Micro data centers are changing IT's role in the retail industry in unexpected ways

As brick-and-mortar retailers use micro data centers to power unique customer experiences and compete with online giants like Amazon, they're ramping up IT to manage these mission-critical systems.

Micro data centers are changing IT's role in the retail industry in unexpected ways As brick-and-mortar retailers use micro data centers to power unique customer experiences and compete with online giants like Amazon, they're ramping up IT to manage these mission-critical systems.

Kevin Brown, vice president of innovation and CTO for the IT division at Schneider Electric, spoke to TechRepublic's Senior Writer Teena Maddox at the Innovation Summit North America in Atlanta and explained the steps businesses will need to make in order to be competitive with Amazon. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

"Our trend towards micro data centers that we see, is sometimes difficult to get an understanding of why this is happening. I it's think a great example, that's very clear, is what's happening, in the retail segment, which we are watching very closely. It's really interesting to see what are the retailers doing in order to respond to Amazon, and survive against Amazon," Brown said.

"What all of them seem to be doing -- at a broad level -- is increasing the amount of IT that's in their stores, because that's one of the ways they're making the stores into a unique experience for the customers that can't be replicated online with Amazon. What that means is, the IT is becoming more important and they're becoming more dependent on them. It's becoming a mission critical part of their survival. So you see them looking at IT in a much different way than in the past," he said.

"In the past, you may have seen literally what used to be a broom closet, and you'd see some wires hanging in there, and some connections into the network. That's really not going to be acceptable anymore if you want to be able to run this as a mission critical environment."

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"The other thing that's driving the industry is a concern over cybersecurity. We like to think about the first step in cybersecurity is physical security. In many of these cases, you've historically had the janitor having access into the IT room. That's no longer acceptable," he said.

"If somebody can get on your IT network, then that puts you at a very significant risk. These need to be managed much more tightly. Again, in our mind: how do you start taking what we have as best practices in our largest data centers and enable and apply it?"

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"The case of a retailer might be 3,000 stores in a very geographic-dispersed environment. It really presents an interesting challenge. The way of thinking about why, and what's the need for micro data centers? Think about retailers as a great example, about how they're putting in more IT. It's becoming more mission critical. They're doing it, because it's business critical for them to survive against Amazon," Brown said.

"It really is a much different set of tools and systems they need, versus what they had in the past. So again, we're trying to work with ecostructure to make sure we're enabling that and providing them the systems they need to meet their challenges."

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