IBM, Sun Aim to Enhance Retail Experience

Updated: The companies introduce new hardware and software packages for retailers.

IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. are targeting the retail industry with new hardware and software packages designed to enable companies to offer enhanced in-store customer experiences through technology.

Both system makers unveiled their offerings as the National Retail Federation Conference got underway this week in New York.

IBM is rolling out a blade server-based offering aimed at helping retailers better manage their IT resources in remote stores.

The Armonk, N.Y., company on Monday introduced its Systems Solutions for Retail Stores, which is based on its BladeCenter systems and targets larger retail operations. Another package for smaller retailers, running on IBMs smaller Intel Corp.-based xSeries systems, will launch in the second or third quarter, according to Uday Watwe, program director for IBMs xSeries and BladeCenter Industry Solutions unit.

The retail offering follows similar solution-oriented BladeCenter packages aimed at particular audiences. Previous rollouts have included offerings for branch banking, security and SMBs.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about IBMs BladeCenter package for SMBs.

The retail package is designed to help retailers who are being pinched between saving money and being seen in a crowded and competitive space, Watwe said. Gartner Inc. is predicting retail IT spending to reach as high as $139.4 billion by 2009. While some are either cutting costs or offering unique products at a higher cost, most of the retailers are caught in the middle, he said.

"The result is retailers who are trying to cut costs on one hand and differentiate themselves in the eye of their customers on the other hand," Watwe said.

Technology—in the form of such features as interactive kiosks, wireless capabilities, video displays and surveillance, enhanced point-of-sale devices and personal shopping carts—is an important way of both cutting costs and differentiating, he said.

Larger retailers, which traditionally have kept the bulk of their IT resources in a central location, are looking for ways to bring such technologies into their stores without increasing costs.

Watwe said IBM can help accomplish this by essentially consolidating a stores hardware, storage, networking and applications onto a single platform through a combination of its BladeCenter hardware and Director management software, as well as products from partners such as Altiris Inc. and Symbol Technologies Inc. The solution enables customers to remotely manage their BladeCenter systems, and Altiris software enables the remote deployment of applications on bare metal hardware. In addition, last week IBM and Symbol introduced the WS5120 Wireless Switch, the first wireless LAN controller blade for BladeCenter.

Also, businesses can combine the retail solutions offering with IBMs Store Integration Framework, a software offering based on IBM middleware—including DB2 and WebSphere—that is designed specifically for retail operations. It also offers remote management of applications, Watwe said.

Hudsons Bay Co., a Toronto-based retailer with more than 500 stores across Canada, is using a combination of BladeCenter systems for its Citrix environment for its retail stores and xSeries servers running VMware Inc. virtual machines to consolidate its data center servers by up to 60 percent.

Ken Whiting, senior manager of enterprise systems and networks for Hudsons Bay, said the company traditionally kept its IT infrastructure in a central data center, but he said that could change in the future.

"When you look at the industry in general, you may need to bring some compute power out to the individual stores," Whiting said. "With the BladeCenter, Im less worried about it now because I know I can manage them properly [and remotely]."

Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday unveiled two new offerings, called the Retail Store Processor and Retail Integration Architecture software.

Based on its N1 software stack and Sun Fire servers running on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor, the Retail Store Processor offers retailers support for multiple operating systems, including Solaris, Linux and Microsoft Corp.s Windows. Through the N1 Service Provisioning and N1 System Manager software, the offering also makes it easier for retailers to deploy technology across multiple sites within a chain of stores, officials said. The Retail Integration Architecture—based on Suns Java Enterprise System and Java Integration Suite—is a combination of design approach and tools for retailers to deploy their applications, covering everything from the supply chain to their Web sites.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include information about Suns Retail Store Processor and Retail Integration Architecture software.

/zimages/2/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.