Tag Archives: stores

StorMagic SvSAN helps Sheetz hyper-converge at the edge

Convenience store chain Sheetz is bringing hyper-convergence to the edge at its 600 stores to consolidate devices and make it easier to manage, with the help of StorMagic SvSAN software.

Sheetz, based in Altoona, Pa., is a chain of convenience and gasoline stores in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina. Each store requires several point-of-sale applications to conduct business.

Gary Sliver, director of infrastructure at Sheetz, and Scott Robertson, universal endpoint unit manager at the chain, said they have installed SvSAN software on about one-quarter of the company’s sites. Sheetz’s IT team began installing StorMagic SvSAN hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) software in its stores in October 2018. The project coincided with Sheetz’s move to a new kitchen management software system.

Sliver and Robertson said they hope to have all the stores running SvSAN by the end of 2020. Their goal is to condense seven individual devices at each site to a two-node Dell server appliance running SvSAN software and VMware hypervisors.

Move motivated by IT support, space restrictions

StorMagic SvSAN replaces the servers running Sheetz’s kitchen management applications, its in-store orchestration, credit card processing and loyalty program systems, and storage at each retail store.

Sliver said Sheetz had two important reasons for the upgrade: His team wanted to make it easier to support IT, while eliminating space restrictions at the edge.

We’re able to take these seven physical devices and condense them into two small form rack-mounted servers.
Gary SliverDirector of infrastructure, Sheetz

“Primarily, we wanted to reduce the number of physical devices and the support and maintenance administration associated with those,” Sliver said. “We also wanted to put a platform in place that would allow us to grow and innovate. Frankly, we’re just running out of space in the rack with new applications and services that require compute and storage. So, we’re able to take these seven physical devices and condense them into two small form rack-mounted servers. That gives us the potential to add additional applications and servers without having to go in there and add physical devices to the store.”

Sheetz’s IT team can manage the HCI appliances remotely from headquarters. Retail employees in the stores don’t have to manage any devices, and the central IT team doesn’t have to travel to the retail sites as frequently for support.

Sliver said he considered going hyper-converged for years, and the systems upgrade in the stores presented the perfect opportunity.

“We’ve been looking at virtualizing the physical devices in the rack,” he said. “We were going out and touching all 600 stores with this upgrade, so we had the opportunity to leverage that initiative and realize economies of scale. It also allows us to quickly virtualize devices and save some money there.”

After deciding to hyper-converge on the edge, Sheetz considered several HCI options. Sliver said he looked at traditional HCI players VMware and Nutanix, as well as a few appliances designed specifically for retail sites.

U.K.-based StorMagic is less known than other HCI vendors, but its technology and support impressed the Sheetz team. StorMagic developed SvSAN as an edge product rather than altering a product designed for data centers.

StorMagic SvSAN requires only 1 GB of RAM, 512 MB of storage for its boot device and a 20 GB journal drive. It can work over a 1 Gb Ethernet network.

“The technology itself was fairly easy compared to other HCI providers,” Sliver said of StorMagic. “We also can run up to 1,000 nodes on the single witness. To me, that’s their secret sauce. The other thing is their organization. They were very responsive during the RFP review, and that has continued throughout our implementation.”

After the installation

Robertson said Sheetz can get SvSAN up and running quickly in its stores.

“What separated StorMagic was, when we did a lab test, they did everything they said their product could do,” Robertson said. “Our time frame from lab to pilot was short.”

Sliver said so far, StorMagic SvSAN “has been extremely stable. It has done everything we’ve expected it to do.”

Robertson said SvSAN HCI makes it much easier to solve problems in the field. The IT team can spin up a new virtual machine in the data center instead of having to dispatch a technician to install a new physical device at the store.

“From a management standpoint, with any kind of break/fix situation, we no longer have to send out a technician to the site to swap out physical hardware,” Robertson said. “If we notice there’s any sort of abnormality in a system, we can spin up [a new virtual machine] in a half hour. So, it’s just returned to service much quicker.”

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New themed Amazon pop-up stores built on consumer data

After closing some 90 pop-up stores over the course of last year, Amazon appears ready to take another stab at the concept with plans to open a chain of themed Amazon pop-up stores with inventory in each store being regularly swapped out as part of rotating themes.

The company has established, or is in the process of establishing, five Amazon pop-up stores this year in or around major metropolitan areas including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston and Chicago. The sixth location will be in Seattle, next door to Amazon’s corporate headquarters and an Amazon 4-star store, as the company continues its experiment to find the right mix of physical locations. According to Amazon’s website, the new retail stores will serve as “physical extensions of Amazon.com.”

One example of a theme in the Las Vegas store is a focus on cameras. Other themes that have been explored in Amazon pop-up stores include Barbie’s 50th anniversary, Marvel’s Avengers, an Audible reading room, the Food Network and a holiday toy list.

Amazon stores built on consumer data

Amazon’s themed physical stores add to the 26 Amazon Go locations in place or being renovated, 22 Amazon Books stores, 18 Amazon 4-star stores, two AmazonFresh Pickup stores and hundreds of Whole Foods stores. In the next month or two Amazon is set to debut a new chain of grocery stores in the Los Angeles area.

“Amazon is continually iterating with its physical locations, so it will be interesting to see where they end up landing with these different formats,” said Thomas O’Connor, a senior director with Gartner. “They can leverage all the data collected in these stores to more clearly see where there is an opportunity [to] further scale out.  Also, it is another opportunity to go after shoppers who don’t yet have Amazon Prime memberships.”

Another analyst agreed that data, again, will play an integral role in the potential success of the latest Amazon pop-up stores. Not only can Amazon collect more specific data on what customers prefer in certain locations, but the company can apply data it already has in hand about what customers might prefer in a certain zip codes with data collected as part of its 4-star store launches.

This fits the method of operation Jeff Bezos has of taking data and not being afraid to experiment. That’s what these themed pop-up stores say to me.
Guy CourtinFormer vice president of industry strategy, Infor

“This fits the method of operation [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos has of taking data and not being afraid to experiment; that’s what these themed pop-up stores says to me,” said Guy Courtin, a former vice president of industry strategy at Infor. “He’ll use the demographic data in those areas he wants to put in (a pop-up store), and if it does well then great, he’ll milk those revenues. If it doesn’t do well, he will pull the plug quickly. It’s a bit like the Halloween stores that pop up for Halloween season and then they’re gone,” he said.

The new pop-up stores remind Courtin of the kiosks companies such as AT&T and Verizon set up in malls to sign up random customers for their respective cellular services, only Amazon is looking to sign up customers for Prime memberships, products and services.

“Once they get you in the store, they are looking to sell you on [Amazon] Prime giving you access to their streaming video and music services, along with whatever themed products they have in a particular store,” Courtin said. “They [Amazon] are masters at locating and capturing new revenue streams.”

Amazon’s themed pop-ups give malls hope

With many mall management companies desperate for revenues from renters, Courtin and other analysts believe Amazon’s pop-up stores will be welcome additions — even if they only stay for a few months at a time and continually swap out inventories with every “theme” change.

“Mall management companies are losing their big anchor tenants like a Sears and others,” Courtin said. “If I’m a mall management company and can get Amazon in there for even two or three months, not only will Amazon benefit, but a dozen other stores right next to the Amazon stores will benefit. Also, it gives mall management companies the opportunity to look more modern to have a giant retailer in their location,” he said.

According to the company’s latest earnings report, physical stores account for about 6% of Amazon’s $70 billion in revenue.

Amazon officials declined to provide comment for this story.

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Intelligent Search that can save you money: hotel booking, home services price ranges, and more

The Internet has put thousands of stores and service providers at our fingertips, allowing us to buy goods and services with the click of a button. This convenience comes with a set of challenges, especially when it comes to deciding which product to buy, which provider to hire, and how to get the most value for our money. Consumers cite anxiety and the fear of buyer’s remorse as their major pain points.

Today Bing is happy to announce the launch of new intelligent features designed to allow you to estimate and compare prices across multiple providers, give you insights to make the right trade-offs around price, and get more savings on products through a new deals experience – all built to help you save money.
 

Hotel booking

Typical users go through multiple sites before they make a choice on which hotel to book, and even then they often don’t feel confident they made the best choice. In May we released a hotel booking experience with aggregated pricing from third party booking sites. These features get even more powerful with what we’re announcing today: intelligent tips, a price trends view, and a comparison view.

First, Bing displays booking tips when you’re looking at hotels for which there are competing options you may not have considered. For example, if there are higher-rated hotels near the one you’re looking at with the same rate, or hotels that are closer to the airport and cheaper, we will let you know of the alternatives and tradeoffs for the options you’re looking at.


 
Second, Bing provides historical price trends for the date range you’re exploring to help make price-based trade-offs. Many sites only let you see the rate after you’ve already selected a date, so users end up clicking through many times to check the rates throughout the date range they’re interested in. Our price trend feature allows users to browse price trends over time in a single view.


 

Third, our new comparison view provides a comprehensive overview of pricing by hotel option. No more digging through multiple sites and reviews to find out what amenities are offered and if there are hidden fees! You’ll simply be able to see the detailed breakdowns side-by-side so you can feel assured you’re making the best choice for your needs and budget.


 

Home services pricing and scheduling

 

Hotel-booking unfortunately isn’t the only painful purchase experience for many users. We also heard that users are often frustrated when it comes to choosing a home service provider, as quotes can vary substantially from one service to another, and many people aren’t confident in how much they should expect to pay.

That’s why we built cost ranges to provide transparency for home services like sink installation costs and toilet repairs. These ranges show a visual distribution of prices, specific to your zip code so they’re tied to your location. We want you to feel empowered to plan your budget and even negotiate a quote with a specific provider!

This price data comes via our partnership with Porch, so you can feel confident you’re getting a comprehensive view.


 
After you’ve gotten a view of what to expect for pricing, Bing helps you collect quotes from multiple providers with just a few clicks. For example, if you search for “plumbers Bellevue”, you’ll get a listing of plumbers in that area with a ‘Get Quote’ for supported providers. Click that button and you’re taken to a pre-populated form on Yelp, where you can select up to 10 similar providers and send out a bulk request for quotes instead of having to contact each provider individually.
 

 

Coupons and deals

Finally, we realized that trying to find deals can be a time-consuming. Between the fine print, expiration dates, and confusing language, it’s easy to be unsure if you’re really getting a good deal or not.

Bing now aggregates deals across first- and third-party listings then displays them when you search for retailers or coupons. We surface relevant insights like ‘expiring soon’, whether the offers are online or in-store only, and more.


 

We hope you’re as excited by these money-saving features as we are — you can try them for yourself with our feature tour! All of them are available in the US, and apart from the home services price ranges these features are currently on desktop only. We will continue rolling out these features to mobile platforms and international markets in coming months.

While you’re trying out these new experiences, please also remember to sign in to Microsoft Rewards – you’ll earn points for your Bing searches and can redeem them towards gift cards and save even more!

Thanks,

The Bing Team