Safeway, the UK supermarket chain, is to replace 800 PCs, in a radical endorsement of the Network Computer (NC).
Safeway has already started to rewrite its operational system for its network computing environment, and plans to migrate decision support and office applications in Java. The move is thought to be one of the biggest commitments yet made by a UK company to the emerging NC computing model.
Though Safeway hasn't revealed whose hardware it is using for the deal, it's believed to be the Net Station from IBM, its major IT partner.
"Yes we were cautious about client/server architecture, but with NCs we feel we're in a win-win situation," said Gary Arthurs, director of IT programs at Safeway. "Compared to PC technology, NCs are cheaper and more functional. A recent Bloor Report on PC usage shows that PCs were never meant to be linked together."
Also part of the IT overhaul is a plan to put business intelligence tools on all desks. In the first phase, said Arthurs, Safeway will place an unspecified number of NCs in its head office, and will use them mainly for trading and operational systems.
However, the move from PCs to NCs won't happen overnight. Arthurs said: "We'll only replace our PCs when they lose their asset value. What NCs offer is the ability to replace ageing equipment cheaply."
The retail giant claims the training requirements for existing PC users will be minimal because of the ease of use of the browser interface on the NC.
Safeway's main rival, Sainsburys, has said it will be more cautious about such a move. "We're not going to NCs for some time," said Martin Wright, information systems manager at Sainsburys.
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