Edgenet, and its Big Hammer Data Division, helps retailers and manufacturers serve customers by hosting a Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and Marketing data pools of basic product attributes, providing a common classification for products. As the company prepared to launch its Edgenet Vision™ product that enables users to create a 3-dimensional (3D) representation of their homes and populate rooms with 3D images of appliances and furniture from the Big Hammer data pools, it needed an enterprise-grade platform. Big Hammer deployed Edgenet Vision hosted on Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 Enterprise Edition (64-bit) database software running on Windows Server® 2008 for Itanium-Based Systems, using a Software as a Service distribution model. The application developers used Microsoft Visual Studio® 2008. The solution runs on Unisys ES7000 enterprise server computers.
In what sounds a bit like science fiction, or a shopper’s dream come true, Big Hammer Data, a division of Edgenet, provides a software service that gives consumers the ability to see a refrigerator, sofa, or other big ticket item in a show room or in a magazine ad and, with a few clicks of a mouse, transport a 3-dimensional (3D) image of it into a rendering of a room in their own home.
Consumers can assemble a kitchen filled with photo-realistic 3D appliances, counters, and cabinets; or create a living room filled with furniture they’ve seen in catalogs or magazines, changing the color of upholstery, walls, or carpeting with the click of a mouse. The ability to walk through a 3D replication of your own rooms, and populate it with a world full of furniture, appliances, and other objects is so effective in helping consumers plan and visualize changes that the technology provides big benefits for retailers and manufacturers.
Edgenet, a leading provider of guided selling applications and product data services, is a Gold Certified Microsoft® Partner and a pioneer in hosting data pools of the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) standard managed by GS1, the global standardization organization. As a certified GS1 GDSN data pool provider, Edgenet’s Big Hammer Data division hosts basic product attributes, such as width, height, and weight according to the GDSN standard to help suppliers and retailers identify products sold within a trading network and provide a common means of classifying products. Big Hammer augments GDSN with extended attributes in its Marketing Data Pool, which provides additional content like rich images and multimedia files. Retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe’s rely on Big Hammer for content that drives their stores and Web sites.
||Our Big Hammer data pools of hundreds of thousands of products, images and attributes allowed us to build the right solution … To provide a seamless experience for the user, we created this using the Microsoft Application Platform, including SQL Server 2008 for our enterprise-class database.
||Tom Frederick President and CEO, Edgenet
Using the rich product information from its data pools, Big Hammer identified the ability to provide additional value to retailers and their customers, by creating visualization software that would enable products to be seen within a 3D world that matched the size of whatever room the user specified. Better Homes and Gardens magazine uses Big Hammer’s solution to support a Web site that gives users the ability to assemble their dream rooms online.
To make this vision come true, Big Hammer needed a robust operating system, enterprise-grade database, an integrated development environment, and a rock-solid hardware infrastructure.
The Big Hammer Data division of Edgenet opened the door to a new generation of consumer shopping experience with the early 2008 release of its 3D visual selling solution called Edgenet Vision™, which inspires consumers with 3D renditions of real products shown in true-to-life room settings.
Edgenet Vision was created as a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution using the Microsoft Application Platform, including Microsoft SQL Server® 2008 Enterprise Edition (64-bit for Itanium-based systems) database software running on the Windows Server® 2008 for Itanium-Based Systems operating system. Development was done using the Microsoft Visual Studio® 2008 development system.
By showing a full range of product choices in the context of a drag-and-drop room environment, the new solution stimulates creativity and overcomes common objections to buying major home products unseen. It also allows the consumer to think in terms of whole-room projects as opposed to individual products.
"Consumers have long demanded this dimension of shopping technology," says Tom Frederick, President and CEO of Edgenet. "Our Big Hammer data pools of hundreds of thousands of products, images, and attributes allowed us to build the right solution—one that uses real manufacturer product data and can take the consumer from inspiration through to transaction. To provide a seamless experience for the user, we created this using the Microsoft Application Platform, including SQL Server 2008 for our enterprise-class database.”
The company needed an enterprise-class database because Big Hammer prides itself in maintaining what it believes to be the largest and richest databases, (commonly known as data pools) in hardlines, serving thousands of suppliers and synchronizing more than 650,000 product items and 21 million attributes. Having all of this information in a data pool—meaning all manufacturers pool their data together for all retailers to access—greatly simplifies operations as retailers, and their customers, seeking detailed product data don’t have to go to specific manufacturers for the information. Manufacturers similarly benefit as they manage and update their own information on Big Hammer’s GDSN and Marketing data pools, making it immediately available to all who need it.
By focusing on hardlines—the kind of products found in hardware, appliance, and furniture stores—the company provides a vertically integrated solution, linking retailers and suppliers with rich product content and compelling software solutions for in-store, online, and in-home selling.
The company’s customer list looks like a walk down Main Street, including 3M, Frigidaire, GE Consumer, Hamilton Beach Proctor-Silex, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Newell Rubbermaid, Serta Mattress, Square D, Westinghouse Lighting, and many more.
The Edgenet Vision SaaS solution, which supports rich display of manufacturing data, whether in online catalogs, Web sites, 3rd party Web sites or for call centers, was created using a multi-tier architecture, including:
- Presentation Tier. Retailers access the SaaS solution using either a Web-based interface or a thin client, both of which were created using Visual Studio 2008, the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 and Windows® Presentation Foundation (WPF), the graphical subsystem feature of the .NET Framework 3.0, which simplifies creation of dynamic interfaces and visual effects, including 3D images and animations. The Web-based interface is supported by a number of load-balanced Web servers running Windows Server 2008 and Internet Information Services 7 (IIS7). The thin client provides alternative access for retailers or customers wishing to work offline.
- Edgenet Vision Application Tier. The Edgenet Vision application was created using Visual Studio 2008. The application uses wireframe imaging technology to create user-defined 3D rooms that users can populate with 3D photo-realistic product images created using images and data stored on the company’s data pool databases, hosted on SQL Server 2008.
- Product Registry Application Tier. The Big Hammer Product Registry application, created using Visual Studio, gives retailers and other users access to the company’s data pools. Manufacturers use the application to update their own product information in the data pools.
- Database Tier. The Big Hammer data pools are hosted on SQL Server 2008 Enterprise (64-bit for Itanium-based systems). The company hosts about 2.5 terabytes of information, and provides a separate instance of SQL Server for each of its retailing customers, with the largest instance hosting over 500 gigabytes of information. The information hosted on SQL Server supports both the Edgenet Vision and Product Registry applications.
The Big Hammer databases are hosted on Unisys ES7000 enterprise server computers with 8 dual-core Intel Itanium processors and 128 gigabytes (GB) of RAM. Storage is on an EMC CLARiiON CX 3-80 storage unit with RAID 10 and 12 terabytes of usable storage. Each ES7000 computer hosts three or four instances of SQL Server 2008, with each instance supporting several databases.
“When working with leading-edge technology—when you're truly innovating—it's great to be able to rely on partners like Microsoft and Unisys, and see the results perform beyond our wildest dreams,” says Brian Rudolph, Director of Enterprise Data Development, Big Hammer Data, Edgenet. “Unisys hardware gives us enterprise-grade quality that is rock solid and that scales tremendously. We’ve built our solutions using the Microsoft Application Platform since the beginning of our company for the same reasons—to get enterprise-grade quality and scalability. SQL Server 2008 running on an ES7000 defines enterprise grade.”
The company found the enterprise-grade database and operating system they needed by developing and deploying Edgenet Vision using the Microsoft Application Platform. The SaaS solution provides an exceptional user experience, a faster time to market for new products, scalability and reliability, and easier data management. The company also enjoyed a seamless upgrade of the database and operating system.
Exceptional User Experience
Edgenet Vision hosted on the Microsoft Application Platform inspires a deep level of consumer engagement as it gives individuals the ability to visualize how a world of products would fit within their own homes. Edgenet Vision gives individuals the ability to build out wish lists, favorite rooms, and even send their design creations to a friend or contractor.
“With the product images and other data we store on SQL Server 2008, customers can input the dimensions of their kitchen, for instance, and place different appliances into their 3D kitchen, move them around, try different colors,” says Ravi Bagal, Vice President, Retail Markets, Edgenet. “They can also try out different countertops, floorings, cabinets, and just about anything else they might want to include in their kitchen remodel.”
||Working with Microsoft development tools and SQL Server 2008 we were able to easily complete a solution that is up and running on the Better Homes and Gardens Web site, which gets 7 million unique visitors a month.
Vice President, Retail Markets, Edgenet
Retailers and manufacturers benefit from the exceptional user experience because products can be seen in the context of a rich, interactive, and customer-specific environment. Giving customers the ability to reproduce their own homes in 3D helps upsell customers to whole-room projects.
Companies can also deploy Edgenet Vision as a thin client solution to power in-store kiosk displays and other offline uses, including sending a copy home with customers to work with. Storing session data on SQL Server gives customers the benefit of being able to start a design at a store, save their work, and then continue working on it from home.
“Visualization has always been the way that consumers think about buying big ticket items,” says Bagal. “When individuals start thinking about buying new furniture or appliances, or start planning a new deck, they want to see what it is going to look like. Traditionally this was done with a complex computer-aided design (CAD) application and your average consumer understandably didn’t have the time to invest in learning how to use these complex CAD applications. This is why we built our solution as an easy-to-use Web-based application supported by the Windows Presentation Foundation and the Microsoft Application Platform.”
Without WPF, the company’s developers would have to create or purchase custom code to support 3D imaging. “WPF makes it much, much easier for our developers to create the 3D meshes we use to create our product images,” says Michael Steineke, Vice President, Information Technology, Edgenet. “WPF is far more efficient than creating our own code or integrating a third-party 3D engine.”
Faster Time to Market
Big Hammer exists in a marketplace where time is always critical. The retailers and manufacturers who use its Edgenet Vision SaaS solution are constantly trying to provide their customers with a leading edge experience.
“With a foundation of SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 we have a tremendously robust data store for our images and product information,” says Bagal. “And Visual Studio 2008, the Windows Presentation Foundation, and the .NET Framework 3.0 give us a development environment we can use to rapidly respond to the changing needs of our customers.”
Bagal credits the agility of Microsoft development tools and the Microsoft Application Platform with the company’s ability to rapidly meet customer deadlines, including work recently completed for Better Homes and Gardens. “The magazine had very tight deadlines dictated by their broader production schedules,” Bagal says. “Working with Microsoft development tools and SQL Server 2008 we were able to easily complete a solution that is up and running on the Better Homes and Gardens Web site, which gets 7 million unique visitors a month.”
The company sees a lot of benefits from the development agility it enjoys. “As a SaaS provider, we feel that the Microsoft Application Platform gives us a distinct advantage over our competitors,” Bagal says. “It allows us to go to market quickly, it allows us to be more efficient and it allows us to get more done for less money.”
Scalability and Reliability
Scalability is important to the company because of the rapid growth it has experienced. “We've seen 20 to 30 percent growth annually in our data operations over the
last few years, and we anticipate this growth continuing,” says Steineke. “Our customers include some of the largest retailers in the world, so we need the scalability and reliability we get from the 64-bit version of SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008.”
The company speaks highly of its Unisys hardware. “The Unisys ES7000 enterprise server computers, combined with SQL Server 2008, have really provided us a level of scalability and reliability that we have just not been able to match with any other hardware and software platform,” says Rudolph. “We have an enterprise-class database deployment with SQL Server 2008 and we need to host that on enterprise-grade hardware, which is what we’ve found with Unisys and the ES7000. We tested other hardware and Unisys came out on top.”
Steineke reports that Big Hammer supports more than 2,500 companies that are publishing to its Marketing data pool. “This translates into about 15,000 end users,” Steineke says. “At any one time, there are about 8,000 concurrent users on the system. There are about 150,000 changes of product data daily, and we expect that number to go up. With loads like this we need a scalable and absolutely reliable database infrastructure, and that is what we have with SQL Server 2008 running on the Unisys ES7000.”
Big Hammer plans to keep adding more customers, and its anticipated growth played a factor in hosting its data on SQL Server 2008 and Unisys hardware. The ES7000 has 32 processor slots, and so far Big Hammer has only needed to use eight slots per server, leaving plenty of room to grow.
"One of the great things about the ES7000 is we can scale up or scale out, whichever we need to do," says Steineke. "If we are adding more customers, and more SQL Server 2008 instances, we will add more servers, but if we are accommodating the growth of an existing customer, then we can just add more processors to the dedicated ES7000, and we can scale up memory from our existing 128 gigabytes to 512 gigabytes—half a terabyte.”
Unisys has impressed the company from a service standpoint, too. “We view Unisys as more than just a hardware company,” says Steineke. “Unisys is our partner, and their global services and consulting organization helps augment needs that we have, both from an engineering standpoint, as well as supporting all the hardware in our ecosystem.”
Easier Data Management
||Resource Governor allows us to control the percent of total resources any operation can consume so that they don’t adversely impact our real-time data access.
Vice President, Information Technology, Edgenet
Upgrading its database software to SQL Server 2008 has made it easier for Big Hammer to manage its data, as it takes advantage of new features including Resource Governor and Configuration Server.
The Resource Governor feature of SQL Server 2008 is important to Big Hammer because the company’s system administrators can use Resource Governor to define resource limits and priorities for different workloads, and to help ensure resources can’t be unduly impacted by unusual processing demands.
“We deal with a lot of large data feeds—both coming in from manufacturers as data updates, and going out to our subscribers,” says Steineke. “Resource Governor allows us to control the percent of total resources any operation can consume so that they don’t adversely impact our real-time data access.”
Big Hammer sees Resource Governor as something that every database-driven company has always needed. “For SQL Server 2008, Microsoft took an already outstanding database platform and raised it to the next level with Resource Governor,” says Rudolph. “This is something that every database engineer has always needed. Because we provide Software as a Service, we gain a huge benefit by being able to govern how an instance of SQL Server 2008 is used by all of the different users. We can now govern all the resources that an individual user or process can take up. This allows us to get a lot more performance and a lot more scalability out of the same hardware.”
The company is also taking advantage of the new Configuration Server feature. SQL Server 2008 Configuration Server provides a new method of administering multiple servers by enabling a database administrator to designate a SQL Server instance as a configuration server. The designated configuration server maintains a list of registered servers (known as targets).
Any changes made to the policies or the categories on the configuration server are automatically propagated to all of the configuration targets, which significantly reduces the overhead that is associated with enforcing configuration policy compliance across the enterprise. Additionally, database administrators can execute queries against the set of configuration targets by using the Query Editor.
“The Configuration Server feature is significant for our operations because we run a unique SQL Server instance for each of our retailers,” says Steineke. “This means we have a lot of instances to manage, and without something like Configuration Server it can be daunting to try to keep track of all the instances. The Configuration Server feature gives us a single point for storing and managing all of our configuration information.”
Seamless Upgrade of Database and Operating System
||Upgrading to Windows Server 2008 was simple. Moving our application code from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008 was absolutely seamless. We made no coding changes at all. Everything just worked.
Director of Enterprise Data Development, Big Hammer Data, Edgenet
Big Hammer notes that the process of upgrading its database from SQL Server 2005 to SQL Server 2008 went smoothly. “We were pleasantly surprised at how easily we were able to upgrade,” says Steineke. “We completed the database upgrade within two days, and had no issues at all with porting our data across to SQL Server 2008.”
The operating system upgrade went just as smoothly. “Upgrading to Windows Server 2008 was simple,” says Rudolph. “Moving our application code from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008 was absolutely seamless. We made no coding changes at all. Everything just worked. This was of paramount importance to us because we have a large operation with thousands of users and couldn’t afford downtime. We definitely feel as if we have the right operating system and database supporting our enterprise infrastructure.”
In summary, Big Hammer has used the Microsoft Application Platform to create a SaaS solution that deeply engages consumers by providing a customizable 3D world in which they can see how appliances, furniture, and other objects fit within the measurements of their own homes. Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework 3.0 provide the development system required to create its innovative solution. SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008, hosted on Unisys ES7000 server computers, provided the ideal enterprise-grade infrastructure for deployment.
Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, and Visual Studio 2008
Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, and Visual Studio 2008 provide a secure and trusted foundation for creating and running your most demanding applications. Combined, the products offer advanced security technology, developer support for the latest platforms, improved management and Web tools, flexible virtualization technology to optimize your infrastructure, and access to relevant information throughout your organization.
For more information about Windows Server 2008, go to: www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008
For more information about SQL Server 2008, go to: www.microsoft.com/sql/2008/default.mspx
For more information about Visual Studio 2008, go to: www.microsoft.com/vstudio
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234 in the United States or (905) 568-9641 in Canada. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to: http://www.microsoft.com/
For more information about Unisys products and services, call (215) 986-4011 or visit the Web site at: http://www.unisys.com/
For more information about Big Hammer Division of Edgenet products and services, call (866) 865-6602 or visit the Web site at: http://www.bighammer.com/
This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Document published February 2008