U.S. tire dealer optimizes its IT environment with Linux-based clients from IGEL
Server-based computing allows Les Schwab, the largest independent U.S. tire chain, to expand while support costs remain constant
Customer service is a priority at Les Schwab. 'Our store employees greet their customers outside, even before they get out of their cars.' This is the image Rod Williams uses to describe the successful Les Schwab philosophy that turned the company, which was established in 1952 in Prineville, Oregon, into the largest independent tire dealer in the United States. Williams, IT Administrator at Les Schwab, is responsible for system integration and iSeries. Not an easy job in a rapidly growing organization with more than 300 stores and 83 partner branches!
Williams has strict guidelines on developing the IT infrastructure. Support costs must not exceed 30 percent of total administration time. This also applied to the recent rollout of the new server-based computing (SBC) architecture for the tire chain’s branches. According to Williams, it is the only realistic way to support all workstations, whose number has grown to about 4,000 in 380 locations by now, without additional expenses. With an eye firmly fixed on investment costs and application flexibility, Les Schwab chose a combination of servers of the IBM eServer iSeries and thin clients manufactured by IGEL Technology of Ft. Lauderdale. With the slim and cost-effective terminals, branch employees are able to locally access IT applications that are stored centrally on the servers. 'Before we made a decision, we calculated the ROI of various options, including conventional client/server models', said Williams. 'The results were obvious. For example, to manage a pure Microsoft system with Windows PCs based on the current growth rate, our team of 20 would have to be five times larger by now.'
Three employees support 4,000 IT workstations
Today, the tire retailer is using a two-pronged support model: The approximately 1000 office workstations at corporate headquarters continue to use desktop PCs. 'Every time support is needed, an IT employee has to service the respective computer. On the other hand, an IT team of only three takes care of the complete administration of the 4,000 thin clients under the second new support model - and with close to 100 percent equipment availability.' The strong remote administration capability of IGEL thin clients plays a significant role in simplifying the system of Les Schwab and in saving costs. 'The new SBC architecture allows us to maintain applications centrally on the server or update them as needed and make them available to our personnel immediately through the local IGEL clients', said Williams. 'With central administration of applications and terminals, we managed to gradually increase our computer workstations at 40 percent lower rollout costs than if we had followed a pure Windows-based strategy.'
The IGEL firmware strategy is popular
To ensure optimal integration of structural changes and to achieve maximum user acceptance, Les Schwab paid special attention to user-friendliness when the terminals for IT and store employees were selected. 'The particular challenge was to give the centralized infrastructure the same 'look and feel' while maintaining the basic conditions for critical business applications', Williams explained. 'Our users are not computer gurus after all, they are tire experts. They wanted a faster, more efficient, easy-to-handle system which makes various applications available locally, and which does not require extensive training.' IGEL meets these requirements with an intelligent range of client firmware. Furthermore, the firmware is adaptable to meet specific customer needs and can be updated centrally. In the case of Les Schwab, the standard configuration was able to satisfy the customer’s specific infrastructure requirements because the emulation software, PowerTerm InterConnect from Ericom Software, which is a standard feature, allows fast data access on a variety of host systems and applications throughout the organization. Moreover, the flexible IGEL thin clients are equipped with an encapsulated Linux operating system and all common communication protocols, such as Microsoft’s RDP or Citrix ICA. Therefore, the internal client OS is fully independent of the server system and generally can also be used with a Windows 2003 server or Citrix Presentation server. Based on the systemic separation of thin client and server, all familiar user interfaces can be reproduced to be deceptively similar both optically and functionally, and not only in the case of Les Schwab.
Super-fast IT management
Today, all thin clients in the branches of Les Schwab are administered centrally. 'Workstations are now configured in bundles overnight. The next morning, all thin clients are updated and ready for operation without imposing any restrictions on the users.' Les Schwab is planning to consistently equip new branches with IGEL thin clients. 'Central management saves an incredible amount of time', summarizes Williams. 'For example, once I was able to make a special host session available to some selected branch employees within a day to provide a current overview of daily sales. Such requests for up-to-date information can only be met with the new SBC infrastructure. This capability is finally compatible with our internal understanding of what service should be. Now, when a branch asks for a new application, we respond: 'How quickly do you need it?' This is our way of greeting our customers before they come in.'