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Retail Is Taking Off,
But from What Launch Pad

SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service Provides the Foundation for Innovative Services

Written by Meike Chabowski

Retail is recovering quickly from the dark days of the past few economic years. Holiday sales in the United States, for example, turned in numbers across all retail categories from apparel to electronics that rocketed past the predictions of even the preseason optimists. And that should be good news for retail IT departments. Well, relatively good news. Retail still has a number of hurdles to overcome.

Retail has traditionally lagged in technology, especially at the foundation level. And even though IT budgets are now beginning to increase, IT departments are saddled with outdated hodgepodge systems, licensing fees, maintenance and multiyear rollouts.

At the same time, retail customers are more technology savvy than ever, and they want to use their technology to shop. This presents a real dilemma for IT. How does it come from behind the curve, keep ahead of customers and do it on growing but still limited budgets?

One answer is to ensure retail systems from the data center to the point of service (POS) systems are built on a solid, secure, flexible and cost-efficient platform. Many retailers are turning to open source systems due to their security, dependability, scalability and lower costs. And because they aren't locked into a hardware platform, they can scale on a moment's notice.

SUSE Linux is the only enterprise-class Linux solution that is designed specifically for retail environments.

Enterprise-class Linux Operating System Tailored for Retail

SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service from Novell is the only enterprise-class Linux solution that is designed specifically for retail environments, including branch and POS devices.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service includes an operating system that runs on any x86-64 or x86 hardware. A typical architecture includes one central administrative server that communicates with branch servers. The branch servers are connected to POS terminals, which run retail applications or specialized cash registers and kiosks. (See Figure 1.)

The Administration Sever Manages the Entire Infrastructure

The administration server hosts an LDAP database and creates the images that are sent to the branch offices and POS devices. The LDAP database stores the configuration of each POS client configuration.

The functions of the administration server include the following:

  • Maintaining the master LDAP directory for each branch server system
  • Providing the tools such as the YaST Image Creator, which is a graphical front end to the KIWI image building technology for building custom system images and holding the images for distribution
  • Storing branch server configuration parameters
  • Providing the infrastructure to distribute the system images and software updates
  • Supporting the Network Time Protocol (NTP) for synchronizing the branch servers
  • Consolidating the syslog output from the branch servers

You manage all administrative tasks for the branch and POS terminals at the administrative server, including building and distributing images. The branch servers may also automatically download images based on daemons you set up.

Branch Servers Boot POS Terminals

The branch servers play several roles. They serve as the boot servers and provide the system management infrastructure for the POS terminals, and they may host store applications, databases and POS applications. The branch server functions include the following:

  • Running domain name services (DNS) for the local network
  • Running dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) services to control the boot process
  • Providing a multicast boot infrastructure for POS terminals (PXE, tftp)
  • Transferring system images from the administration server to the terminals

The branch server automatically pulls new system images from the administration server and downloads them to the POS terminals. You can also distribute images as delta files with only the changes between image versions.

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