If you’re in the business of physical retail, you’re well aware that investing in and deploying effective hardware technology is essential to keep customers coming in, products going out, and money moving into your coffers.
With the right configuration, you have the opportunity to increase your capabilities, decrease your overhead, and, potentially, boost enterprise earnings. But your current hardware won’t last forever—PCI requirements and other regulations may change, and things inevitably wear out over time. To properly manage your hardware you’ll need to consider factors like maintenance, time, and cost.
When is the right time to make changes to your hardware configuration? And what contingencies should you follow to ensure you can maintain smooth operations with minimal trouble?
A few ECRS experts have weighed in with their thoughts…
Jesse Dyer, VP of Customer Support
“You want to consider having spares on standby for your devices and their accompanying cables. When it comes to the question of how many spares you may need… that’s really a better business question than a technical one.
There are a few cables that tend to experience more wear and tear; cash drawers, payment terminals, and displays. This is because they tend to span larger, more accessible gaps in cabinetry, so more of these is a good idea. (Yes, that wouldn’t seem true for drawers, but those poor things can take a lot of abuse from cashiers having a bad day!)
In my humble opinion, having at least a conservative stock of spares at outset is a wise move. Not because I expect failures to happen with high frequency, but because it’s the problems you don’t prepare for that cut the biggest holes in your coin purse.
There’s a really good article by Kris Goly on approaching this more formally that might be worth your time.”
Rocco Speranza, POS / RMA Hardware Technician
“Good management of hardware must factor in downtime tolerance. The older your hardware gets, the more likely it is to fail at any one moment.
If you want a strict, inflexible answer, I’d say you need to plan to replace hardware every five years, but this is an overly-broad way to look at things. Some hardware, like pin pads, may have even shorter life spans due to changes in PCI requirements.
You really have to address a number of questions when considering contingencies, spares, replacements, and maintenance:
How many lanes do you have?
- If you only have one lane, it isn’t cost effective to have an entire spare lane waiting in the back as opposed to setting it up and having two lanes at all times.
- If you have eight lanes, are you able to be down one lane for a couple of days?
How much do you want to spend?
- In an ideal world nothing breaks and we don’t need to think about replacements, but since we aren’t always so lucky, retailers need to be planning for these costs ahead of time.
- If you have the hardware for a spare lane, you won’t need to pay for overnight shipping if something goes down. (Or maybe you’ve purchased ECRS Gold Care on the item and ECRS covers the shipping costs.) Again, this all depends on your downtime tolerance. If you have a spare lane, you can be back up and running within an hour.
What is mission critical to you?
- With CATAPULT®, if your server goes down, you can still process credit /debit cards… but some functionality may be limited.
- If your credit processing capabilities go down, will you close down that lane for the day or run cash only?
- If your cash drawer cable gets ripped out, your drawer won’t pop automatically, but you can still use the key to manually open it.
- It doesn’t make sense to have five spare pin pads because you are worried about credit going down when you only have 4 total lanes.
My best recommendation would be to pay close attention to any potential issues you may have and replace hardware proactively. Let’s say you have a register that is five years old and is starting to crash on you but is still usable, overall. Maybe a drive replacement could keep it running a couple more years, or maybe you go head and replace it with a new computer now to save on an emergency shipment the day the terminal finally goes out.
ECRS can only give guidelines on hardware reliability and overall life span. Sometimes it’s easy due to PCI reasons, but other times it’s really up to an individual’s risk tolerance.”
Michael Salley, Technical Support Analyst
“I think keeping a close eye on your store controllers and HQ server is probably the most important thing to do.
When a register goes down, almost no critical data is endangered. (With the exception of whatever few transactions might be in local data and not yet in the main database at the moment it crashes.) Unless you’re running a single-lane store, the only impact of such downtime is that customers will have to checkout at a different lane.
However, if a store controller or HQ server goes down, you might lose all reporting functionality. Gift card, loyalty, and other various functions grind to a halt and stay halted until recovery is complete. In addition, in the event of unrecoverable data loss, you’ve lost reporting data for whatever period isn’t recoverable in your backups.
(You do have a valid backup strategy in place and you verify often that it’s still working effectively… right?)
A register’s workload is rather static. Its needs don’t evolve as rapidly as the needs of the backend. It can be used until the hard drive or some other physical component dies or the operating system is no longer PCI compliant. For the most part, it’s going to perform fairly linearly throughout that time span.
Servers, on the other hand, bear the brunt of the workload of the CATAPULT system. With every software upgrade, new features and functionalities ask the servers to deliver more with the same resources. At the same time, your data set is getting larger and larger, as transactions accumulate; worksheet history lengthens, inventory catalogs expand, and new tables are added during version upgrades. So, although ECRS Gold Care covers server hardware issues up to a maximum of five years, I often find that by year four on a server, high-demand users are experiencing performance slowdowns and noticeable user experience lags.
There’s little remedy for this except to upgrade to a new, more powerful server. RAM upgrades are sometimes a way to get that fifth year in a satisfactory way (as is converting mechanical hard drives to SSD devices), but effectiveness differs from one case to the next. As the saying goes, ‘your mileage may vary’ but my personal take on this is that when planning budgets, a lot of retailers are happiest when their server is a maximum of four years old.”
ECRS is here to help.
We understand that every retailer faces challenges that are unique to their enterprise. We’re always listening, and we’re always looking for new ways to improve enterprise efficiency for each of our retailer partners. Powered by CATAPULT®’s Unified Transaction Logic, our hardware offerings help retailers outperform and outmaneuver the competition. To learn more about CATAPULT, our hardware solutions, and our retail success services, contact ECRS today.