Leading E-Commerce Catalog Merchandiser Transforms its Legacy IT Infrastructure


Colony Brands Case Study

by Steve Cretney, VP and CIO, Colony Brands

Colony Brands is one of the largest direct, e-commerce sales companies in the general merchandise and food sectors in the U.S. Founded in 1926, the company consists of 11 affiliated U.S.-based catalog brands and 10 other subsidies/affiliates, including marketing, credit, data center, wholesale foods and aviation businesses.

SC Data Center, a Colony Brands affiliate, delivers the IT infrastructure and contact center services for all of these brands, while supporting thousands of employees. The company has a steady stream of business coming from its brands for most of the year, but during the four-month holiday buying season, it sees huge spikes in its e-commerce catalog businesses.

In the e-retail ecoysystem, these spikes demand scalability and greater bandwidth to allow for large numbers of holiday shoppers to make purchases at once. Not only this, but security is top of mind to ensure sensitive customer data is protected. This can be achieved by leveraging a private, direct connection to facilitate.

To deliver a greater quality of service (QoS) to its internal end users, as well as gain real-time business intelligence from its growing amounts of customer data, Colony Brands migrated its on-premises data warehousing, back office and customer analytics systems to create an interconnected, hybrid IT infrastructure. An interconnected infrastructure encompasses the deployment of IT traffic exchange points integrating direct, private connections between counterparties, hosted in carrier-neutral data center campuses, with distributed, colocated IT components.

“Equinix and AWS allowed us to deliver a greater quality of service to our users, and an incredible return on our investment in just one year by enabling us to create a fast, scalable, secure and reliable hybrid IT infrastructure,” said Steve Cretney, Vice President/CIO, SC Data Center, Inc. (an affiliate of Colony Brands).

Colony Brands wanted to continue to build upon a tradition of delivering the best customer experience. To achieve that goal, it needed to better leverage its masses of customer data and gain real-time business intelligence via big data analytics.

To accomplish these goals, Colony Brands needed to:

  • Increase its direct interconnection bandwidth capacity versus using the public internet transport when connecting on-premises systems and cloud service providers
  • Gain more efficient and secure integration with AWS to better leverage elastic, usage-based cloud services
  • Reduce network costs and AWS cloud consumption model and optimize cloud interconnection to deliver greater QoS from its data warehousing, back office and analytics applications
  • Obtain greater reliability in its business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities
  • Effectively and cost-efficiently connect eight remote sites into its hybrid IT infrastructure

This transformed its legacy systems for a digital edge, or closest to its users, to tether its corporate data center with an Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data center in Chicago. By leveraging an Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) strategy, deployed on Platform Equinix™, the company was able to more effectively and cost-efficiently interconnect its on-premises IT infrastructure with AWS, and access dense ecosystems of network, cloud and SaaS providers.

Colony Brands’ on-premises virtual machine (VM) hosts moved application and analytics workloads to AWS and then back to the company’s backend mainframe and database systems faster and with greater reliability. Application workloads included: warehouse data management (inventory, planning and forecasting); VDI (Citrix), customer data analytics (SAS); data loss prevention, security identity access and logging systems; and call center workforce management and customer list processing systems. Direct, proximate access to data, network and cloud ecosystems enabled the optimized performance and QoS for Colony Brands’ internal end users when accessing all of these capabilities.

Regular data backups of the VMs and databases were done in the cloud for more scalable and economic disaster recovery and business continuity. The sensitive nature of the company and customer data required the enhanced security that only private interconnection can deliver.

“The faster, more secure hybrid IT infrastructure enabled us to leverage the cloud for scale as if it was just another data center for us with unlimited capacity, so we could spin up data center systems without the high cost of hardware services,” said Cretney.

After one year in production, the company reduced its data/voice networking costs by 50% and realized an 81% internal rate of return (IRR) by transforming to a digital business model.

Colony Brands recognized that it needed to transform its business from an on-premises IT model for its data warehousing management and back office systems to a more high-performance, secure, scalable and reliable hybrid IT (on-premises and cloud) infrastructure.

EQUINIX LOGOBusiness results:

  • Gained real-time, customer-based business intelligence from the growing data and analytics capacity in AWS
  • Reduced voice/data annual costs by more than 50% and gained 81% IRR by transforming to a more efficient and cost-effective interconnected hybrid IT platform
  • Increased voice/data throughput from 200 MB/s to 10 Gb/s
  • Increased and optimized data warehousing, back office and analytics capabilities and QoS by accessing proximate data, networking and cloud ecosystems

Value realized

Colony Brands realized greater control of its data warehousing, back office and analytics systems, and cloud services by moving from an MPLS to a high-speed, redundant, interconnected, hybrid IT infrastructure. This enabled the company to:

  • Gain greater, real-time business intelligence for its customer marketing initiatives by securely increasing its distributed data and analytics capacity in the cloud
  • Realize a 50% network cost savings and an 81% IRR after one year by transforming to a digital business model
  • Gain greater performance by re-architecting its data/voice network architecture’s throughput from 200 MB/s to 10 Gb/s, when interconnecting its on-premises and Equinix data centers to consume AWS services
  • Increase its network and application optimization, security and BC/DR capabilities across regions by leveraging a more flexible, redundant, interconnection-first hybrid IT environment
  • Deliver greater productivity for DevOps and increase QoS to end users via faster data processing at scale, compared to its traditional on-premises IT infrastructure and MPLS network

“IT transformation is really about creating new value by leveraging new technology, rather than spending time managing legacy systems. Equinix allowed us to unlock the value of AWS for greater agility and innovation with our data warehouse and customer analytics, accelerating our productivity like never before,” said Cretney.

38ed697About Colony Brands

Colony Brands (formerly The Swiss Colony) started small, shipping cuts of cheese to a handful of customers in 1926. More than 90 years later, the company is one of the largest and most successful omni-channel direct marketing companies with 10 brands, multiple locations throughout the Midwest and a global sourcing operation in Shanghai, China.

Started in Monroe, Wisconsin, by Ray Kubly, Colony Brands remains privately held by the Kubly Family.  The company has enjoyed a successful growth path and is a significant employer in the Midwest with more than 1,200 regular employees and more than 6,000 temporary employees.  Their catalog and e-commerce brands include three food brands: The Swiss Colony, The Tender Filet and The Wisconsin Cheeseman, and seven non-food brands specializing in a range of general merchandise or apparel/accessories, including Seventh Avenue, Montgomery Ward, Monroe & Main, Ginny’s, Midnight Velvet, Ashro and Through the Country Door.

For more information go to: http://www.colonybrands.com/