January 15, 2013, 9:20 AM

Jewelry e-retailer Ice.com embraces open source software

The infrastructure upgrade saves more than $250,000 annually, the retailer says.

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Online jewelry seller Ice.com Inc. this summer upgraded its e-commerce platform with open source software from vendor Red Hat, giving the retailer direct access to the software’s base code, which Ice can edit to make site changes or add features and functions. The move has enabled Ice’s in-house technology team to build new applications in weeks rather than months, without additional development expenses, and is already saving the retailer at least $250,000 in annual software and support fees, says Jason Ordway, Ice’s chief information and operations officer.

Ice realized it needed to reevaluate its technology infrastructure last year when about 80% of its hardware was reaching the end of its life, Ordway says The retailer addressed that problem by moving all its software off its own servers and into the cloud, hosting it via Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide that maintains servers where other companies can store applications and data.

The e-retailer also made a switch in its e-commerce software. Ordway says the software Ice was using, from vendor Red Prairie, did not allow Ice to make fast site changes, such as updating product prices on the fly, or to develop the precise e-commerce functionality it needed. Red Prairie, he says, often took months to complete projects, such as adding an online feature that enables customers to pay for jewelry in installments. That change cost Ice tens of thousands of dollars in extra development fees, on top of an annual price tag of nearly $250,000, he says.

Red Prairie did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

In contrast, because Red Hat is open-source, the software is free to install and use. Ice pays Red Hat only for support, which costs less than $50,000 per year, Ordway says. His I.T. staff of fewer than 25 employees can work with the code quickly and easily, already doubling their output of new features and functions compared to before, he says. For example, they built a mobile site in a matter of weeks on their own—a process which would have taken much longer and required hiring an outside developer with the old software, he says.

“We’ve made a lot of changes since switching to Red Hat that would have taken over a year and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars before,” Ordway says. “We’re flying things out of development every day.”

The I.T. team can update and add products to the e-commerce site anytime with the click of a button, too—each update used to take at least 24 hours to do, versus a few minutes now, he says. That previously limited Ice to adding fewer than 50 new products to its e-commerce site per day, while now the retailer can add hundreds per day, he says.

Additionally, Ordway says identifying and fixing site problems is much easier now that Ice can manage all the code behind its site. That control also helps the retailer to better ensure it follows Payment Card Industry standards that aim to protect customer credit card data, he says. “In the closed-source world there are a lot of things that are black box—it’s supposed to work this way but it doesn’t,” he says. Now Ice is not relying on its software provider to comply with the PCI standards;  rather, the I.T. team builds those rules into everything from the bottom up, he says.

Ice.com is No. 270 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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