The Pros and Cons of a Single Database for a Multi-Site WMS Implementation
Written by Ryan Johnston | February 12, 2019
Implementing a robust Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a strategic undertaking that requires planning and collaboration. But what happens when you need to implement or upgrade the same WMS at more than one facility? Perhaps you’ve been running multiple warehouses for years, or maybe you’ve just opened a second location or completed a merger or acquisition. Regardless of the history of your project, there’s an extra layer of due diligence to complete for companies with more than one facility in the mix when it comes to how you’ll structure the technology foundation.
Determining How to Run Your Operations
The question at hand is whether you’ll use a single database across multiple facilities or rely on completely separate instances. Naturally, the answer may not be as cut and dry as you’d like. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options, each of which you should think through as you establish the best path for your operations, your company, and your customers.
The Pros of a Single Database
Perhaps the best reason to have a single instance of your database is the ability to maintain one production environment. Particularly if your company doesn’t have a large pool of internal IT resources, having a single production environment is a great way to simplify administration. Each of the benefits below derives from having a single environment to support.
Consolidated code base: Over time, you’ll likely make modifications to the base code in your WMS to improve efficiency or meet unique customer requirements. Having one code base to maintain, update, and modify negates the need to apply the same set of changes and hot fixes to multiple servers at different sites. Keeping current with the latest hot fixes and upgrades is vital to a successful continuous improvement plan as well, so making this process as easy as it can be is highly beneficial.
Development and test/QA environments: If you use development and QA servers to test modifications before they’re put into production, having only one version of each of those environments again simplifies the task of making sure everything is always up to date. (Learn more about the dangers of not syncing these servers.)
Database server maintenance: Indexing, use of temporary space, backups, and compression are all administrative tasks that need to be performed to keep database servers healthy and optimized. They are also time consuming, meaning one and done is an attractive way to go.
User access: With dozens or hundreds of employees and temp workers interacting with the WMS, keeping tight reins on user permissions is critical to the security of your data—and your business. Centralizing user maintenance across two or more facilities makes it much easier to apply granular permissions by role, enforcing WMS security. This can also be a key component of demonstrating compliance with industry regulations such as SOX and GDPR.
Data visibility: When it comes to generating reports to track attainment of key metrics, a consolidated view across the entire business makes a lot of sense. Having data for all warehouses in a single database facilitates your ability to generate this. Download the Complete Guide to Supply Chain Metrics for more information on this topic.
The Cons of a Single Database
On the flip side, there are challenges with relying on a single database that you’ll need to evaluate. The most notable downside is you lose the flexibility to run each warehouse as its own entity with unique considerations based on product mix and customer profiles.
Coordinated maintenance downtime: With a single production server in place, all sites will experience downtime for all scheduled changes and maintenance activities, even if the update only applies to one facility. When factoring in different time zones, this could mean lost productivity and the need to rush orders to meet planned customer shipments on time.
Irrelevant code changes: When a single instance of your WMS is used as the backbone of operations at more than one warehouse, it means there is probably functionality that doesn’t apply to all locations. So, when one facility needs a modification to improve how picking runs, it shows up on handheld units for all employees. If this change is well communicated in advance, there shouldn’t be a problem, but workers could become confused if there’s a new step in their task list that wasn’t there the day before.
Complex configuration: It can be very difficult to put multiple warehouses on a single database if the processes for each are vastly different. Configuring all of the requirements needed for each site to operate effectively can become complex and time-consuming for the IT team.
Which Method Works Best?
Generally, it’s easier on the IT organization to have a single database instance and more work to maintain multiple versions. However, the operations team usually prefers multiple instances so each warehouse can function independently of the others, making unique modifications and scheduled downtime easier to manage.
If your approach to distribution and product mix are similar across each warehouse, a single production environment makes sense, while 3PLs or businesses with vastly different distribution requirements by customer or facility would benefit more from multiple databases. These factors all play into your decision regarding whether to implement one or more database instances for your WMS.
How 4SIGHT Can Help
4SIGHT has worked with businesses across many sectors to determine the right architectural design for their WMS environment. This is an important decision that affects how you run your business each day, so taking the time to work through the pros and cons as they relate to your unique setting, strategy, and vision is a perfect first step.