Perle Systems Case Study
Boosting application performance
for on line supermarket retail chain
One of the UK’s most successful companies for Internet shopping is Tesco.
When the market-leading supermarket needed to replace the 280 servers used to run this service, it faced a tight deadline and a challenge to save money by maintaining legacy label printers. Thanks to the Perle low-profile UltraPort 4 port serial card, Tesco has retained its legacy printers, upgraded to new servers, and avoided extra costs.
Tesco is one of the worlds leading retailers with 2,318 stores and 367,000 people. Tesco Home Shopping, the Internet home shopping service, was launched in 1995 and later became Tesco.com. Internet sales are now around three quarters of a billion pounds.
The Picking Control System for the home shopping business is a bespoke application that used to run on 280 in-store Fujitsu servers under Microsoft Windows NT. The application not only downloads a picking list to PDAs for shelf pickers but also prints customer box labels on 600 Epson printers. Four Epson label printers were connected to each Fujitsu server via a legacy Perle serial card. The total system prints over 100,000 labels each day and was feeling the strain.
“The success of Tesco.com means every bit of the system has to work to its full capacity” said Technical Consultant Rob Langley.
When the Microsoft Windows 2003 operating system became available, Tesco spotted an opportunity to upgrade to Microsoft .NET technologies for easier application integration. Tesco also wanted newer, more powerful, Compaq servers but this raised a problem. The Perle serial cards installed in the old Fujitsu servers - in use for up to ten years - could not be moved over to the new Compaq servers. The Compaq systems needed smaller low-profile, new generation 3.3 volt serial cards.
Tesco’s investigated 3 possible solutions:
- Purchase 600 new network based IP printers. This was a very expensive option that was quickly ruled out.
- Purchase an alternative serial card from
another Serial Card manufacturer. Investigation
into this solution uncovered the problem that the card did
not support the current Epson printers using Tesco’s
standard network cabling. “In order to get the right
handshaking to the printers, we had to use RJ48 connectors
on 10 core cable. However, in-store cabling was standard
RJ45 8 core (CAT5) cable,” said Langley. The stores
would have needed extensive re-cabling
- Two months before the planned Compaq server rollout, Perle’s new low-profile UltraPort 4 universal 3.3v/5v serial card became available. This very flexible solution for serial connections supported the right printer pin-outs, instantly solving the cabling problems.
“The new Perle solution was ideal, as it appeared to be the only card on the market that worked with our existing Epson LM-60 printers on our cabling,” said Langley.
The work to install 280 new servers then got underway. In a project of this size, it was important to automate as much of the software installation work as possible. For example, the operating system, applications, and devices would be pre-configured centrally, then the new server delivered to the appropriate store and a fi nal short confi guration made. Many such tasks are handled by Windows scripting, needing very limited operator input.
Tesco’s contacted Perle to discuss complex technical issues with regard to the scripting techniques used. Langley says that Perle’s technical support staff responded quickly and went the “extra mile” against tight project deadlines. Working closely together, Perle enhanced the driver for the UltraPort Serial Cards and tested it to support Windows unattended scripts.
“Perle’s pre-sales support was second to none, I cannot over estimate the help they gave us when we were in a difficult situation with very short timescales,” said Langley.
With the last technical hurdle overcome, Microsoft Windows NT 4, a Perle low-profile UltraPort 4 serial card and the current Picking Control System were installed onto the new more powerful Compaq/HP NT4 servers. The server rollout into all 280 stores was completed in August 2004. Software agents in the servers alert Tesco technical support staff to any hardware problems. Operating system and application software updates, including any for the Perle UltraPort Serial Cards, are managed and delivered remotely. The next step for Tesco involves upgrading the servers to the Windows 2003 operating system and new .NET business applications developed.
The new servers have worked well, giving the application software a much needed performance boost and an opportunity for regular business updates. The Perle UltraPort Serial Cards - backed by a lifetime warranty and free software updates - are also proving versatile and reliable. Tesco believes that the new hardware now has suffi cient power to cope with several years of increased usage and software enhancements. But the only work necessary so far has been to install some faster Epson printers to cope with higher label printing volumes. With the help of Perle technology, Tesco’s home shopping business continues to forge ahead.