Fast and reliable networks are critical to the success of retail operations. Without network access, stores can’t process payments, handle customer data, or update inventory, which makes outages highly disruptive. According to a recent study, downtime could cost over $300,000 per hour in lost business, which is why it’s crucial that admins have the necessary tools to effectively monitor, manage, and optimize retail networks. This blog discusses some of the specific challenges involved in retail network management and how the right edge gateway solution can help overcome these difficulties.
Retail network management challenges
Managing a retail network comes with unique challenges, especially as the size and geographical distribution of the organization grows. Examples of these challenges include:
- Extending fast, reliable connectivity to the entire store for payment processing machines, inventory scanners, and other crucial devices. This is especially challenging in big box stores and other locations with large footprints as well as service-based chains with mechanics’ bays, drive-thrus, and other outdoor or semi-outdoor devices.
- Maintaining optimal environmental conditions for networking equipment that’s often installed in closets, storage rooms, warehouses, and other out-of-the-way locations. The priority is typically to keep these devices hidden from customers, so they’re kept in areas that may not be climate controlled and may not have staff physically checking them every day. This increases the risk of environmental issues (like heat and humidity) causing a device failure and means no one is likely to notice the issue until it’s too late.
- Remotely troubleshooting and recovering from issues without any on-site technicians. If the ISP connection, WAN, or LAN go down, there’s often no way to remotely access on-site equipment to diagnose and fix the problem. That means network outages require truck rolls to solve, with stores losing money waiting for technicians to travel on-site.
- Efficiently monitoring and managing a distributed retail network architecture made up of many different network solutions and platforms. The lack of centralized management increases the risk of human error and makes it difficult to preemptively address potential problems or optimize the speed and performance of the network.
Retail network management teams need a robust solution that addresses these particular challenges. For example, they need small and powerful network devices that use centralized management to reduce management complexity. They also need a way to monitor environmental conditions and recover from outages without having to be on-site.
Simplifying retail network management
Now, let’s discuss how a robust branch gateway solution can help organizations address these challenges.
Compact, all-in-one networking
The layout of a retail store is carefully planned to ensure an optimal experience for customers, which means networking devices need to be as unobtrusive as possible. The ideal branch gateway for retail is compact and combines multiple networking functions, reducing the number of devices that need to be installed. Retail notoriously operates on a small profit margin, so the branch gateway also needs to be affordable without sacrificing performance.
Environmental monitoring sensors collect data on conditions like temperature, humidity, and air quality in the location where networking equipment is installed. These sensors typically connect to the retail branch gateway via USB and report back to the management platform, giving admins the ability to remotely monitor the environment. This is crucial when most retail networks are managed by admins in a centralized office which may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from the stores themselves. Environmental monitoring allows them to identify and resolve potential problems before they cause device failures and outages. For example, if environmental sensors detect high temperatures, admins can get on-site personnel to turn up the air conditioning or call in an HVAC repair before devices overheat and bring down the network.
Out-of-band (OOB) management
Out-of-band (OOB) management uses redundant network interfaces (often cellular) to provide an alternative path to remote infrastructure. A branch gateway with OOB allows admins to remotely connect to devices in the store without relying on an IP address from the LAN, which means they’ll always have access even if the production network goes down. Without OOB management, the retail location goes offline for hours or even days waiting for a technician to arrive on-site, diagnose, and repair the issue. With OOB, admins can remotely access the infrastructure to restore services, often so fast that customers don’t even notice. That means they can remotely recover from more outages without truck rolls, saving time and money.
A vendor-neutral branch gateway can interface with all the other devices in a retail network infrastructure, even if they’re from a different vendor’s ecosystem. This gives admins a single platform from which to monitor and manage every device in the store. Even better is when all of the branch gateways in the entire retail network architecture hook into a single, centralized, cloud-based orchestration platform. Admins can then monitor, control, and optimize network infrastructure for all the retail locations from one place for ultimate efficiency.
In addition, a vendor-neutral retail network management platform enables the use of third-party automation solutions. Automation reduces the risk of human error and makes it easier for teams to effectively manage and optimize even complex retail network architectures.
Retail network management with Nodegrid
Compact, all-in-one branch gateways like Nodegrid use environmental monitoring, OOB management, and vendor-neutral platforms to simplify retail network management. The Nodegrid Mini SR, for example, is an inexpensive retail branch gateway that’s roughly the size of an iPhone, so you can easily deploy them anywhere in your store without disrupting the customer experience. Despite its small size and low price point, the MSR still delivers Gen 3 OOB management capabilities while supporting Nodegrid environmental monitoring sensors and third-party automation. The Nodegrid platform is also completely vendor-neutral, giving retail network admins a single pane of glass from which to monitor, orchestrate, and optimize the entire distributed network architecture.