Utility Computing Helps Wild Oats Keep Up Growth

It’s more than a bad pun to say that Wild Oats Markets Inc. is pursuing organic growth. The Colorado-based chain, which sells natural and organic food, wants to double in size from its current 111 stores by building new retail outlets. But chief information officer Jon Payne is heading in the exact opposite direction in order to support the strategy, consolidating and outsourcing some of the company’s basic needs.

“We were going to run out of room in our data center, and we’re a small shop in the first place,” says Payne. The company, with sales last year of more than $1 billion in stores using the names Wild Oats, Henry’s Farmers Market, Sun Harvest and Capers Community Market, employs just 22 IT workers. A new perishable-goods warehouse in Riverside, Calif., open 24 hours a day, was already straining his resources, so Payne decided to go with a utility computing plan from VeriCenter that lets him add storage capacity and processing power as needed.

“We triaged off our biggest risk areas, including the data center itself and storage,” he says. Wild Oats maintains control of some key applications, including all point-of-sale and other systems that come in direct contact with customers.

The advantage of the utility model is performance on demand. “You schedule it, and they make it available,” says Payne. The trade-off lies in the need to give up some measure of control to use commodity services, but that doesn’t bother Payne. “We have our own processes and procedures, but there is a finite number of ways to run things,” he says. “We just are not that sophisticated that we need to do everything our way.”

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