Walmart eyes Open Compute as OpenStack investment scales

Amandeep Singh Juneja, Walmart senior director for cloud operations and engineering, explained the retail giant's strategy to delegates at the OpenStack Summit 2015 in Vancouver


Having stood up one of the largest enterprise OpenStack deployments running in production, US mega-retailer Walmart is planning on taking another leap towards running a web-scale data centre by adopting the Open Compute framework. 

“We are in between completely Open Compute standard and enterprise, and I think that for our use case that is probably the next [step],” Amandeep Singh Juneja, senior director for cloud operations and engineering at Walmart Labs, told delegates at OpenStack Summit in Vancouver.

The Open Compute Project was created by Facebook to open source its ultra-efficient data centre designs, but has tended to be adopted by big cloud providers rather than more traditional enterprises, aside from growing use by some large finance firms.

However, Juneja - who describes the firm as both a “retailer and a technology company” due to the IT investment needed to support its scale and operational complexity - expects to further simplify and standardise its infrastructure as it grows its private cloud, in order to achieve the benefits of low cost and high reliability of hyper scale data centres. 

“We still have a  lot of redundant components in our systems, so the next system design is probably going to get rid of some of those components, and the last step would be to go into Open Compute," he said.

“Open Compute requires the scale which we are almost at but we are not completely there. [But] I think that very soon, as more and more [Walmart] properties and more applications from the Walmart stores and everything comes [into the OpenStack private cloud] we will be going into Open Compute.”

OpenStack adoption

Walmart has already had success with automating its infrastructure provisioning thanks to its OpenStack private cloud, allowing it to lower its expenditure on servers by fifty percent, as well as significantly reducing the time taken to provision servers to development staff. 

Having begun deploying the technology in 2012, it has now swelled its implementation to 140,000 cores to support its global ecommerce platform.

While Walmart is one of the largest physical retailers in the world with 11,000 stores in 27 countries, including Asda in the UK, it has also invested heavily in online channels. Juneja said that offering true multichannel sales - with customers able to order “anything, anywhere at any time” - involves a huge level of complexity that was difficult to manage with its previous infrastructure.

Juneja said: “Walmart is a 50 year old company. We have built stacks, and layers and layers of technology, we have used different vendors, different infrastructure pieces and we have grown over the years. And as result we have entangled a lot of these services and applications.”

This led the company aimed to create a private cloud to simplify its IT estate. “We wanted it to be rapid, instantaneous, flexible elastic and on-demand. To do that we tried a bunch of PoCs and different technologies, and lo and behold we looked at OpenStack. It met most of our requirements. 

“It had some pains in the early stages mainly due to [eighth OpenStack release] Havana, but it met our needs, which most of the other products did not. We wanted something which was extensible throughout [our data centres].”

Although capacity planning is a challenge, one of the benefits of operating its private cloud is the ability to handle  “huge” spikes in seasonal demand. Walmart dealt 1.5 billion page views during 2014 Thanksgiving thanks to its OpenStack platform, and expects further growth in future. 

“Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that it is a very seasonal industry - we work from holiday to holiday," he said. "We climb up our workloads for the holidays: November and December are the two months where we have to satisfy all the needs of all the customers.

"We built around 140,000 cores last year, and this number is going to be much bigger [this year], simply because we have more applications coming onto our cloud, more properties coming on, and also we will be ramping for the holidays next year.”

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