Tech

The evolution of Retail depends on cutting edge computing

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“When you think of a reseller that has 2,000 locations across the country, it’s too expensive to implement on-site data processing and analysis for each location, so that’s where cutting-edge computing can be a huge advantage.” , says Paul Savill, vice president of product and service management at technology company Lumen, which emphasizes that cutting-edge computing is designed to work in tandem with the cloud. “Edge nodes combine hardware-driven computing power with software-defined network capabilities to connect to the public cloud,” he explains. “From a centralized node in a market area, for example, the size of Denver, cutting-edge computing can serve many more retail locations in five milliseconds.”

Opportunities overcome challenges

Shivkumar Krishnan, head of business engineering at Gap, says the biggest challenge in making cutting-edge computing a reality in retail is legacy infrastructure. “As an end user in the cloud, it’s much easier to upgrade, since you can just press a button and turn off or replace a virtual machine. In retail, it’s more of a logistical problem,” he explains. When operating for the first time, each location needs to connect its devices to the board, which may need to be done at night, when customers are not in the store. And with the vendors working on site, the store’s security staff and even the manager should be on hand. “It really becomes more of a logistical challenge to understand the availability of everyone,” says Krishnan. “And the process must be repeated for each of our 2,500 stores.” In the cloud, a single press of a button can deploy hundreds of servers.

Data security is also an inevitable challenge when it comes to the internet of things and other digital devices. “The more information is concentrated in one place, the more we need to worry about protecting it, and the more risky it becomes in terms of creating a unique place that can be penetrated, and information stolen,” says Savill. But cutting-edge computing supported on nodes in nearby data centers and connecting to the public cloud are generally more secure and reliable than what a reseller could do on their own. That’s why cutting-edge providers, much like public cloud providers, provide cybersecurity from a central, massive-scale location, so they have visibility into what the threats are and how they affect their customers, Savill says.

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That said, the benefits and opportunities of the shore far outweigh the potential challenges. “One of our biggest use cases for cutting-edge computing is at the point of sale, where we handle millions of transactions,” explains Krishnan. From the store to the cloud, there are several points of failure – switches, routers, the telecommunications circuit, and cloud providers. “The board gives us a high level of redundancy to handle all transactions in the store itself and goes back to the cloud if the board fails,” he says.

“The board gives us full redundancy to handle all transactions in the store itself and goes back to the cloud if the board fails.”

Shivkumar Krishnan, Head of Warehouse Engineering, Gap

Gap has invested in cutting-edge servers in recent years, says Krishnan, as part of a comprehensive platform that uses the latest technologies such as microservices, cloud computing, streaming services, and a DevOps approach to engineering. “Now, with our platform, we can build, validate and distribute applications with fast returns – all on the same day,” he says. “I can remotely monitor and manage most of our over 100,000 devices. Our sales partners use iPads which give us the ability to build native mobile user experiences that are intuitive.”

While Gap was first at the forefront of computer gaming, the challenge is to keep up with the latest and most advanced technologies, as with any technology adoption. Today’s advanced servers have integrated graphics processing units, network routers, and 5G broadband technology, “all packaged in low-end devices that are built from the ground up for advanced automated learning,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll catch the next iteration of these advances and jump on others who get them now.”


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