Did Your Network Stack Up on Black Friday & Beyond? — Part 1

Retail Software-Defined Networking

Did Your Network Stack Up on Black Friday & Beyond? 

For IT leaders in the retail sector, the make-or-break buying season between Black Friday and the New Year can be nerve-wracking. As success in the retail industry becomes increasingly tied to technology, each year the spotlight shines a little brighter on the CIO and the IT team. Executives and other stakeholders are watching to find out if the (usually costly) investments in the network and new technologies, like Internet of Things (IoT) systems, paid off.

For those retailers whose networks weren’t ready to meet the demands of the holiday season, their stores likely experienced frequent downtime, insufficient bandwidth, or poor Quality-of-Service (QoS) resulting in a poor in-store experience for customers.

Some retailers may have missed their deadlines to open new locations, resulting in critical revenue losses. Further, it’s possible the next headline-making customer data breach has already taken place, and won’t be discovered for weeks or months.   

As retail technology continues to evolve, the networks that stack up during the holiday seasons of the future will be those with an Elastic EdgeTM. An Elastic Edge moves, contracts, and expands to meet constantly evolving business needs, provides pervasive network connectivity, and accommodates the increased traffic generated at the Network’s Edge. 

Four Best-Practice Technologies for Retailers

The retail sector requires constant improvement and iteration to keep a competitive advantage. In the New Year, CIOs will begin executing strategic initiatives to advance the customer experience and engagement, reduce expenditures through operational improvements, and position the company to take a proactive — rather than reactive — stance on future trends in retail technology.

Whether the network didn’t stack up this year, or can’t accommodate next year’s needs, consider implementing the following solutions:

Software-Defined Perimeter for IoT Deployments

No company wants to see their name and “data breach” in the same headline. Some of the last decade’s most headline-grabbing breaches happened as a result of a monolithic network infrastructure: all applications, including those housing sensitive data, were insufficiently segmented from each other and were easily compromised.

A Software-Defined Perimeter (SD-Perimeter) solution helps simplify deployment and management of IoT devices and applications, and greatly reduces the cost and complexity of securing the network by virtually air-gapping applications.

SD-Perimeter creates a private IP overlay for Internet and enterprise WAN isolation. In a matter of minutes, retailers can orchestrate and deploy secure overlay networks for IoT devices anywhere — effectively quarantining risky devices and applications from sensitive data, like Point-of-Sale (POS). These private networks are completely invisible to potential hackers, and because the solution is cloud-delivered, retailers can eliminate hardware typically required to secure IoT devices at the Network’s Edge, resulting in both improved security and significant cost savings. 

Parallel Networks for Reduced PCI Scope

Another way to eliminate the massive risks associated with monolithic networking is to deploy Parallel Networks, or air-gapped networks that are physically separated from the enterprise network. These can be useful for technologies that the IT team doesn’t trust or want on the core network.

Another key benefit of Parallel Networks is the ability to drastically limit the scope of the network subject to PCI Compliance. By placing technologies not related to sensitive data on Parallel Networks, companies can enhance security and reduce the effort needed to maintain compliance.  

SD-WAN for Improved Network Function & QoS

During retailers’ busiest season, the demands on the network may require the company to utilize multiple WAN links. In the past, adding more WAN sources has typically meant adding more hardware and additional management, resulting in additional expenditures. Further, in a typical deployment the policies dictating how and when each WAN source should be utilized remain static.

Software-Defined WAN solutions allow retailers to collapse the management of multiple WAN sources into one platform that can be managed remotely from a single pane of glass.

In anticipation of times when the primary link will fail completely or even simply become congested, IT teams can dictate which applications are business-critical, and the network will automatically traffic steer these applications over the best WAN source available, ensuring that the most important applications continue to operate seamlessly, resulting in the best QoS.    

LTE Failover for Cost-Effective Network Reliability

A single minute of network downtime can cost a company an average of $5,600, per Gartner. Without the ability to transmit customer credit card data in real time, retailers risk authorizing fraudulent purchases or even losing customer credit card data in transit. Even momentary downtime can cause revenue losses; just a few minutes in line can cause customers to abandon their purchases en masse.

Of course, retailers often employ backup WAN connectivity, but the most reliable wired solutions are extremely costly and subject to the same outage causes as the primary wired links because they are usually buried in the same trench.

In contrast, LTE failover isn’t subject to the same outages wired lines are and can provide a cost-effective way to achieve 99.99 percent uptime, allowing retailers to ensure they won’t see revenue losses or incur risks due to network downtime.

The aforementioned technologies address the ways that retailers can update their network architectures to better address the need for scalability and flexibility in business. Part Two of this series will discuss content filtering, cloud management, Day-1 networks for pop-up, store-within-a-store and kiosks, and transitioning to an Elastic Edge in 2018.

Cradlepoint Solutions for Retail

Learn more about how retailers can improve their network infrastructure with Cradlepoint’s software-defined 4G LTE solutions for retail.