Red Hat Solutions Help Ice.com Shine by Saving Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars through more Nimble Business Control

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December 17, 2012

Online jewelry store Ice.com wanted to replace its e-commerce solution with a technology model that allowed the business to respond more quickly and effectively. The new solution has reduced IT costs, and the company is now able to respond to new market opportunities quickly and efficiently.

Customer: Ice.com

“We are saving close to $250,000 annually because of our move to open source applications and the cloud.” Jason Ordway, COO and CIO Ice.com

Industry: Retail
Geography: North America
Country: Canada


Business Challenge:

Online jewelry store Ice.com wanted to replace its e-commerce solution with a technology model that allowed the business to respond more quickly and effectively.

Software:

Red Hat® Enterprise Linux®, JBoss® Enterprise Application Platform, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)

Benefits:

The new solution has reduced IT costs, and the company is now able to respond to new market opportunities quickly and efficiently.

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Background:

Founded in 1999, Ice.com is an e-commerce retailer that has turned a jewelry store into an online shopping experience. The company has revenues of approximately $100 million per year, with over 60 full-time employees and additional staffing during peak holiday times.

Business Challenge:

Revamping IT and giving control back to the business

In February 2011, Jason Ordway was asked to join Ice.com as the company’s chief operating officer (COO) and chief information office (CIO). Ordway was to undertake the monumental task of restructuring the company’s IT infrastructure. From applications to datacenters, inefficient IT operations were limiting growth and profitability.

The company had been using Blue Martini, an e-commerce solution that was tightly integrated with a warehousing management backend system from Ecometry (both are now part of the RedPrairie Commerce Suite). The implementation of these systems took over two years and was a costly endeavor. After several more years of trying to make the solution work, Ice.com gave up. “As an e-commerce solution, it wasn’t supporting the business,” said Ordway. ”It was very limiting, with any significant changes in functionality requiring months of development and costing up to twenty or thirty thousand dollars. That’s unheard of in e-commerce.”

The limitations of the e-commerce solution were felt through- out the company. “The business people wanted to make changes that were impossible because the back-end system couldn’t accommodate them,” said Ordway. “The IT staff said ‘no’  a lot, which is the last thing you want to say to a business team that’s looking to increase revenue. Our job is to make it easier for them to bring sales in the door.”

When he was hired, Ordway was asked to find an IT solution that gave control back to the business. “The CEO wanted me
to set a new technology direction for the company,” said Ordway. “Once on board, I quickly recognized that the existing software wasn’t sufficient, and that the costs associated with the software and its maintenance far exceeded what we should be paying.”
 

Solution:

Moving to a more cost-effective, flexible solution

To support the needs of the business, Ordway recommended a migration from two costly on-premise datacenters to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which is part of the infrastructure and applications services available with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Ordway also suggested moving from proprietary shrink-wrapped software to open source products that included Red Hat Enterprise Linux as its new operating system environment and JBoss Enterprise Application Platform for its middleware solution.

In addition to the flexibility of an open source solution, Ordway chose Red Hat for its ability to provide support on a contractual basis. “Knowing we can pick up the phone and get a response was key,” said Ordway. “In fact, the ability to get support with an open source solution was the deciding factor in our selecting Red Hat.

Nine months to a successful launch—and new business opportunities

A mere nine months after kicking off the project, Ordway and his team launched a completely overhauled IT infrastructure,“ said Ordway. “It was a very aggressive schedule because we moved everything to a new system—the web store as well as our content management solution, business intelligence platform, and ERP system,” said Ordway. “We went from having everything on premise to running it all in the cloud.”

The launch represented a monumental shift in business. “Everyone in the company had some- thing new to do on the day of the launch, whether it was to log on to a new system or work in a new process,” said Ordway. “The new infrastructure gave us back control, and now everyone has the power to do what they need to do, rather than only what the old system allowed them to do.”

As to concerns regarding whether the move to a cloud was the right choice for Ice.com, Ordway is enthusiastic. “If your systems are architected correctly in the cloud, you’ll be able to have
an outage in one datacenter with systems automatically failing over to another,” said Ordway.

“Performance is still good when that happens, and that’s what matters.”

Benefits:

Putting the business back in control

 
The new e-commerce solution allows Ice.com to respond more quickly to the demands of the business. “Our development is more iterative and much faster than before,” said Ordway. “The applications are also easier to maintain because we don’t have to outsource proprietary code changes. We have in-house developers who are skilled in Linux, Java, Red Hat, and JBoss. We’re in control, which is an interesting cultural change.”
 
Ordway believes that if his team is not delivering functionality that allows changes on a timely basis, they are inhibiting revenue. “To make changes in the store with the old system, there was a formalized process that took at least 24 hours to be deployed. And the tech team had to make the changes,” said Ordway. “Now, 75% or more of the changes in the store are made by a merchandising team in real time. A technologist does not touch them. We can get 3 or 4 times more product up in one day than we could before, and this team now has more free time to do other strategic tasks and innovate.”
 
Ready for peak times and new markets
 
The combination of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, JBoss Enterprise Application Platform and
AWS has helped the company not only better serve current customers, but also explore new market opportunities that weren’t possible before. For instance, because of the integration with AWS, Ice.com has been able to quickly scale up capacity to accommodate the peak cycles of its business and reduce capacity during slow months. “We have huge capacity requirements from November through February. It’s great to be able to spin off instances very quickly and pay for what we need,” said Ordway. “This is saving us significant money and allows us ramp up quickly and also scale down if needed.”
 
Additionally, Ice.com is bringing new products to market that were not possible with the old system. “We recently launched m.ice.com and a couple of new mobile apps,” said Ordway. “In addition, we’ve also developed our own suite of web services for our partners. These offerings, which we couldn’t have deployed with our previous technology, represent significant business opportunities that are all tied into the JBoss Enterprise Application Platform middle tier.”
 
Significant savings now—and into the future
 
Besides creating a system that is much more responsive to
the needs of the business, the new solution has significantly reduced the company’s IT expenditures. “We are saving close to $250,000 annually because of our move to open source applications and the cloud,” said Ordway. “The savings on hardware are more difficult to quantify because the systems were more than 7 years old. However, we can now purchase reserved and on-demand instances that save us from having servers sitting idle for 6 to 7 months of the year in non-peak times, and that is significant.”
 
The company is excited about its cloud-based open source system and new opportunities in the future. Ice.com’s technology road map includes expanding its mobile solutions and developing a social loyalty program. The company will also continue to work with Amazon to optimize its cloud scalability for greater computing efficiency.

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