Sun Pushes Linux into Retail

Sun Microsystems is attaching itself to Linux’s growth in the retail market with today’s announcement that it has made inroads into five chain stores by teaming up with Tomax Corporation. There’s a good reason Sun has been porting its Solaris server to the Linux operating system. Tomax predicts that “80 percent of the new installations of our retail product will be on Linux,” Steve Klingler, vice president of outsourcing at Tomax, told LinuxInsider.

“Sun’s wide range of systems is giving Sun significant inroads into an industry that demands choice and is now embracing innovative and cost-effective models for running their business,” said Bob DeLaney, group manager for worldwide market development at Sun, in a statement.

While so far most retailers have been reluctant to give up their mostly proprietary systems, that’s changing. Retailers as diverse as Kelly-Moore Paints, Guitar Center, Air Terminal Gifts, Happy Harry’s and Balducci’s have chosen the Sun-Tomax Solaris-Linux solution. It’s a hosted application that provides end-to-end network services for retail customers.

Running Windows No More

For example, Kelly-Moore Paints, a retail chain with 160 stores, used to run a Windows server in every store. Each night, each Windows server would dial into a server at headquarters to report the store’s sales. The server at headquarters was then used for reporting, but the company never had a real-time view of its inventory; it never knew what was happening in real-time.

“Now they always know what’s happening, real-time, across the chain,” said Klingler. “This is a central, real-time model; you always know how much inventory you have. Our customers that have moved to x86 processor-based systems running Linux as well as Solaris OS have realized significant cost savings and performance gains.”

The Sun-Tomax solution was to get rid of the Windows servers and substitute a cluster of eight Sun servers running Linux sitting in a data-center that is professionally managed in a high-availability environment. In September, the companies plan to add six more servers to that cluster, according to Klingler.

Looking for a Partner

When Tomax was looking for a partner in this market, Klingler said, it found some qualities in the Sun products that it hadn’t heard about and couldn’t find with other vendors, even IBM and Dell. “Sun’s x86 servers still reflect the characteristics of the Sun Sparc servers,” he said. “It’s important that the data center run as a high-failover, lights-out operation.” The Sparc servers do, but the Dell and IBM servers don’t, he added, because of the way they are managed.

An advantage of the Sun-Tomax package, according to the companies, is its console server for administration. It allows remote administration, unlike IBM and Dell servers, which require plug-in keyboards and monitors to check the system BIOS and to see if the hard drives and controllers are working.

Keyboard-Video-Mouse (KVM) technologies attempt to accomplish the same thing, but they’re expensive, require more bandwidth and require that you access the server from a client device that’s capable of it, said Klingler.

Making the Switch to Linux

“We made the switch to Linux because the price-performance ratio is much more attractive,” said Klingler. He estimates about 80 percent of future retail installations will be on Linux. That’s a large increase from the current environment, which is about 90 percent Unix and 10 percent Windows, according to recent estimates.

Klinger said Tomax settled on Linux as the preferred platform about nine months ago because of the benchmarks. With Linux, he saw “better performance at a lower cost,” he said. Another benefit of the Sun-Tomax pairing is installation speed. Klingler said the Kelly-Moore Paints transition was up and running in less than 90 days.

1 Comment

  • "For example, Kelly-Moore Paints, a retail chain with 160 stores, used to run a Windows server in every store."
    I saw a posting in another forum stating that this was incorrect and Kelly-Moore Paints wasn’t running a Windows server, in fact they were using SCO Unix.
    I have no personal knowledge of the situation and just submit this for your edification.

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