Feature: Tractor Supply Co. avoids growing pains with science

As a rural lifestyle retailer, Brentwood, Tennessee-based Tractor Supply Co. knows a thing or two about using good old fashioned common sense and initiative to get things done.
 
So when it came time for the 1,530-unit chain to prepare itself for a long-term goal of operating 2,500 stores (at growth of 100-120 locations per year), Tractor Supply took a fundamental approach.
 
“Early in 2015, our IT leadership group asked how we could get more efficient to ensure adequate support of scalability and growth,” said Rob Mills, senior VP and CIO of Tractor Supply Co., during an interview with Chain Store Age. “We want to allow growth without having to add new data centers.”
 
In mid-2015, the retailer brought in several third-party consulting firms to help evaluate new technologies, processes and skills that would help improve efficiency to support growth.  Tractor Supply Co. determined that migrating from its existing server-based infrastructure running Windows and UNIX to a Web-scale architecture would drive cost predictability. 
 
In addition, a modernized architecture would deliver scalability and the ability to “self-heal,” or detect and in many cases remediate problems automatically. With these strategic goals in mind, Tractor Supply Co. decided to implement the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud platform as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.
 
“The ERP platform runs everything except e-commerce, which runs on a cloud-hosted SoftLayer infrastructure,” said Mills. “We utilize a hosted third-party data center in a physical location, but we manage the network equipment and core infrastructure.”
 
As part of its overall drive toward greater efficiency, in the past several months Tractor Supply co. has been moving more solutions to a private cloud-based virtual infrastructure. These include Manhattan Associates supply chain and warehouse management applications, as well as JDA merchandising, allocation and demand planning solutions. 
 
The retailer is also moving to private cloud to host POS and other store systems, as well as mobile apps. Networking is mostly based on Cisco and Aruba supporting infrastructure.
 
As a result of shifting to a Web-scale IT architecture, Tractor Supply Co. can better predict the future cost of growth, such as space needed for new hardware, maintenance costs and application licensing. The retailer is also able to reduce the physical footprint it needs to rent at the remote data center, as well as power consumption. Using the Nutanix platform, rolling out new solutions can be accomplished in hours, instead of weeks or even months.
 
“It’s a great win for us,” said Mills. “We can distribute workloads so everything is not running on one server or environment.”
 
Looking ahead, Tractor Supply Co. intends to improve connectivity to other third-party cloud partners, which will allow faster onboarding. The company will also plans to increase its rate of data replication, enabling faster disaster recovery.
 
“We want to be a more science-based organization, which we support with this technology,” concluded Mills. “We can build science and intelligence into our systems and get the faster reaction rate the business needs.”
 
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