Marketechnics Report: In-store vs. Host-based Systems
By Bill Bittner
The typical supermarket technical environment has been an in-store processor integrated with a point of sale system that managed the customer checkout process. The in-store processor was a general purpose computer that ran applications like labor scheduling, inventory management, backdoor receiving, time and attendance, etc. The point of sale system was most often an IBM 4690 operating system-based application that supported dual processors in order to provide total redundancy for the front end. No one wanted to be unable to checkout customers.
This environment has had its drawbacks. Locally available processors provide quick response times and give stores a level of independence if something happens with host communications, but they also require the management of software releases and the availability of hardware support personnel when equipment fails.
As seen at this year’s FMI Marketechnics conference, the Internet and the widespread implementation of high-speed data communication have opened up an alternative to in-store processors. Host-based applications operate with only “thin clients” in the store. Much as you use an Internet browser to access Internet applications, stores can access applications that have been designed to run off of a host processor. This leaves them vulnerable to a communications outage, but they gain all the advantages of not having to maintain software and equipment in the store.
Moderator’s Comment: We understand that all applications are not “mission critical,” but how far can the hosting revolution go? What applications are
you willing to relegate to a host system, which must be in constant communication? Would you ever give up the POS function?
Personally, I feel that, as the store becomes more dependent on the computer for all aspects of its operation, the question is not, “how do we keep the
front end operating during a hardware failure,” but rather “how do we keep the store operating?” It is no longer just the POS applications that are mission critical. Everything
in the store must be available all the time. This means that there must be either locally available hardware or host communications that are failsafe. With todays technology,
I believe that either is possible and, although it is an emotionally challenging choice, I believe sufficient communications backup can be provided to run even the POS applications
from a host based system. –
Bill Bittner – Moderator