How Atlas Edge Server Bridges the Gap Between Connected Retail Stores and the Cloud

Francesco Baldissera

#Retail

Efficient operations and personalized customer experiences are essential for the success of retail businesses. In today's competitive retail industry, retailers need to streamline their operations, optimize inventory management, and personalize the customer experience to stay ahead.

In a recent announcement at MongoDB .local London, we unveiled the private preview of MongoDB Atlas Edge Server, offering a powerful platform that empowers retailers to achieve their goals, even when low or intermittent connectivity issues may arise.

What is edge computing, and why is it so relevant for retail?

The retail industry's growing investment in edge computing, projected to reach $208 billion by 2023, confirms the strategic shift retailers are willing to take to reach new markets and enhance their offers. And for good reason — in scenarios where connectivity is unreliable, edge computing allows operations to continue uninterrupted.

Edge computing is a strategic technology approach that brings computational power closer to where data is generated and processed, such as in physical retail stores or warehouses. Instead of relying solely on centralized data centers, edge computing deploys distributed computing resources at the edge of the network.

The evolution of investments in edge computing reflects a journey from initial hesitation to accelerated growth. As edge computing continues to mature and demonstrate its value, retailers are likely to further embrace and expand their focus in bringing applications where the computing and data is as close as possible to the location where it's being used.

Let’s dig into how MongoDB addresses the current challenges any retailer would experience when deploying or enhancing in-store servers using edge computing. Connected store: How MongoDB's versatile deployment from edge to cloud powers critical retail applications. Currently, many retail stores operate with an on-site server in place acting as the backbone for several critical applications within the store ecosystem.

Having an on-site server means that the data doesn't have to travel over long distances to be processed, which can significantly reduce latency. This setup can often also be more reliable, as it doesn't depend on internet connectivity. If the internet goes down, the store can continue to operate since the essential services are running on the local network. This is crucial for applications that require real-time access to data, such as point-of-sale (POS) systems, inventory management, and workforce-enablement apps for customer service.

The need for sync: Seamless edge-to-cloud integration

The main driver for retailers taking a hybrid approach is that they want to experience the low latency and reliability of an on-site server coupled with the scalability and power of cloud computing for their overall IT stack. The on-site server ensures that the devices and systems that are critical to sales floor operations — RFID tags and readers for stock management, mobile scanners for associates, and POS systems for efficient checkout — remain functional even with intermittent network connectivity. This data must be synced to the retailer’s cloud-based application stack so that they have a view of what’s happening across the stores. Traditionally this was done with an end-of-day batch job or nightly upload. The aim for the next generation of these architectures is to give real-time access to the same data set, seamlessly reflecting changes made server-side or in the cloud. This needs to be achieved without a lag from the store being pushed to the cloud and without creating complex data sync or conflict resolution that needs to be built and maintained.

These complexities may cause discrepancies between the online and offline capabilities of the store's operations. It makes sense that for any retailer wanting to benefit from both edge and cloud computing, it must simplify its architecture and focus on delivering value-added features to delight the customer and differentiate from their competitors.

Diagram depicting low-latency edge computing with Altas Edge Server. The top bar represents Cloud and is described as permanent storage in Public Cloud Parent. The second bar is called Edge and is described as pre-built, local-first data synchronization layer. The final row represents consumers and producers, and is described as point of scale devices, customer workforce apps, IoT devices, RFID scanners, BI Connector.
Low-latency edge computing with Atlas Edge Server and its different components to achieve data consistency and accuracy across layers

This is when Atlas Edge Server steps in to bridge the gap. Edge Server runs on-premises and handles sync between local devices and bi-directional sync between the edge server and Atlas. It not only provides a rapid and reliable in-store connection but also introduces a tiered synchronization mechanism, ensuring that data is efficiently synced with the cloud.

These devices are interconnected through synchronized data layers from on-premises systems to the cloud, simplifying the creation of mobile apps thanks to Atlas Device SDK, which supports multiple programming languages, development frameworks, and cloud providers.

Additionally, Atlas Device Sync automatically handles conflicts, eliminating the need to write complex conflict-resolution code.

In the below diagram, you can see how the current architecture for a connected store with devices using Atlas Device SDK and Atlas Device Sync would work. This is an ideal solution for devices to sync to the Atlas backend.

A high-level overview of the Architecture for connected devices in a retail space with MongoDB Device Sync and MongoDB Atlas when connectivity is unreliable.

In a store with Atlas Edge Server, the devices sync to Atlas on-premises. All changes made on the edge or on the main application database are synced bidirectionally. If the store server goes offline or loses connectivity, the devices can still access the database and update it locally. The store can still run its operations normally. Then, when it comes back online, the changes on both sides (edge and cloud) are resolved, with conflict resolution built into the sync server.

A high-level overview of the architecture for connected devices in a retail space with MongoDB Device Sync and MongoDB Atlas solving connectivity issues by implementing an on-premises Atlas Edge Server.

Deploying Atlas Edge Server in-store turns connected stores into dynamic, customer-centric hubs of innovation. This transformation produces advantageous business outcomes including:

Enhanced inventory management — The hybrid model facilitates real-time monitoring of logistics, enabling retailers to meticulously track stock in store as shipments come in and sales or orders are processed.

By processing data locally and syncing with the cloud, retailers gain immediate insights, allowing for more precise inventory control and timely restocking.

Seamless operational workflows — The reliability of edge computing ensures essential sales tools — like RFID systems, handheld scanners, workforce apps, and POS terminals — remain operational even during connectivity hiccups. Meanwhile, the cloud component helps ensure that all data is backed up and accessible for analysis, leading to more streamlined store operations.

Customized shopping experiences — With the ability to analyze data on-the-spot (at the edge) and harness historical data from the cloud, retailers can create highly personalized shopping experiences. This approach enables real-time, tailored product recommendations and promotions, enhancing customer engagement and satisfaction.

Conclusion

With Atlas Edge Server, MongoDB is committed to meeting the precise needs of modern retail stores and their diverse use cases.

Lacking the seamless synchronization of data between edge devices and the cloud, delivering offline functionality that enables modern, next-generation workforce applications, as well as in-store technologies like POS systems, is daunting.

Retailers need ready-made solutions so they don't have to deal with the complexities of in-house, custom development. This approach allows them to channel their development efforts towards value-added, differentiating features that directly benefit their customers by improving their in-store operations. With this approach, we aim to empower retailers to deliver exceptional customer experiences and thrive in the ever-evolving retail landscape.

Ready to revolutionize your retail operations with cutting-edge technology? Discover how MongoDB's Atlas Edge Server can transform your store into a dynamic, customer-centric hub. Don't let connectivity issues hold you back. Embrace the future of retail with Atlas Edge Server!