Case study: Retail chain's move to Windows a 'no brainer'

It was an easy decision for hip clothier Urban Outfitters to switch from a Unix- to a Windows-based terminal services solution. The terminal software was easier to administer, and admins could customize client features without knowing scripting language. Better user support for 92 retail outlets in five countries was a nice bonus.

When IBM Corp. announced it would discontinue support for its Unix Network Stations, Jason Breslau decided to move to Windows. After all, he was the only person in the IT department who knew Unix.

Breslau, technical services manager for Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters Inc., was supporting dozens of five-year-old IBM Network Stations. He had to blindly support 150 users over the phone and, if he couldn't solve a given problem, Breslau had to ship the user a new client and have the broken machine sent out for repair. This happened three or four times a month. So when IBM announced it would discontinue support for its Network Stations, it seemed like a good time to migrate to Windows.

For Breslau, the decision was a no-brainer, largely because he and his four systems administrators were already trained in Windows technology. The move to Windows NT 4.0 Embedded client software also ushered Urban Outfitters into a brave new world in where IT staff could provide better, faster support to managers working in 92 retail stores across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

But Urban Outfitters didn't jump all the way.

"At the time we purchased the clients, XP Embedded was too new and NT 4.0 Embedded was solid," Breslau said, noting that the clients connect to eight Windows NT 4.0 servers running Citrix MetaFrame 1.8. For store managers especially, the move from Unix to Windows XP would have been too difficult. Over the long term, Breslau plans to move all users to an XP-based environment.

The solution Breslau has chosen for now is from NetX Inc., based on Staten Island, N.Y. He passed on Unix-based alternatives from Wise Solutions Inc., of Plymouth, Mich., and Neoware Systems Inc., based in King of Prussia, Pa. He said that there were several factors behind the NetX decision:

  • The solution was built on standards-based, not proprietary hardware, which he said offered a stronger guarantee of long-term support.

  • The terminal software was easier for admins to use.

  • Admins can customize client features without knowing scripting language.

  • NetX boxes prevented store managers from changing configurations or downloading files from the Internet.

  • NetX came bundled with remote control management software from either Altiris Inc., of Lindon, Utah or Symantec Corp., of Cupertino, Calif.

The remote control management from Altiris prompted an unexpected but significant improvement in user support.

The Altiris software allows the Urban Outfitters IT staff to remotely take control of machines, update motherboard BIOSs (basic input/output systems) and generally fix problems without user involvement. There's no more shipping of workstations back and forth. The software also allows Urban Outfitters to manage and restore servers remotely.

"Before, we couldn't manage the boxes at all," Breslau said.

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