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Linux Is Sometimes a Pleasant Surprise

Scoring a Home Run

  • October 20, 2003
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Sometimes, companies end up gaining advantages from Linux even though Linux wasn't mainly what they had in mind. That's what happened when online sporting goods retailer Anaconda Sports replaced its outgrown e-comm server with an IBM Websphere architecture combining Linux and Windows 2000 components.

"We weren't exactly shouting, 'We must have Linux!' But our DB2 server running Linux has worked out great," said Rob Meyer, Anaconda's director of Internet services.

SCS, Inc. is hosting the Linux-based database server, along with IBM WebSphere Commerce Server 5.5 and WebSphere Application Server 4.0, both running Microsoft's W2K.

Acaconda moved to WebSphere from an online storefront from Able Commerce, which was hosted by another provider.

"Able is a good system," Meyer maintained. "The (Microsoft) Access database being used with Able was fine when we first got the system."

Over the past few years, though, Anaconda has been transitioning from traditional mail order sales in the direction of e-commerce. Anaconda also operates one brick-and-mortar store, located at company headquarters in Kingston, NY. By now, however, the retailer is doing the bulk of its business online.

"Our marketing and merchandising needs are pretty diverse, because we have so many categories and subcategories of products," Meyer added.

Web traffic is way up, too. At a time when many other retailers are foundering, Anaconda expects to double its year-over-year profits in 2003. Beyond its own e-comm site, Anaconda also runs online storefronts for partners such as the Babe Ruth League. Other current partners include merchandisers Nike and Adidas.

Anaconda decided to check out WebSphere and SCS after hearing positive reports about both from industry sources.

"We were looking for a system with a more viable back end. It was also clear that WebSphere would give us all the bells and whistles we need for marketing and promotion," according to Meyer.

"SCS told us that could save a couple of thousand dollars in licensing fees by running DB2 on Linux instead of Windows, while also getting the benefits of open source. So we said, 'Why not?'"

Implementing the WebSphere project took about two months, from March to May of 2003. "Everything didn't run smooth as silk, though," Meyer acknowledged.

At one point, before the project went live, WebSphere was unable to recognize certain products--including baseballs, for instance--that didn't have multiple attributes--such as size and color--stored in DB2. SCS did a bit of custom coding, however, and that problem was resolved, Meyer said.

Through WebSphere's Web services interface, the retailer's e-comm server is now integrated on the back-end with a Windows-based order entry system at Anaconda's headquarters; a remote fraud detection system operated by Verisign; and UPS's Worldship.

"I don't want to sound like a poster boy for IBM. It's true, though, that we've been able to increase the efficiency of our warehouse operations," according to Meyer. "Before, we had to manually re-enter orders from our online store into our back-end ordering system. About all we could do online was to update inventory. XML, however, is giving us greater granularity. We can see absolutely every aspect of an order. Also, before using Verisign, we had absolutely no way of knowing whether a credit card number typed in online was 'bad' or not. Now, we're lightyears ahead."

Meyer added that he's impressed with the "robustness and reliability" of the DB2 database system running on Linux.

According to Steve Gatto, IBM's program director for WebSphere Commerce, many of IBM's e-comm customers are small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are now moving WebSphere as their second- or third-generation online storefront.

"The e-commerce sell side isn't getting the same (media) attention as it did during the dot comm boom. Yet it is still strong. The requirements have changed, however," he contended.

Users are now looking for more effective ways of tying into back-end systems, personalizing content, and presenting information from diverse sources, according to Gatto.

"Systems should also be reliable, flexible, and easy to implement over time. You must give merchandisers tools for adding a cross sell or an upsell, without having to go to the IT department every time around."

Aside from Windows, mainframes, and Unix systems, IBM's e-comm and database software runs on three Linux distributions: Red Hat 7.2, SuSE 7.3, and Turbolinux 7.0.

"IBM is continuing to see a lot of of momentum for Linux, too. SMBs, in particular, are still very excited," Gatto asserted.

At this point, Anaconda plans to use WebSphere's Web services back end to integrate with other retailers' sites, in a series of joint marketing and merchandising deals.

"I can't really say much more about this right now. But we're talking to a lot of people and exploring various avenues. We have lots of deals in the works," Meyer said.

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