Discount Tire Zooms Through POS Rollout with ON iCommand
by Alex Woodie
The IT folks at Discount Tire were not looking forward to rolling out the new Dell Optiplex point-of-sale systems last year. With close to 3,000 POS systems to replace, at more than 500 retail locations, the migration would probably still be underway if Discount Tire had used its biped-based "sneakernet." Instead, the company used a software package called iCommand, from Symantec, to automate the roll-out, and finished the job, in January, within five weeks.
Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Discount Tire Company is the largest independent tire dealer in the United States, and it's growing. The company employs 8,415 people, working at 528 stores, 19 warehouses, 19 regional offices, and five regional distribution centers serving stores in 18 states.
Discount Tire's IT infrastructure is based on a homegrown inventory and merchandising application running on the iSeries server; on Java clients running on Windows-based POS systems; and on a wide area network (WAN) that connects them. Each retail outlet has its own AS/400 Model 270 or iSeries Model 800 server, which sits between the corporate OS/400 servers in Scottsdale and the in-store POS systems. The in-store OS/400 servers would play a key role in Discount Tire's new POS roll-out.
About a year ago, the company decided to replace its IBM Netstation POS devices with newer, faster machines running Windows XP, says Beverly West, manager of PC technology at Discount Tire. Employees complained the Netstation's were too slow with credit card authorizations and customer look-ups. Some of this slowness could be attributed to an oversubscribed network, which Discount Tire addressed by upgrading its WAN to 384 Kpbs. But the second part of the solution involved replacing the aged POS systems.
Without automation, Discount Tire estimated that it would have take five full-time IT people 12 months to install and configure the 3,000 new Dell Optiplex POS devices, as well as an additional 300 new workstations at stores, warehouses, and regional offices. Eliminating this so-called sneakernet would be the secret to Discount Tire's return-on-investment with ON iCommand, the provisioning software developed by ON Technology, which Symantec purchased last month.
THE 'ON' WAY
Will Darton, a senior technical analyst with Discount Tire, attended a joint seminar between ON Technology and Gartner, and came away impressed with ON's technology. He viewed it as the "jewel" that could help Discount Tire in its XP migration. "This will help us get this roll-out done," he says.
ON iCommand helps IT employees by centralizing the major aspects of device management, from bare metal provisioning and operating system deployment, to on-going security and application updates, disaster recovery, and de-provisioning. The software supports a variety of devices, ranging from desktops, laptops, POS systems, and PDAs, running Windows, Linux, Unix, and Mac OS X operating systems.
Darton says the key attribute that elevated ON iCommand above competitive offerings was its "parameter-based native installation," which uses installation scripts that are native to particular operating systems. "A lot of other products take a snapshot, before and after, take the difference, and that's what you install," Darton says. "With ON iCommand, it walks you through each step. It's scripted and native to that system."
THE ON ROLL-OUT
From the comfort of Discount Tire's Scottsdale headquarters, IT administrators used the ON iCommand Web Admin portal to centrally manage the installation and configuration of 500 new POS systems a week, completing the entire rollout of 3,300 Dell POS terminals and Windows XP desktops in about five weeks. By not having to hire local temps in each location, Darton estimates Discount Tire recovered its investment in the ON iCommand software in a month-and-a-half.
At each company location, the rollout required about an hour of time from the store manager, after unpacking the new equipment and connecting the cables, Darton says. "We're really concerned with affecting the store and their time. The less time they have to spend with us, the better," he says. "After setting it up and turning it on, there are three steps with us on the phone, just to tell ON iCommand what type of system it is. The rest of it completely automated."
With the old IBM Netstations, the POS terminals would boot directly from the store's OS/400 server. The new Dell's have enough memory to boot themselves, but the POS terminals in each store would still need to be configured with about two dozen files that are specific to the in-store OS/400 server, Darton says. In addition to these network and security settings, ON iCommand is used to distribute and update the Java-based customer service application, Symantec's Norton antivirus software, the 5250 emulators for accessing the local OS/400 servers, and other productivity applications, such as Adobe Reader. The way Discount Tire configured the system, all of these updates are sent to a mapped network drive on the local OS/400 server, which then push the updates out to the devices.
"We figured we'd still be doing one of the 18 regions," if it weren't for ON iCommand, West says. "It was beautiful. We didn't even have to touch the machines. We installed close to 3,000 systems in five weeks. We would not have been able to do that" without ON iCommand.
SECURITY, SECURITY, SECURITY
ON iCommand also provides Discount Tire with security features that have already proven beneficial to the company. When Microsoft issued a critical security update to its Windows XP operating system several weeks ago, Discount Tire used ON iCommand to roll out patches to about 2,700 POS terminals in two days. Darton called the software's security patch management capabilities "a huge factor" in the decision to go with the suite.
It's also an overnight process to distribute new virus definitions to its devices. Darton says Discount Tire is looking at using another component of the ON suite called ON iPatch, which would simplify updates to client antivirus software. Darton is hoping that, under Symantec, the ON suite will be further integrated with the Norton suite to provide a more end-to-end security solution.
Discount Tire has also benefited from ON suite's "one-click disaster recovery" feature. With much of the configuration-specific information stored on the local OS/400 servers, it's a fairly quick and simple matter to reboot a system. Failed POS systems can be restarted in as little as five minutes, while rebuilding the system from scratch takes about two hours, Darton says. But this capability is completely centralized and controlled by Scottsdale. "The systems are so locked down, the store guys can't install anything," he says.