NRF: Dell unveils end-to-end cloud solution for retail

NEW YORK — At a private press event Sunday night, executives from Dell gave a sneak peak of their Cloud Client Computing for Retail, a suite they say is the first end-to-end solution that makes it easy for retailers to off-load their IT burdens while simultaneously future-proofing their in-store tech planning.

In PR-speak, the new solution "addresses endpoint devices, networking, security, virtualization, infrastructure, management tools and services to help retailers realize cloud-related benefits." The real-world benefits were somewhat clearer at the demo: Things sometimes break, and if you're a retailer using this solution, it's much easier for you to switch out the broken things for new ones. It's also much easier for you to shift your strategies in the future as your in-store technology plan evolves.

At its core is a fundamental shift in where retail processing takes place. In a traditional retail setup, each POS unit (and each kiosk and each mobile point of sale and each manager workstation, you get the idea) is loaded with the necessary software and tools for communication with the "mother ship," whether that's a local bank of machines or one located remotely. If any one of those in-store machines crashes, the manager has to wait for corporate to send a replacement unit.

Under the Dell plan, each of those in-store pieces of technology is a sort of ultra-thin client, which communicates via a Dell switch and a secure connection with a bank of Windows Server machines. Those machines might be elsewhere in the retailer's building, or they might be at an off-site cluster. If one of those thin clients breaks, the replacement time and cost are minimal — just put the replacement unit on the counter and connect it to the mother ship, and you've got another fully functional unit.

There's an added benefit, which Dell's director of industry solutions Kevin Walker showed off in a simple but effective demonstration. He initiated a fictional transaction on a POS unit, one configured using the Cloud Client Computing platform. Halfway through the transaction, he shut the unit down, then picked up an iPad. What if the retailer in question wanted to move from static POS to mobile POS? Firing up the iPad, he connected to the same cloud account that the static unit was running on, and seconds later he completed the transaction in progress on the tablet, right down to the penny. The transaction was entirely device-independent; it would have been just as easy to move it to a kiosk or any other mobile device, or vice versa.

Currently, the suite is tested and validated to work with roughly 60 POS peripherals, and Dell's practice lead for retail Mike Adams said custom testing is available for other devices. As for POS software, Walker admitted that they are "at the early stages," but the system works with leading retail POS applications, with more on the way, and can be made to work with any POS software on the market.

At launch, Cloud Client Computing for Retail is a hardware/software purchase for retailers that supports POS, kiosk and back-office systems. This summer, the tool will be upgraded to support digital signage and surveillance hardware. And the biggest change comes in the fall, when the whole package will be available for subscription as software-as-a-service.

Read more about POS.

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