Room & Board Gets Cozy With Flash Storage

Managing enterprise data and overseeing inventory is a challenge for businesses across a wide swath of industries. For Room & Board, a seller of modern artisan furnishings, ensuring that inventory, stores and the website are in sync is critical for success. The Minneapolis, Minn. company, which operates 14 showrooms in the U.S., has in the past struggled with slowdowns and delays as a result of outdated IT systems, said Shawn O’Brien, director of architecture and infrastructure for Room & Board.

“Our last store closes at 11 p.m. on the West Coast but furniture deliveries start as early as 6:30 a.m. on the East Coast,” he said. “In some cases, we couldn’t run jobs and fulfill orders because the window was too small between closings and openings. We needed 7 or 8 hours but only had about 4 hours.” This resulted in unacceptable delays, random slowdowns and reports that weren’t up to date. “When we looked into the problem we recognized that it revolved heavily around storage. The old system was not up to the task. It was creating bottlenecks.”

As a result, Room & Board surveyed the vendor landscape and opted to replace the existing spinning-disk storage system with flash array from Pure Storage. It switched over the new storage environment in early 2015. The technology, which works with an existing SAP ERP system as well as other enterprise applications, not only provides a high level of resilience, stability and performance, it delivers on critical fault tolerance requirements.

“The flash array runs on two redundant controller heads. When we tested the system by pulling out one of the controller heads, it didn’t miss a beat. It kept on running as if nothing had happened,” O’Brien explained.

The results have been impressive. O’Brien says that jobs that previously required as long as six or seven hours now process in under two hours. Not only has this helped the company manage orders and deliveries more efficiently, it speeds daily sales reports and end-of-month reporting. “In the past, we had to run financial reports after-hours or in the background. We are now able to run the reports in under 5 minutes,” he explained. Likewise, the company can now pull up point of sale transaction data and view interactions that simply weren’t visible in the past. “Frequently, this data was archived on a legacy disc and it was very difficult to access. Now, we can pull up customer records of people who have shopped with us 15 years ago in under 10 seconds.”

Faster access to data has provided other benefits. Log-in times for hundreds of users has been reduced from about 38 seconds to 14 seconds, and Room & Board can now organize shipping and delivery schedules faster and more efficiently. In addition, the availability of art and images, used in print catalogs, has been greatly simplified. Finally, O’Brien says that the two arrays in different data centers allow the company to manage disaster recovery and business continuity more effectively.

“We no longer need experts to manage storage,” O’Brien concludes. “The system delivers the level of automation necessary for today’s business environment.”

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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