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Convenience store chain Sheetz is bringing hyper-convergence to the edge at its 600 stores to consolidate devices and make it easier to manage, with the help of StorMagic SvSAN software.
Sheetz, based in Altoona, Pa., is a chain of convenience and gasoline stores in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina. Each store requires several point-of-sale applications to conduct business.
Gary Sliver, director of infrastructure at Sheetz, and Scott Robertson, universal endpoint unit manager at the chain, said they have installed SvSAN software on about one-quarter of the company's sites. Sheetz's IT team began installing StorMagic SvSAN hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) software in its stores in October 2018. The project coincided with Sheetz's move to a new kitchen management software system.
Sliver and Robertson said they hope to have all the stores running SvSAN by the end of 2020. Their goal is to condense seven individual devices at each site to a two-node Dell server appliance running SvSAN software and VMware hypervisors.
Move motivated by IT support, space restrictions
StorMagic SvSAN replaces the servers running Sheetz's kitchen management applications, its in-store orchestration, credit card processing and loyalty program systems, and storage at each retail store.
Sliver said Sheetz had two important reasons for the upgrade: His team wanted to make it easier to support IT, while eliminating space restrictions at the edge.
Gary SliverDirector of infrastructure, Sheetz
"Primarily, we wanted to reduce the number of physical devices and the support and maintenance administration associated with those," Sliver said. "We also wanted to put a platform in place that would allow us to grow and innovate. Frankly, we're just running out of space in the rack with new applications and services that require compute and storage. So, we're able to take these seven physical devices and condense them into two small form rack-mounted servers. That gives us the potential to add additional applications and servers without having to go in there and add physical devices to the store."
Sheetz's IT team can manage the HCI appliances remotely from headquarters. Retail employees in the stores don't have to manage any devices, and the central IT team doesn't have to travel to the retail sites as frequently for support.
Sliver said he considered going hyper-converged for years, and the systems upgrade in the stores presented the perfect opportunity.
"We've been looking at virtualizing the physical devices in the rack," he said. "We were going out and touching all 600 stores with this upgrade, so we had the opportunity to leverage that initiative and realize economies of scale. It also allows us to quickly virtualize devices and save some money there."
After deciding to hyper-converge on the edge, Sheetz considered several HCI options. Sliver said he looked at traditional HCI players VMware and Nutanix, as well as a few appliances designed specifically for retail sites.
U.K.-based StorMagic is less known than other HCI vendors, but its technology and support impressed the Sheetz team. StorMagic developed SvSAN as an edge product rather than altering a product designed for data centers.
StorMagic SvSAN requires only 1 GB of RAM, 512 MB of storage for its boot device and a 20 GB journal drive. It can work over a 1 Gb Ethernet network.
"The technology itself was fairly easy compared to other HCI providers," Sliver said of StorMagic. "We also can run up to 1,000 nodes on the single witness. To me, that's their secret sauce. The other thing is their organization. They were very responsive during the RFP review, and that has continued throughout our implementation."
After the installation
Robertson said Sheetz can get SvSAN up and running quickly in its stores.
"What separated StorMagic was, when we did a lab test, they did everything they said their product could do," Robertson said. "Our time frame from lab to pilot was short."
Sliver said so far, StorMagic SvSAN "has been extremely stable. It has done everything we've expected it to do."
Robertson said SvSAN HCI makes it much easier to solve problems in the field. The IT team can spin up a new virtual machine in the data center instead of having to dispatch a technician to install a new physical device at the store.
"From a management standpoint, with any kind of break/fix situation, we no longer have to send out a technician to the site to swap out physical hardware," Robertson said. "If we notice there's any sort of abnormality in a system, we can spin up [a new virtual machine] in a half hour. So, it's just returned to service much quicker."