The information-intensive supermarket industry has had to make technology available to whole new levels of people, both in its headquarters and in the store. This need for more distributed computing has increased the importance of client-server applications.
Meanwhile, the mainframe computer isn't going away, although its roles are changing. Mainframes are now called on for enterprise-wide computing solutions requiring large-scale computing power rather than real-time response speed.
SN: How much progress has the supermarket industry made in the migration to client-server technology, and what's been driving it?
HOMA: Client-server computing turned out to be much more expensive to develop than people thought. That's affected everyone and it was realized belatedly. I think there is some real value there, though.
Network computers will have a huge role. At the store they are very inexpensive to purchase: I think the total cost of ownership vs. a personal computer, especially in a store, is half. Real estate is very expensive in a store, and a network PC takes up very little space. It can be used to extend technology in the store to every employee. Every computer could be accessed for many things, such as human resources, electronic mail, training, etc.
SMITH: I do think the industry has made progress in the client-server area, though we haven't fully tapped the benefits of distributed computing.
There's clearly a thirst for less-expensive devices being attached to local area networks. That's certainly a desirable thing, but how big will network computers be? I don't know.
HOMA: The mainframe is not going away. It's taking on a bigger role as an enterprise server, for making decisions across the enterprise. Those decisions made centrally are made best on the mainframe. Forecasting and purchasing need the power and sophistication of a mainframe computer.
NICHOLSON: If you use the definition of a mainframe as a large computer crunching a lot of data, as opposed to a network of smaller computers working with that data, I certainly still see some function for mainframe use. On the other hand, more and more of our applications are moving to our local area networks/ wide area networks. These integrate many PC-type computers, both within our central office and our stores, together in one large WAN, sharing and moving data pretty effectively.
And the lines blur even further, because our "mainframe" computer is in our PC network. Many of our users access data off a PC client-server and off the mainframe, and don't realize where the data's coming from. They don't realize they're moving back and forth between those systems.
NICHOLSON: For things that are real-time and interactive, a network is generally a better way to handle it. Things that involve manipulating large amounts of data in a batch-type environment lend themselves to a mainframe capability.