Retailer to tame software suppliers

John Lewis is trying to tame its software suppliers, to cease their "unfair" licensing practices, put an end to "upgrade-itus", and block their hypnotic influence on its IT department.

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John Lewis is trying to tame its software suppliers, to cease their "unfair" licensing practices, put an end to "upgrade-itus", and block their hypnotic influence on its IT department.

The retailer wants to put software suppliers in their place so it can get on with its attempts to virtualise its servers. The virtualisation project has got snarled up under some "stubborn resistance", said Gary Hird, technical strategy manager at John Lewis, and software suppliers are to blame.

Hird said,"We have got a big bone of contention about certification of software to work in a virtualised environment [and] we want software licensing models that are fair.

The issue is so great that he called on the whole industry to tackle it."We are trying to get suppliers to support software on a virtualised platform. We perceive a number of our major software suppliers as lagging behind. It is in their interest in some ways to lag behind. We would contend it is not in their long-term interestto do that," he said.

Hird refused to name names, but said he was asking major suppliers not to penalise it on software licensing for running a virtualised environment.

"We need them to recognise the world is going virtualised and to not price things unfairly. If we want to virtualise a server but face a larger bill for the software, we want to make sure our software bill doesnot go up," he said.

In cases where a supplierwanted to charge more money because its software had been loaded onto a virtualised server supporting more applications on a larger host of processors, and its licence was charged according to the number of processors on which the software was loaded, John Lewis was having to avoid virtualising.

The retailer's virtualisation plan hasassimilated over half its X-Series servers andall its P-Series servers. Its mainframes were virtualised years ago. It is trying to virtualise the rest as part of a strategy to cut costs and embrace green IT, a subject on which Hird has written a book. The plan hasalso broughtthe end to an era of beefy computers running demanding software.

Thinking of thin clients

"We also want to avoid upgrade-itus, by which I mean the tendency to have a vicious circle of new hardware that is driven by new software and so on. We want to challenge thecycle we seem to have got into for the past 15 years or so of upgrading everything every couple of years," he said.

That plan might even involve the retailer shelving its 16,000 PCs and replacing them with thin client computers. "It seems to make sense to go thin client," he said.

Its PCs would normally be up for a refresh in a year, but he said that wouldnot happen this time. About 40% of its estate is five years old, 37% is one to three years old and 23% is four years old. John Lewis would normally replace its PCs after five or six years. But it is asking what they can be replaced with, and whether the IT department might support the retailer's growth plans "more cheaply than we have in the past".

Thin client had many advantages, he said. They were more green, less expensive, had lower support costs, easier installation, lower maintenance, better security, and allowed more mobility. The IT department had shown a switch to thin client could work technically, and there was a goodcost case. But it still had to get "proper user hearts and minds buy-in". It would try todo this by trialling the technology.

Getting more control of its IT assets meant more than squeezing costs, however. Hird said he was trying to "combat" the "negative influence" his software suppliers had on his IT department.

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