How Walmart uses OpenStack to deliver its 'everyday low prices'

In August 2014, Walmart moved its entire ecommerce stack to OpenStack running on Canonical's Ubuntu Linux.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

VANCOUVER -- When you think of retail giant Walmart, you may think of great bargains, or the death of small businesses, or convenience. What you probably don't think about is the software behind the supply chain that enables Walmart to offer its "everyday low prices." That would be OpenStack.

In a keynote and panel discussion at OpenStack Summit, Amandeep Singh Juneja, Walmart Lab's Senior Director for Cloud Operations and Engineering, explained that "Walmart's decision to invest in cloud infrastructure might not be something you'd expect from a brick and mortar retailer with over $480-billion in annual revenue," but it was a necessity.

Why? Because to keep a supply chain running that can profitably deliver goods at very low prices, Walmart needs software that can track 245-million customers a week in 11,000 stores in 27 countries. On top of that Walmart is moving to eCommerce 3.0 with 11 e-commerce websites that had to handle 1.5 billion page views over 2014's Black Friday weekend.

To do this, Juneja said "Walmart has always relied on cutting-edge technology, from satellites in the 80s to OpenStack today, to fuel our growth: At the same time Walmart Global eCommerce is growing at a rate of more than 30 percent per year."

On top of that, Walmart's "customers want to use our eCommerce platform from many different access points, not only from their home computers but also from mobile phones, tablets, and kiosks within Walmart retail stores and they're always expecting a seamless experience."

To meet this demand "Walmart needed a technology stack that would scale to meet the explosive demand, flexible enough to build applications that adapt to ever-changing user preferences, and with enough big data smarts to predict what customers want and provide them with recommendations."

After long consideration, Walmart bet in August 2014 that OpenStack was that technology. It moved its entire ecommerce stack to OpenStack running on Canonical's Ubuntu Linux.

Walmart chose OpenStack as its cloud platform, not only because it's best of the breed, but also because open-source software comes with several big advantages. The biggest of these is that with OpenStack, Walmart avoided long-term lock-ins with any single proprietary vendor.

In the nine months since Walmart started using OpenStack the company has built an OpenStack Compute layer with more than 150K cores and counting. Next, Walmart will add more block storage and venture into software-defined networks using OpenStack projects such as Neutron and Cinder. The company is also currently building a multi-petabyte object storage using Swift. By the 2015 holiday season Walmart will have also moved its OpenStack cloud to 2014's Juno release.

So, the next time someone tells you that OpenStack isn't mature enough to be used in a business product environment, just remind them that the world's largest retailer has bet the house that OpenStack is ready for prime-time.

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