“Things were better in the good old days.” There are frustrated network engineers out there who may be tempted to use this terse statement. What used to be a few switches and routers for connection, configuration and integration into the network has today become hundreds or even thousands of devices that need to be integrated and managed efficiently in enterprise networks.
The ongoing digitalization of the workplace and its processes makes no exceptions for brick-and-mortar retail. While many of the changes are greeted positively by customers, the burden on network administrators is growing steadily: The increasing complexity of networks is taking conventional infrastructures to their limits, and the handling is becoming more complicated.
Highly secure store networking, wireless picking, and electronic payment transactions (key word: electronic cash clearing) are utterly vital. Also in demand are Wi-Fi hotspots for customers, electronic price tagging, electronic shelf labels (ESL), and the integration of external service providers, such as for video surveillance by security firms. Moreover, the number of mobile and stationary terminals is on the rise, too. Trends like the Internet of Things, bring-your-own-device, location-based services, and multi-/omni-channel models are presenting networks with still more challenges.
Innovative PoS marketing concepts make demands on the infrastructure, too. For example, Wi-Fi hotspots in the store can be combined with digital signage displays and electronic shelf labels to form an integrated campaign platform.
These challenges and opportunities are forcing retail companies of all sizes to operate at the limit. This is not least because of the scarcity of qualified professionals in the field of multidimensional network management, but also because the increasing complexity demands ever deeper expertise.
The answer: Cloud-based network management in conjunction with advanced software-defined networking technologies (SDN). They cut this Gordian knot and advance the digitalization of retail at the same time. Some are even speaking of a network revolution thanks to this revolutionary technology.
SDN sets new standards
Cloud and SDN-based network management automate the setup, management and monitoring of entire networks—including the full range of the components such as routers, switches and Wi-Fi access points. The complex processes, which traditional management methods can only address over several days, are now being radically simplified: New services or additional stores are added to the network simply at the click of a mouse. All the administrators have to do is to specify the framework conditions and add the services. Individual device configurations become a thing of the past. Admins have full visibility and control over every device and activity in the network, and this in combination with a high degree of security.
Be it a local store or a multinational retail chain—they all benefit from the enormous simplification and flexibility of their IT operations along with significant time and cost savings from digitalization.
Potential for retailers
The actual implications of software-defined networking for retailers are demonstrated by the numerous potential application scenarios. New applications are quickly and easily incorporated into the secure network. Be it a remote service access for external employees, a direct connection to the digital-signage management, or the switching center for setting up and configuring Wi-Fi guest access—there are no limits to the imagination, and Cloud connectivity greatly simplifies the remote access and management of these functions. Even for future applications—which haven’t even been thought of yet—the basic requirements are in place for their easy and rapid implementation.
It is not only new applications that can be integrated quickly and securely into the network. The entire process of the network management itself has been hugely simplified and optimized. Be it the installation of new devices, a device swap-out due to a defect, or just the monitoring of functionality, security and compliance—all of this is possible from a central location with the help of SDN technology. Greatly simplified in particular are the roll-out of complex security architectures with network virtualization (VLANs) and the implementation of the PCI compliance requirements. Also simplified are the documentation of and the search for error sources, with significant time and cost savings for the administration. These all represent the added value that SDN brings to retail.
The financial flexibility for retailers is a further advantage of this approach. Cloud management based on SDN offers unprecedented flexibility as it enables retailers to purchase their networks as a full service, and it provides new business models for system integrators. Apart from the usual purchase models, new service-oriented offerings can now be bought on a “pay-as-you-grow” basis. This offers retailers financial security coupled with maximum versatility and future viability. The key words here are Network as a Service (NaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). For companies that are still undecided, these services greatly simplify the road to digitalization, and they can grow with the retail company.
For ultimate leverage: Hyper-integration
LANCOM is currently exhibiting its Cloud-based network management solution for brick-and-mortar retail at this year’s EuroShop in Düsseldorf, Germany. LANCOM Systems and their latest offering, the LANCOM Management Cloud (LMC), is the only manufacturer to offer an SDN-based Cloud solution for the entire network infrastructure, including routers, VPN gateways, switches, and access points for Wi-Fi and ESL.
The LANCOM Management Cloud is the first hyper-integrated network management solution on the market, which puts it in a unique position. The LMC is available as a Public Cloud solution “made and hosted in Germany” or for in-house operation (self-hosting / on-premises).
There is no avoiding solutions like the LMC if brick-and-mortar retail is to keep pace with digitalization.
For more information about the smart retail solutions from LANCOM, visit the following website: https://www.lancom-systems.com/solutions/industries/retail/