As hurricane season approaches (officially starting June 1), merchants may recall last year’s spate of tropical storms and hurricanes, four considered “major.” This upset to retail stores and central operations was exacerbated by record-setting tornado activity in 2011, which saw 1,700 tornadoes rage across the U.S., unprecedented for the greatest number in a single month, the greatest daily total on record and the second most tornadoes ever in a single year.
In advance of future storm seasons, Chico’s FAS ― a women’s fashion retailer with 1,250 stores throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and an online presence for each of its four brands ― reduced the risk of data loss at its hurricane-prone, Fort Myers, Fla.-based datacenter with a more powerful, flexible and safer data infrastructure solution. The retailer announced April 2012 that it had replaced its vulnerable and constrained 1,200-square-foot data center in southern Florida with two HP Performance Optimized Datacenters (PODs), each a modular, pre-constructed, container-based datacenter.
The HP POD installations allowed Chico’s to slash its server count from 600 to 150, reduce operational costs by 75%, achieve a 60% power savings, and established a virtual cloud for its 1,200-plus employees.
In addition, the two HP PODs require one-fifth the space while increasing Chico’s capacity by up to three times, according to Steven Ross, VP of Technology for Chico’s. “We increased our processing capabilities by 50% for orders, inventory management and more…and in our e-Commerce environments, in less than eight weeks ― at less than half the cost of building a datacenter from the ground up,” he said. Ross also noted that customers now have “a more seamless buying experience.”
The HP POD’s converged infrastructure integrates multiple vendors’ hardware into interoperable pools of resources that can be tapped on demand. By supporting a host of virtualization, thin client and desktop visualization technologies, it allows users like Chico’s to shrink the datacenter footprint and cut costs while providing employees with anytime, anywhere access on multiple devices to company resources and information. Compared to traditional brick-and-mortar data centers, the HP POD helps retailers scale capacity on demand, reduce capital expenditures, including cooling costs, and increase energy efficiency, with little hands-on IT support. Additional PODs can be networked to current ones and be up and running quickly.
Outgrowing The Datacenter
Chico’s steady growth over recent years was taxing the limitations of its datacenter. That growth included a record milestone of $2 billion in annual sales last year, according to Chico’s 2011 Fiscal Year results. On May 16, 2012, Chico’s reported record net quarterly sales of $651 million, its 12th consecutive positive quarter and its 13th consecutive quarter of double-digit earnings per share growth.
The volume of data specifically in Chico’s finance, e-Commerce and supply chain environments was growing exponentially, at the same time the nation was experiencing drastic increases in weather-related events and their impact on retail facilities and operations.
“Our initial facility was not designed as a true, hardened datacenter ready for natural or manmade disasters, nor was it customized to meet increasingly demanding power and cooling requirements,” explained Simon Hatfield, Director of Technology Operations for Chico’s.
As the gap widened between Chico’s business growth and its datacenter’s capabilities, the company’s most pressing business requirements included increasing processing performance to support faster product design, manufacturing and delivery, while reducing the risk of data loss. In response, the company considered outsourcing its datacenter needs as well as rebuilding a new facility. After analyzing the options, “we realized that with today’s smaller, more powerful equipment, the old-style datacenter that you built large was becoming obsolete,” said Ross. “The HP POD made very good platform and strategic sense to us.”
Chico’s placed the two HP PODs in Winder, Ga., out of Hurricane Alley and home to the company’s distribution hub and 300-seat customer contact center. Today more than 20,000 devices, including store cash registers, link back to the modular datacenter, which also supports all back-office systems such as purchasing, clothing design, material sourcing, distribution, financials and myriad other processes.
“The ability to deploy the new HP PODs quickly and add rack space as needed allows us to provision faster while cutting costs,” said Ross. In addition, “by accelerating time to market, we can reduce our unit costs, which translates to higher margins for the company.”
Chico’s “Journey To The Cloud”
The HP PODs’ integrated virtualization software and thin-client access to company systems also allowed Chico’s to build a virtual private cloud. Employees now have access to company resources from wherever they are, on any device with a browser. Specifically, the HP FlexFabric Network delivers a converged and flexible way to connect Chico’s virtualized server blades to the data and storage network contained within the PODs. Now, “our employees’ desktops will follow them wherever they go,” said Hatfield. “It’s all part of an overarching initiative we call our ‘Journey to the Cloud.’”
As Chico’s continues to rely heavily on a sophisticated and flexible IT infrastructure to maintain its retail prominence and avert data loss, Hatfield noted that the HP POD “is a future-proof solution that will enable rapid deployment of new systems and operations.”
An overview of Chico’s HP POD installation, produced and posted by HP on YouTube in January 2012, may be accessed here.