Walmart deploys OpenStack to fuel next e-commerce step

Walmart, has deployed an OpenStack-based private cloud in a bid to deliver the third generation of its e-commerce strategy

Supermarket giant Walmart has deployed an OpenStack-based private cloud to deliver the third generation of its e-commerce strategy.

Addressing delegates at the OpenStack summit in Vancouver, Amandeep Singh Junejan, senior director for cloud operations and engineering at WalmartLabs, said: Ecommerce 3.0 is all about combining distribution so that all inventory is available to all customers all of the time, involving integration of the digital and physical worlds.

In the UK, supermarket chain Asda is owned by Walmart. Asdas online business makes £1bn of sales a year, which is set to grow to £3bn by 2018. Globally, the retailer's e-commerce operation has grown 23% in the last year.

The company runs a heterogenous IT environment. OpenStack will create a service oriented cloud-based platform to bring IT together using a single set of APIs, giving Walmart software developers agility and the ability to innovate.

IT complexity

James Downs, Walmart global e-commerce architect, said the deployment of new applications was slow: When I first came to Walmart you needed a helpdesk ticket and it took a week. We needed something to accelerate the company. The cloud gave us a more agile way to deploy things.

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Delivering a service oriented platform simplified application development. You dont need to know where the VM is and it is up to you to keep your application running, Downs added.

But he warned that while self-service gave the developers elasticity, enabling them to write applications to cope with e-commerce peaks such as Black Friday, IT lacked a chargeback facility.

“Cloud models work because there is downward pressure on usage; otherwise you end up with VM sprawl,” he said. But at Walmart, without the ability to curb usage, developers used more and more capacity.

The company now has two datacentres fully operating an OpenStack cloud, running Ubuntu, Centros and Red Hat Linux virtual machines (VMs).

The use of OpenStack represents a significant step for Walmart, given that the company is the world’s largest retailer. Junejan said: “We aim to move more markets onto OpenStack and eventually offer datacentre as a service.

The recent Venom zero-day attack demonstrated the resiliency of its private cloud. “We were able to deploy the security patch across our entire cloud and move traffic from one datacentre to another, without noticeable outages, Junejan added.

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It will be interesting to see if Walmart open-sourcing the OneOps (http://www.walmartlabs.com/2015/10/14/walmartlabs-oneops-open-source/)  framework will gain any traction in a crowded market for cloud ops and automation tools. 
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