Sysco Looks to Multi-Cloud for Digital Transformation

Mitch Wagner
8/30/2017

LAS VEGAS -- VMworld 2017 -- Sysco wants to do more than just "moving heavy things around at a very low cost."

Sysco is looking to multi-cloud for digital transformation, moving beyond its meat-and-potatoes business of food logistics for restaurants, healthcare, education, hotels and other food service and hospitality businesses.

For future growth, Sysco is looking to do more to help its customers succeed. "Historically, we've been good at moving heavy things around at a very low cost," Matt Nikolaiev, Sysco senior director and head of cloud infrastructure, said at a session at VMworld here Tuesday. "How can we do better at adding value for our customer?"

He added, "We want our customers to do well because if they do well they buy from us."

As part of that transformation, Sysco is looking to become a technology provider for restaurants, starting with point-of-sale systems. "Even something as silly as the little pucks you get from the counter at a restaurant -- what if we could build an app for that instead," Nikolaiev said. Each little puck costs $50, and eliminating those could save restaurants significant costs.

Photo by Xnatedawgx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Xnatedawgx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sysco is working with restaurants on improving their menus. "If you sell something called cheesecake, you sell it for $4.99, but if you put a drizzle of strawberry and a sprig of mint on it, and put a picture of it on the menu, our research shows you can charge $7.99." And the improvements don't add significantly to the cost.

Sysco helps its customers find opportunities to raise prices, position the most profitable items on the menu, and track supplies through the PoS sales system to know when to reorder.

Sysco is also looking into improving food safety, tracking supplies from the farm supplier to the customer using Internet of Things and blockchain to track such measurements as the temperature history throughout the supply chain. (See IBM, Partners Using Blockchain to Protect Food Supply.)

Sysco is moving to multi-cloud to provide the infrastructure it needs to run -- and transform -- its business. The company is 25% in public cloud today, primarily Amazon Web Services, with 1,500 servers on that platform, growing at a rate of 50-100 per month.


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In its private cloud, Sysco has 4,500 to 5,000 servers, across four major data centers.

Additionally, Sysco has 200 operating companies, each of which has a small two-node highly available cluster to run processes local to the site, such as robotics requiring microsecond latency to the controller, Nikolaiev said.

Sysco was an early access user of VMware Cloud on AWS, which VMware announced this week. That service allows cloud operators to run VMware workloads on either private clouds or on AWS cloud. (See VMware Launches Amazon Cloud Support.)

A primary use of VMware Cloud for AWS is "cloudbursting," moving workloads from the private cloud to the public cloud when traffic requirements demand it. That kind of thing isn't magic -- it requires solving network, latency and storage issues. Data centers need to be located strategically to bridge public and private clouds, Nikolaiev said.

Hybrid apps present technical challenges. Adding modern components to legacy systems can be difficult -- for example, extending monolithic legacy applications using microservices. And it can also be difficult to provide cloud platform to a legacy application requiring a deep infrastructure stack, such as a Windows app requiring clustered servers and traditional block storage. That is kind of hard to manage on a public cloud, as is managing network and storage across multiple clouds, Nikolaiev said.

Other difficulties arise from cost management and storage, Nikolaiev said. "We've done decently at [cost management] but it's a lot of manual work."

Sysco's cloud wishlist includes managing and troubleshooting network and security across multiple clouds more easily; providing a holistic view and management of workloads and costs; and one-stop shopping for internal customers to request multi-cloud services, Nikolaiev said.

Sysco's challenges managing a multi-cloud environment are similar to issues that will be faced by most organizations. Some 70% of enterprises are operating in a multi-cloud world, and that will increase to 91% in 24 months, according to IDC, said Sajai Krishnan, VMware vice president of product marketing for cloud management, who introduced Nikolaiev at his session.

By 2020, slightly more than half of enterprises will have more than five infrastructure and platform clouds -- and that's not including cloud applications such as Salesforce. Some 26% of organizations will have more than ten clouds, Krishnan said.

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JohnMason
JohnMason
8/30/2017 | 9:42:51 AM
I don't understand
What are the little pucks you get from the counter at a restaurant? And they can be replaced by apps?
danielcawrey
danielcawrey
8/30/2017 | 11:18:40 AM
Re: I don't understand
This sounds like a play to provide logistics and technology advice. It's like a managed services type of thing. I get it and it makes sense. The restaurant and larger hospitality industry is very fickle, and improving these things can help. 
JohnMason
JohnMason
8/30/2017 | 6:45:33 PM
Re: I don't understand
So you know what these pucks are? And improving them can offset industry fickleness?
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané
8/31/2017 | 8:56:43 AM
Re: I don't understand either
John: I am also having trouble understanding what those “pucks” are. Certainly not fairies out from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s the only “Puck” I could think of first. Then I thought about ice-jockey pucks. But ... what are those pucks? > "Even something as silly as the little pucks you get from the counter at a restaurant -- what if we could build an app for that instead," Nikolaiev said. Each little puck costs $50, and eliminating those could save restaurants significant costs.“> Perhaps Mitch can help?
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
8/31/2017 | 1:43:11 PM
Re: I don't understand
JohnMason - I was wondering as I wrote the article whether I needed to explain the pucks, and now I see I needed to. 

When a customer goes to a restaurant and leaves their name with the hostess for a table, if there is a wait, the hostess hands the customer a little electronic wireless gadget the size of a hockeypuck. The puck lights up and vibrates when the customer's table is ready.

Previously, restaurants used loudspeakers or they just shouted the customer's name. 

 
JohnMason
JohnMason
8/31/2017 | 3:46:16 PM
Re: I don't understand
Sounds like Chuck E. Cheese! (And I could use a nice niblet corn and pineapple pizza right now!)
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané
9/3/2017 | 5:29:31 PM
Re: I don't understand
Mitch, thanks for explaining the restaurant pucks. If there are no tables available I go to another restaurant. I have never been in the situation of waiting for a table. Usually, restaurants that get too busy have a booking system. But I see now how it could be convenient and better to replace those restaurant pucks with an application.
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané
8/31/2017 | 1:35:55 PM
Cheesecake rip-off
I was here wondering if I should go to get some cheesecake for my tea and this part of the article came to my mind again> Sysco is working with restaurants on improving their menus. "If you sell something called cheesecake, you sell it for $4.99, but if you put a drizzle of strawberry and a sprig of mint on it, and put a picture of it on the menu, our research shows you can charge $7.99." And the improvements don't add significantly to the cost.”> Okay. And I will call that a cheesecake rip-off. Still thinking about my cheesecake, I wonder how the customers of that restaurant where their menu is being “improved” can react to this. I also wondered if thanks to the “improvements” the restaurant starts losing customers Sysco is going to still keep its business with that restaurant. Perhaps it’s because I personally don’t like it when a place tries to charge me for a small slice of cheesecake more than twice the price a whole cheesecake would cost me. I would definitely like to see that research Sysco mentions.
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