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OpenStack comes up huge for Walmart

https://gigaom.com/2015/02/17/openstack-comes-up-huge-for-walmart/

For those skeptics who still think OpenStack isn’t ready for prime time, here’s a tidbit: @WalmartLabs is now running in excess of 100,000 cores of OpenStack on its compute layer. And that’s growing by the day.

It’s also the technology that ran parent company Walmart’s prodigious Cyber Monday and holiday season sales operations. If that’s not production, I’m not sure what is.

San Bruno, California–based @WalmartLabs, which is the e-commerce innovation and development arm for the Walmart retail colossus, started working with OpenStack about a year and a half ago, at first relying heavily on the usual vendors but increasingly building up its in-house talent pool, Amandeep Singh Juneja, senior director of cloud operations and engineering, said in an interview.

Building a private cloud at public cloud scale

@WalmartLabs has about 3,600 employees worldwide, 1,500 of whom are in the Bay Area. Juneja estimated the organization has hired about 1,000 engineers in the last year or so — no mean feat given that there are lots of companies, including the OpenStack vendors, in the market for this expertise.

“Traditionally, Walmart is vendor-heavy in its big technology investments — name a vendor and we’ve worked with it and that was also true with OpenStack,” Juneja noted. “We started about one and a half years ago with all the leading distribution vendors involved … we did our first release with Havana and Rackspace. But then we invested internally in building our own engineering muscle. We attended all the meet-ups and summits.” Havana is the code name for the eighth OpenStack code release.

Nothing says big like Walmart. It has around $480 billion in annual revenue, more than 2 million employees, and more than 11,000 retail locations worldwide (including Sam’s Club and Walmart International venues). Walmart.com claims more than 140 million weekly visitors. So scale was clearly an issue from the get-go.

What @WalmartLabs loved about OpenStack was that it could be molded and modified to fit its specifications, without vendor lock-in.

AWS need not apply

This is a massive private cloud built on a public cloud scale. There are also some macro issues at play here. Since parent company Walmart competes tooth and nail with Amazon.com, the chances of Walmart using Amazon Web Services public cloud are nil. (I asked Juneja whether Walmart would ever use any public cloud capabilities and he politely responded that this question was above his pay grade.)

The beauty of open-source projects like OpenStack is that new capabilities continually come on line and there is a community of deeply technical people working on the code. Going forward, Juneja is particularly interested in Ironic, an OpenStack project to enable provisioning of bare metal (as opposed to virtual) machines, and in the Trove database-as-a-service project. Trove, he noted, has matured a bit and Walmart will be using more DbaaS going forward.

Another work in progress is the construction of a multi-petabyte object store using the OpenStack Swift technology, but there are also plans to bring more block storage in-house, possibly using OpenStack Cinder. And the team is looking at Neutron for software-defined network projects.

One thing Walmart must deal with is its brick-and-mortar roots. The ability to order online and pick up in the store means that what @WalmartLabs builds must interact with inventory and other systems already running the Walmart/Sam’s Club storefronts. Non-e-commerce-related IT projects are run by Walmart’s Information Services Division at the company’s Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters.

So the ability of the shiny new OpenStack systems to interface with infrastructure that’s been in place for decades or so — some for as much as 50 years — is critical. It also spells the full employment act for all those @WalmartLabs engineers.

Note: this story was updated at 11:30 a.m. PST to reflect that Walmart is running 100K+ cores, not nodes, of OpenStack

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