Applied Solution: Value City Furniture Delivers Results

Furniture distributor lowers maintenance costs and racks up savings using a centralized thin-client solution

When Value City Furniture (Columbus, Ohio) decided to upgrade its computer systems, they wanted to take advantage of the latest technology. They're not quite there yet, but the company's 71 stores are already wired and running several applications on 800 thin-client network stations. "We're booting these from the AS/400 using IBM's Network Station Manager, and we just deployed Lotus Notes/Domino," says Kevin Johnson, director of IT Application Development at Value City Furniture.

"We've been using thin client for about two years now. We started with 100 Model 300 IBM Network Stations. Then we deployed 800 Model 1000s in all the stores with 50 to 75 more 1000s in the home office," explains Johnson. "One of the major benefits of doing it this way is not having to deploy actual PCs at store locations. This makes our entire system practically maintenance free."

Each store has its own AS/400 linked together by a frame relay WAN. "We currently load applications in the AS/400 at the home office, and then we physically have to distribute them to our remote 400 sites because of the limitations of our current OS. But with the release of OS/400 V4R4 we'll be able to download the applications directly to our remote sites," says Johnson.

However, there were some downsides to the system at first. "The Network Station Manager for the AS/400 occasionally presents challenges, but it has come a long way and is much better than it has been." Some of the challenges Johnson faced in the beginning included the thin clients losing connectivity and file corruption within the Network Station Manager.

"We had to learn the software, but installation was seamless. Now we're developing Lotus Notes applications on the network, and everyone in the company is currently using Notes e-mail and scheduling." He adds, "We're replicating down to the AS/400 using the [Integrated Netfinity Card] in the 400 as the processor."

He sees the power of thin client as one that serves up applications, databases, forms and forms processing, "All our locations have form replication capabilities. There's a lot of power behind thin client, but you have to be prepared to use it properly."

If he had it to do over, what would Johnson do differently?

"People should realize there is a bit of cost associated with it. Thin clients shouldn't just be used as dumb terminals. If I had it to do over, I would have implemented later because we didn't have enough applications to make it as valuable as it will be. As long as you have the applications available it's very effective."

The advantages also include reduced labor costs and greater security. "The cost savings come from not having to buy and maintain PCs," explains Johnson. "The response from our senior management is that things are working very smoothly, and the install went off without issue," he adds. "Down the road, I also see thin client as a way for us to expand in some new areas for the corporation. This allows a lot more flexibility in communicating between our sites.

"We've talked about incorporating leading edge customer analysis and data acquisition technology in the future, and we're investigating wireless technologies for certain applications. And all of that would be tied to the thin client--primarily to allow us to use the same capabilities from the wireless terminal as opposed to Ethernet."

Johnson also notes, "We are looking to run [Citrix] MetaFrame. We have it loaded on the system. We just don't have any applications out there right now that require its capabilities."