The Blog

10 years and going strong

November 2011 marked a significant anniversary for Abel Software and our partnership with Australian Linen Supply (ALS). It is now 10 years since Abel was first installed in ALS and although it is really hard to believe it’s been 10 years, as the saying goes… time flies when you’re having fun! So given the occasion I thought I’d write a little something about Australian Linen Supply, and of course how Abel fits in.

ALS has been in business for over 40 years. Their core business is supplying textile, manchester and consumable products to the hospitality and healthcare industries. Another significant part of their business is producing custom designed door mats and emblems for uniforms.

Their head office which sits alongside their warehouse and distribution centre is in Sydney’s south-west and they have additional sales offices in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. The business incorporates three brands, Bev Martin Textiles, Confident Care Products and of course Australian Linen Supply.

Product is primarily imported from China, Pakistan, India, and Cambodia. The volumes are enormous with some 20 to 25 shipping containers processed every month. Abel handles every step of their business including;

  • Ordering
  • Inbound shipping
  • Manufacturing
  • Financials
  • CRM

I was recently in Sydney to upgrade ALS to Abel 5.0 and there was plenty of new functionality to showcase including;

  • Financial dashboards
  • Export to SQL
  • Audit logging extensions
  • Navigation to google maps
  • Quick launch to create emails
  • Batch print and/or emailing statements/invoices
  • Customisable navigation buttons
  • System email queue
  • CRM enhancements
  • Campaign building extensions
  • Ability to reassign tasks
  • Contact lists

To Peter, George and the rest of the team at ALS, thank you. We look forward to another successful 10 years.

Posted in Abel Blog |

Latest case study (E.W. Sinton)

E.W. Sinton (Homeware importer and supplier)

In February 2010, E.W Sinton gave the go ahead to replace their existing software package with Abel™. One of the main criteria was to find a system that could offer them more visibility of their stock (4500 product lines in fact) without needing to print out and analyse reports. Now if there’s one thing Abel does well.. it’s stock, so much so that if Abel were a person he’d have stock for breakfast (and would never run out because he’d know exactly how much and when to order more).

If stock visibility/movement is a concern to your business (it should be!) then I recommend you read the EW Sinton case study.

Ps. I promise to make Abel a ‘she’ next time.

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Opening a bottle of wine should always taste good.

I feel I am doing my bit for the New Zealand economy by consuming the odd glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc. Did you know that the majority of New Zealand wine bottle screwcaps are actually manufactured by Guala Closures, who use Abel to manage their entire, highly complex, manufacturing and sales processes?

Latest case study (Guala Closures)

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When was the last time you checked your backup (Part 3)

How can changing the location of your database journal files improve performance?

Any serious databases will allow you to store the database journal files in a separate location. It is good practice to store the database transaction journals on a different physical disk to where the database itself is stored. The theory being that if one disk/raid array fails, you still have the other to fall back on. And doing this also has the added benefit of improving performance.

In a transaction based system such as Abel, one of the performance considerations should be how fast the data is written to disk. As described in Part 2 (What are journal files?), every single time a record is added, modified or deleted, two write operations need to occur;

  • Information about the operation is written to the database journal file.
  • The appropriate database files are updated.

Putting the database files on one disk and the journal files on a different disk means the disk controller effectively writes to the journal disk independently of writing to (and reading from) the database disk, which in a system with high transaction throughput will help avoid latency / seek overheads. This performance benefit can easily be demonstrated by benchmarking.

It may be of interest to know that Jade adheres to the Write Ahead Logging (WAL) protocol when writing journal data. In a nutshell, this means the database engine cannot write updated data to database files until the journal records that describe those updates have been permanently written to disk. Jade does this to maintain Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation and Durability (ACID) properties of the database and to ensure data integrity.

Changing the location of your database journal files is fairly simple. Here are the steps;

  • Close the Abel server application.
  • Move the contents of the current Journals folder to the desired new folder. (Tip – The System Backup Maintenance screen displays where the current Journal files are stored – see the Journals Root Folder field).
  • Locate the JournalRootDirectory setting in Abel server ini file (usually abelserv.ini) and point it to the new journal folder.
    Eg. JournalRootDirectory=E:\Abel-Journals
  • Launch the Abel server application.
  • Check that the Journals Root Folder field on System Backup Maintenance displays the new folder location.

So if you haven’t already, you should seriously consider storing your database journal files on a separate physical disk.

( For detailed information on Jade storage media requirements please read this white paper Environmental Considerations for Deploying JADE )

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Two for Tuesday

Not a bad day yesterday! Two more new customers joined the Abel community. One, based in Sydney, is a leader in manufacturing specialist automotive parts. The new Auckland based customer provides state of the art sheet metal fabrication services.

We will tell you more as soon as these new customers are up and running. It is great to be working with them…to be continued ……

Posted in News |

Abel client Manuka Health in the news

It was great to see this highly positive story about Manuka Health and the work Abel is doing with it, featured in a recent Computerword article. Manuka use Abel to get visibility and control over all the interlocking business and manufacturing processes that go into its success as a world supplier of honey-based health products.

And congratulations also to Manuka Health for the recognition it has been winning elsewhere as shown in this recent article in the New Zealand Herald.

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When was the last time you checked your Abel backup? (Part 2)

First off, I feel I should explain why it has taken so long to write Part 2. I had a bit of crash whilst mountain biking and fractured my right wrist which subsequently required two plates and ten screws to be inserted. Although still bandaged up, I’m officially back in the office, although my typing is somewhat slower. And yes, damn it… I am right handed!

Right, so what’s in Part 2? In Part 1 I stated what I would cover in Part 2 but as I have progressed I have had to change the content slightly to create a better flow. Here’s a summary of what I’m going to cover in this article:

  • What are journal files (transaction journal files)?
  • What the backup timer is and how to set it up.
  • An explanation of the fields on System Backup Maintenance.
  • Success and failure notifications.
  • How do you know if a backup is in progress?

What are journal files?

In layman’s terms, when any record in a database is added, updated or deleted the operation (change to the data) is recorded in a file, this is known as a transaction journal file. For e.g. when a record is updated, a ‘before and after’ image of the record is recorded in the journal file so if for some reason the update cannot be completed then the database can be rolled back to the state before updating commenced.

The other very useful thing about journal files is they can be ‘played back’. For e.g. if I had a good database backup from 2 weeks ago and I had all the journal files since that backup, I would be able to apply all of the changes contained in the journal files to the backup, this is commonly referred to as restoring or recovering a database.

What is the backup timer and how to set it up.

Ah the infamous backup timer. Essentially, the backup timer causes a check to be performed on a regular frequency (usually every 10 minutes) to establish if the day and time has been reached for the Abel Database backup to be initiated. The activation of the backup timer is set up from the System Files Maintenance screen, but will need the Server background application to be running to perform a backup – see below. To activate the backup timer, select Database Backup from the Preset Timer combo box and click SAVE. You may wonder why the backup timer can be toggled on or off? The main reason is that some clients choose to have an Abel test environment running and generally this environment does not need to be backed up. Another is that some clients prefer to use the Jade Care tool set to manage their backups, hence not requiring this timer.

The Abel backup routines come as part of the Server background application which, as long as it has been enabled, will automatically start when the Abel server node [mode?] is started. When the Server background application is started, the backup timer is started.

An explanation of the fields on System Backup Maintenance.

The main purposes of the System Backup Maintenance screen are:

  • To schedule the backup process (which days of the week and at what time).
  • To set where the database backup files are stored.
  • To set where the journal backup files are stored.
  • To set up success and failure notifications.

Some of the fields are pretty self explanatory like which days of the week and at what time the backup is to run and where the backup files are stored. However there are a few fields that may not be as obvious such as:

  • Journals Backup Folder: It’s important to understand this. When a journal switch occurs (a new journal file is started) the old journal file is copied to this location. With that in mind, we recommend that this folder be on a different physical disk to the Journals Root Folder. I’ll go into this in more detail in Part 3.
  • Delete Journal files older than [X] days: This is a house keeping setting for deleting old journal files that are no longer of use. When closed journal files (in the Journals Root Folder and in the Journals Backup Folder) have been backed up to tape or a device they may be discarded.
  • Journal File Size: This specifies the size of the transaction journal file. A journal switch occurs when the journal exceeds this size.
  • Delete Backup History older than: The table on this screen lists all the backup jobs that have occurred. Every now and then you may wish to flush some or all of this history. To do this, enter the desired date and then click the Delete button to the right of the date field – doing this will delete all history older than the date entered.
  • Server Background Running: This is an information only field. It tells you whether the Server Background Application is running or not. Unless there’s a very specific reason, it should always display Yes. If it says No and you are unaware of why then you’d better contact your Abel Distributor because the Abel backup relies on it running.

Success and Failure Notifications

Abel goes to a lot of trouble to tell you about problems with your backup should one occur, but the backup notification system needs to be setup in order for notifications to occur. There is a section for setting up notifications on the System Backup Maintenance screen. Notifications can be setup for reporting both a successful or failed backup. Abel offers two forms of notifications:

  • Email notifications (up to two email addresses).
  • Internal message notifications (up to two internal users)

Additionally, Abel has other internal checks to make sure the Abel backup system is healthy, such as:

  • If a backup has been missed, a notification is sent out reporting which backups have been missed.
  • If the backup timer is not configured correctly a notification is sent out reporting this. A common situation where this occurs is if the Abel database is moved to a different folder location or server, in this case Abel automatically disables the backup timer and so requires a user to reactivate it. The reason we disable it is most clients who have a test system will occasionally take a copy of their production database to replace their test database, and we don’t want the test system backing up over the top of the production system backup.

How do you know if a backup is in progress?

The System Backup Maintenance screen displays real time information about a backup that is in progress. The top entry in the history table will display information about the backup that is in progress. The status of the backup and which file is currently getting backed up are displayed. If the backup completes successfully without any errors the Status column will display Backup Completed. If the backup fails for any reason the status of the backup will display Failed and information about the error is displayed in the error column.

Hopefully after reading this you will have gained a better understanding of the Abel backup process and how to check your own setup.

Again your feedback is welcome so do post a comment if you have any questions.

In Part 3 I will cover how the journal file location can affect performance.

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Responding to the tragedy in Christchurch

Almost nothing in living memory will have affected as many New Zealanders as this week’s catastrophic earthquake in Christchurch. Given Abel’s own roots in Christchurch, this has been something we have felt keenly. Our thoughts go out to all the families who have lost loved ones, to anyone still waiting on news of people who are missing and to everyone working to provide relief and get the city on its feet again.

Times like this of course bring people together. It has been great to see so many people offer help and support. One fund that we have contributed to is the Christchurch Mayoral Fund. We’d urge you to make a donation if you can give anything at all.

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When was the last time you checked your Abel backup?

If the answer is “I don’t know” then this series of articles is for you.

If you don’t already know, Abel is built in Jade which has a purpose-built object-orientated database. For more information on Jade check out the Jade website.

The first thing I want to stress is that different rules apply when backing up an online database such as Jade. A backup that is performed while the database is active for both read and write access is referred to as a ‘full online’ or ‘hot’ backup. Because the database can be updated during the backup, special begin and end backup records are required to be written to the Jade database transaction journal, to bind the backup operation. So if you’re using third party backup software to backup the .dat and/or current journal files in an online Jade database then, in the words of our Managing Director, “you should be shot!” and I agree.

There are only two acceptable ways to backup an online Jade database:

  • Using an integrated backup application that utilizes the Jade database administration framework.
  • Using Jadecare – Jadecare is a Jade environment management tool produced by the folks at Jade. Click here for more information on Jadecare.

Ok so it’s just been pointed out to me that there are actually 3 ways.. you can also take the database down (ie. closing the Abel application server) and copy the database and journal files manually to whatever location or device you desire. This of course is not an online database backup but its perfectly acceptable.

Within Abel is a comprehensive backup solution that utilizes the Jade database administration framework. Here are a couple of the most important Abel backup features that are crucial to understand and implement:

  • Success and failure notifications: When a backup runs, notifications can be sent to two email addresses and/or two internal Abel users, reporting the success or failure of a backup. Additionally, and independently, Abel constantly checks when the last backup was run; if backups that should have been performed are missed, notifications are sent out reporting this.
  • Journal backup folder: When the current journal file is closed and a new one started, a compressed copy of the closed journal is copied to this folder. This folder should be on a different physical disk to your current database journals. An ideal setup is having your database (.dat files) and journals backup folder on one physical disk/array and your current journals folder on another.

Watch out for Part 2 of this series. In it I will go into detail on how the Abel backup works, how to set it up, how to test it and how the journal file location can affect performance.

Your feedback is welcome so do post a comment if you have a question or something to add.

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Installations in China and Ireland to start 2011

Happy New Year! And already 2011 has got off to a very good start at Abel with software installations for new Abel users in Suzhou, Jiangsu province China, and in Dublin, Ireland now underway.

The installation in China is for a member of an existing global Abel client network. The Irish installation marks a further success for newly-formed Abel distributor, Quickstone Software, based in the US, in continuing to take Abel software to new users. It also marks a new development in applying Abel ERP functionality to generating savings and efficiencies in hospital management systems.

Our colleagues at Quickstone in particular are getting very positive feedback from organisations who see good potential gains in using Abel Distribution and Supply to improve visibility and efficiency in ordering and supply. This is an exciting development for us, and we’ll keep you posted.

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