager of networks and server technologies, said there's no significant difference in uptime between the Intel and IBM environments.

Rencken has an IT staff of 50, but that includes what he described as a short-term increase, because he is still supporting two environments. The migration project will continue into 2007. He put IT spending at about 2.5 per cent of revenue, but that reflects the transition costs and expansion of Oracle-based applications to replace paper-based processes with automated ones.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, wasn't surprised by the difference in approach taken by the two companies. "I think from a customer standpoint, the world is much more made up of shades of grey, and at the end of the day, each customer is a unique case."

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