Company: NCDCustomer: Electrolux Home(SWEDEN) Electrolux Home is a Swedish retail chain owned by Electrolux Group,the European market leader in white goods and one of the world’s leading producers of household appliances.
The origins of Electrolux can be traced back to the introduction of the first vacuum cleaner in 1912 and the invention of the first refrigerator in 1925. The company has now grown to become the largest appliance producer in the world.Two years ago, the company wanted to implement a centralised IT infrastructure across all their retail outlets in Sweden. In early 1998, the chain looked to Genesis-IT to implement a thin client-based solution with NCD ThinSTAR Windows-based terminals in order to ensure simple implementation of Microsoft Windows NT Terminal Server Edition.NCD worked closely with channel partner and software developer Genesis-IT throughout all stages of the roll out which took place across Electrolux’s 115 retail stores in Sweden.
Originally an accounting software firm since 1979, Genesis-IT has a firm grounding in the industry and long-term software expertise. Genesis-IT officially became an Application Service Provider (ASP) in 1998 and now has 30 staff and an annual turnover of £3.7 million.The first production as an ASP solution was in August 1998 where Genesis-IT provided a point of sale system for five of Electrolux electrical retailers in Sweden. Electrolux now relies upon Genesis-IT as an ASP, with software, operations and management all included in a packaged solution throughout the whole chain.
The ASP route was a natural progression from what Genesis-IT were already offering. Users are connected using NCD ThinSTAR Windows-based terminals via ISDN to Genesis-IT’s server farm. This was made easier by the low price of ISDN in Sweden which is cheaper than a LAN and has plenty of bandwidth.
The ASP concept
ASPs manage and deliver application capabilities to multiple entities from a data centre or server farm across a wide area network. This is done with their user interface delivered over an intranet through web browsers. It enables users to access file servers, shared databases and send email attachments all at LAN speeds regardless of location and without any ownership burden.
Until Microsoft overhauled their client licensing model for Windows NT server, Terminal Server Edition, ASPs and other corporations had no legal way of publishing NT 4.0-based applications to anonymous internet users. The impact this announcement had on the IT industry was tremendous; not only did it lower the software deployment costs of terminal server solutions by as much as 50%, it also gave way to this new ASP concept that had been in high demand for some time.”We found it was very good and were the first ASP in the world when it launched as we had been running in beta for several months. We had to do our own research on getting the best configuration though,” reminisces Sven Wallgren, Co-founder and President of Sales of Genesis-IT.
The ASP Concept
There are many benefits of the ASP concept, the most significant being that it eliminates the need for customers to invest in software and IT infrastructure, while reliability can be guaranteed through service level agreements. For a small company the benefit is obvious- it takes away the expense of frequently upgrading your IT system including new and expensive software, components and peripherals. This ensures that they can focus their time and efforts on their core business strategy. It also means that the organisation does not need any kind of in-house IT support function as a good ASP will assume total responsibility for the whole IT operation.ASPs manage important corporate information in a secure, accessible and cost efficient manner with customer service being one of their core competencies. “It’s amazing,” claims Niklas Wakeus, director of operations for Electrolux.
“We have access to so many more applications. If any user experiences a problem they just call Genesis’ helpdesk who can mirror that user and show them exactly what they need to do to remedy the problem.”The more I think about our decision to outsource, the more benefits that I see. We are communicating more and more these days and this system allows intelligence to be kept centrally and accessed remotely. No one in our stores is conversant with technology and I firmly believe that it should be left to experts. In the future we will see more vertical markets adopting this model.
Who wouldn’t want to offload the burden of upgrading, handling and maintaining their IT system to an external body,” he continued.”The term ASP wasn’t even invented when we started. The most important thing is getting your first customer and ensuring that trust is there. Then other customers will come as a matter of course,” continues Wallgren.
Why Thin clients
By its very nature, services provided by an ASP must be delivered through a ‘thin client’ (or server-centric) architecture.
An ASP cannot commit to provide end-to-end availability when it has no direct control over the integrity of applications resident on clients PCs.ASPs provide a high level of scalability and continuity of service irrespective of individual device failures. They also need to provide the same level of user support that could be achieved by an on-site support function, but using remote facilities to be able to shadow client devices to guide users through usability problems. Finally, ASPs must be able to supply very resilient (and cost-effective) client devices. In the rare event of a failure, users must be able to replace failed units with off-the-shelf spares without the need for technical assistance.
NCDs mission is to enable ASPs to deliver the most cost effective, manageable and reliable client solutions to customers. The company has client management software specifically adapted to meet these requirements including remote management tools, desktop mirroring and load balancing. This software provides strategic performance analysis and capacity planning solutions, giving ASPs sophisticated system measurement and management. It enables troubleshooting, analysis, metering and billing, administration and planning to help IT organisations, such as ASPs, to track and record every customers application usage in order for them to charge accordingly.NCDs ThinPATH software is currently used by Genesis-IT which enables better server and desktop management. “We looked at Citrix MetaFrame for this requirement but found that the user interface was not as good as NCD’s.
We also looked at Wyse for our hardware requirements, but negotiations were halted early on as the terminals were found to be slow and Wyse could not offer local support,” explains Wallgren.
The Merits of Windows 2000
Electrolux is currently in the process of migrating its retail solutions to Microsoft’s Windows 2000 platform. “We want a reliable standard of applications with a good graphical interface. We also want the latest technology,” explains Wakeus. By using Windows 2000 with Terminal Services included in the base operating system, thin client deployment and management is already facilitated which means that deployment will be straight forward.
This amongst other factors confirms Microsoft’s commitment to a multi-user environment and their Remote Display Protocol (RDP) which will fuel growth in the market. This in itself implies that thin client technology provides organisations with one of the best infrastructures in order to support the new offering from Microsoft.Integrated Terminal Services will provide a more streamlined, simpler solution for the customer. This is a change from Windows NT Terminal Server Edition where administrators had to maintain a separate version of NT, including particular service packs to support terminal services. By integrating Terminal Services, the system is more configurable, flexible and manageable.
The benefits of outsourcing
The main applications used by Electrolux Home are Microsofts Office suite and Fenix, a specialised package for retailers from Genesis-IT.
The Fenix applications includes modules for point-of-sale, order entry, inventory, purchasing, billing, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and salary. Additionally, users have access to Microsoft’s Office Suite and Exchange email and Electrolux gets sales information and statistics that it downloads from a database stored on Genesis-IT’s server farm.”Our users still think they are part of a local area network because performance is so outstanding. For us, not only do we have much faster access to new applications, but the likelihood of any servers crashing is severely reduced, meaning that uptime is increased and panic is eliminated,” comments Wakeus.”We have taken the challenge given to us by Electrolux, fully meeting their demands for access, reliability and security. The solutions made possible by Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, together with NCD’s thin client solutions, will have a major impact on the development of our business model.
We are now able to offer continuous access to applications and data twenty four hours a day, seven days a week,” said Sven Wallgren of Genesis-IT.”NCD’s thin client solutions have been developed to support the new generation of ASP services for the most demanding customers. We provide full Windows 2000 support today, since the new operating system will be a key piece of technology for creating thin client solutions with improved reliability, management and Internet connectivity,” said Morten Moland, director of strategic alliances at NCD.NCD has worked together with Genesis-IT for the past two years, creating thin client solutions for Electrolux. Genesis-IT has now sold its Fenix software to other retail chains and has also expanded its service range to include complete accounting systems for small businesses.
Genesis-IT has also signed a deal with auditing company Grant Thornton for their accounting system. All of these are using NCD ThinSTAR Windows-based terminals with 300 installed so far.
NCD and the ASP market
An application service provider (ASP) manages and delivers application capablities to multiple entities from a data centre across a wide area network.Rob Hailstone, Research Director of Bloor Research, makes the following comments about this up and coming concept:”The ASP market is set to become one of the high profile growth industries of the next few years. Both the successes and failures will be highly publicised. Availability and reliability will be the primary performance measures, and prospective clients will look for comprehensive service level agreements.
By its very nature, services provided by an ASP must be delivered through a “thin client” (or server-centric) architecture. It is simply not reasonable to expect an ASP to commit to provide end-to-end availability when it has no direct control over the integrity of applications resident on clients PCs.The ASP companies themselves will wish to deploy a wide variety of applications, including many that have been built for deployment over a conventional client/server architecture. Microsoft’s Windows Terminal Server has therefore become a popular platform on which to base an ASP service. But on its own this does not provide a full solution.
ASPs will need to manage a significant “farm” of servers to provide a high level of scalability and continuity of service irrespective of individual device failures. ASPs will also need to provide the same level of user support that could be achieved by an on-site support function, but using remote facilities to be able to shadow client devices to guide users through usability problems.Finally, ASPs will need to be able to supply very resilient (and cost-effective) client devices – in the rare event of a failure users must be able to replace failed units with off-the-shelf spares without the need for technical assistance.NCD’s product line – both hardware and software – provides a good fit with this set of requirements and should enable NCD to become a significant vendor of technology to ASPs.”