In recent years, application management outsourcing services including Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and cloud based managed services have seen tremendous progress re-shaping the landscape of many IT departments. Shifting responsibilities for maintaining applications to organizations for which these are core competencies has seen great success and rewards, even for mission critical systems. While many organizations have embraced the approach enterprise-wide, supply chain execution systems, such as warehouse management, have lagged in the adoption curve, despite initial successes. So, why is that the case?
This 2-part blog series is both for learning about the ‘new’ safe approach to warehouse management system (WMS) deployments and how network redundancy, high availability, performance diagnostics and managed services are transforming the approach to best in case WMS deployments in the cloud. The first part of the blog series will discuss how implementing centralized architectures can improve efficiency and lower costs, as well as address challenges with multi-tier applications.
Improving TCO and Results Through Centralization
It is understandable that at first glance, there are significant concerns from operations related to releasing control of real-time, mission critical systems to external providers, no matter what their level of expertise. This is a carryover from early WMS system adopters who insisted on having redundant local servers in their distribution centers as a precaution because they could not afford for the WMS to ‘go down’ and as a result, not be able to ship orders. Much of this worry has been tied historically to the need for low latency from material handling systems and the associated warehouse control system (WCS) as well as radio-frequency (RF) devices. While this mindset still exists today, the improvements in hardware performance, software performance and network performance have helped provide a much more robust technical platform to consider alternatives. Today, companies of all sizes have shown a consistent track record of improved efficiency and lower total cost of ownership when moving their systems to centralized architectures without negative impacts to the business. The complete WMS solution (network, architecture and software) has consistently exhibited better-than-satisfactory latency performance (i.e. response times) as network capacities have increased and grown in geographical reach.
It is important to note that the performance advantages gained nowadays are not solely due to improvements in the network. Challenges with connectivity have also been addressed through redundant dedicated lines from different carriers into key facilities to eliminate communication-based interruption threats. The evolution of virtualized servers (and being able to take full advantage of multithreading via 64-bit architectures) has further driven the advantages of centralization, bringing efficient, high availability architectures that can balance system resources while optimizing performance and ultimately user experience. In other words, the pipe isn’t only better, but the software is faster and the hardware is more efficient. This has the end result of delivering a lower total cost of ownership when considering fully loaded costs of people, software and hardware.
The Emergence of Diagnostics in WMS Applications
Challenges remain, however, in optimizing the performance of multi-tier applications by relying on typical tools provided by database, operating system, or development tools providers, as these tools deliver snapshots of what is happening from a database or CPU-specific perspective rather than evaluating performance at the process – or user perspective. JDA has taken this challenge head on by developing a framework of performance monitoring and diagnostics tools. Leveraging probes that have been inserted into the system processes, JDA has delivered tools that track performance at the service/process level, and therefore proactively identify degradation to the user experience through diagnostics reporting and alerts, before it becomes noticeable to the end users themselves.
The result is a closed, proactive loop, comprehensive solution that ensures the uninterrupted performance of the application – and the value delivered by the investment in it. While Platform as a Service providers offer a component of this, the opportunities of scale get left behind as troubleshooting across (and often between) the application and hardware, as well as executing multi-step failover and disaster recovery processes often result in delays and mishaps due to lack of coordination between infrastructure and application resources.
Whether you’ve moved your WMS system to a centralized architecture yet or not, this practice has proven to have many advantages without negatively impacting the business, such as improving efficiency and lowering costs. Part 2 of this blog series will explore how managed services are transforming the approach to best in case WMS deployments in the cloud.