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How Sears is rewarding customers through its cloud-based network

How one of the world’s best-known retailers reinvented itself with a modern network and private cloud

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Customers are, obviously, important to any business. But retail, in particular, lives and dies by its customers. And the changing nature of the retail market has put a lot of pressure on existing infrastructure.

Retailers have to contend with vast amounts of customer data, yet are expected to personalize the customer-service experience. They’re competing with retailers around the globe — both bricks-and-mortar shops and online businesses — and must provide dynamic pricing to stay competitive. And they need to ensure their data is safe and secure or risk reputational damage.

Like many retailers these days, Sears has been reshaping and reinventing many areas of its business, including the way it interacts and transacts with customers through its Shop Your Way rewards program.

And, like many retailers, the company has faced phenomenal growth in business data volumes. Indeed, just a few years ago, its SAN storage was growing by more than 350 per cent.

“Our private cloud was taking off at that time and there was a demand for near real-time data replication between data centres,” said Conrad Menezes, vice-president of network and information security with Sears Holding Corp., at a keynote speech during Interop 2013 in Las Vegas.

“We were also beginning to experience a real growth in our rewards transactions from the retail front back to the data centres and we required support in excess of a quarter-million transactions per second in real time.”

At the same time, they were required to provide support for dynamic pricing — the ability to push price changes to stores on a daily basis — that placed new demands on the network.

“So you can truly say our data centre networks were experiencing saturation,” said Menezes. And this impacted almost all other areas of the business.

This is an issue that many of today’s retailers — large and small — are experiencing. For Sears, the answer was moving to a modern network and creating a large-scale private cloud. The network is no longer a constraint; instead, it enables virtualization, big data and cloud computing through simplification, scalability and automation.

The company’s ability to scale has increased by 2,000 per cent. As a result, it was able to grow its private cloud to support thousands of virtual machines in its data centres. And it now supports petabytes of big data volumes that it processes on a daily basis.

Sears is now capable of supporting, in real time, more than a million transactions per second for its Shop Your Way rewards program. And it’s able to process multiple file updates on a daily basis to provide dynamic pricing.

“Our network is poised at the forefront of what I’m calling the software-defined networking era,” said Menezes. “If leveraged correctly it truly has the potential to unleash an immense amount of technology and business value to fundamentally change how we think, design, deploy and manage both data centre networks and networks at large.”

His takeaways for other retailers? Keep it simple, focus on minimizing your failure variables, and don’t get bogged down with speeds and feeds. Do your own testing, since it provides valuable hands-on training for your staff.

Being able to scale the network is synonymous with being able to scale the business. And that means, as Menezes said, your “best years are ahead.”

Take the next step by reading ‘The Converged IP Network: Your future productivity depends on it’ from Allstream.


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