I’m a big believer in the value of in-the-field observation. What people do is more important than what people say. What some investors, analysts and IT professionals have been saying recently is, “Nobody wants on-premise IT. Everything is moving to the cloud.” The first part might be true, but the second part is utter nonsense, and ignores what is easily observable. Let me describe a recent purchase to illustrate.

We’ve had a cold winter in New England with plenty of snow. Almost 2 feet of snow had accumulated on the northern side of my roof. I have experience with ice dams and knew that if I didn’t get the snow off the roof, I would be facing water damage, as the ice made its way into the attic, melted, and dripped onto the ceiling. The tool of choice is a roof rake, of which I had none. I called the local Home Depot, which is about 6 miles from my house, but found that roof rakes were out of stock. No big surprise. I then went online to HomeDepot.com, and found that there were about 50 at a store only 20 minutes away. I quickly placed an on-line order and requested in-store pickup. I also selected the option that directed the store to text me when my order was ready for pickup, since I didn’t want to drive the round trip unless the order was ready. My order was confirmed, and a few minutes later, I received a text saying my roof rake was available for pickup at the service desk. An hour later, I was pulling mountains of snow off my roof and onto my head, and after a couple of hours chilling work, I successfully avoided thousands of dollars in potential water damage. For me, it was another happy Home Depot buying experience.

Now, imagine for a moment if all of Home Depot’s IT was centralized to the cloud. If “the cloud” went down, would I have been able to order anything online? If the communications link between the store and “the cloud” failed, would I have been able to know the actual inventory in the store? If I placed the order on line, but the link to ¬†the store then went down, would the store have been able to fulfill my order? Would they have been able to notify me that the order was ready for pickup? Would they have been able to avoid a scenario where I ordered on line, but the store sold it to someone else?

Retailers are increasingly combining on-line retail with in-store shopping. This extends to everything from order entry, fulfillment, and payment processing, to returns processing and customer  loyalty programs. Some functions can and should reside in the cloud (or core data center). But for an optimal customer experience, some IT functions will need to remain in the store. And at the edge, retailers need an infrastructure that is both highly available and affordable.

In the interest of disclosure, I am a board member of StorMagic, an enabler of affordable, high-availability infrastructure at the enterprise edge.