Walmart wants to help unchain companies from their cloud

October 14, 2015, 7:47 PM UTC
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 11:  Customers leave a Wal-Mart store on June 11, 2015 in Oakland, California. A federal judge has ruled that Wal-Mart failed to pay the California minimum wage to truck drivers and could have to pay $100 million in back pay.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

Retail colossus Walmart wants to help companies avoid cloud lock-in—the notion that once data is placed in a given cloud it is very hard to get it out. Critics liken large cloud providers to the Hotel California in that “you can check out any time but you can never leave.”

Techies at WalmartLabs, the retailer’s technology arm, maintain that their OneOps technology, is the tech version of express check out in that it helps move data between different sets of cloud infrastructure with minimal hassle.

This is an important consideration for Walmart which deals with more than 140 million customers every week in the U.S. alone and fields more than 11,500 stores worldwide. That’s a lot of interactions and a lot of data, so being able to move it around efficiently as needed is critical.

Alleviating cloud lock-in is indeed a very big claim. But, if you don’t believe it, you will be able to see for yourself once OneOps code gets posted on the Github by year’s end. Github is a online repository housing all sorts of open-source software which can be downloaded and examined by anyone.

Walmart (WMT) has been using OneOps internally, at first for its online operations. But in the past six months, it added its brick-and-mortar store operations as well, Tim Kimmet, vice president of platform and systems for WalmartLabs told Fortune.

Here’s how Kimmet and Jeremy King, head of WalmartLabs, described the tool in a blog post:

OneOps is powerful cloud technology we built ourselves that has transformed the way our engineers develop and launch new products to our customers. They deliver this with more speed and at a lower cost because OneOps helps them (1) avoid the pitfalls of being “locked-in” to a cloud provider, and (2) thrive in WalmartLabs’ “DevOps” culture – whatever code developers write, they own, from its development to its launch to customers.

It is worth noting that Walmart competes with (AMZN) in retail and thus would be unlikely to be a customer of Amazon’s popular cloud services, Amazon Web Services. But it does have jobs running in Microsoft (MSFT) Azure, and Rackspace (RAX) data centers, as well as its own OpenStack-based private clouds that run on Walmart-operated data centers.

With OneOps, if a task will run more cheaply on Cloud A compared to Cloud B, it can be moved without requiring a lot of work by developers.

That means, practically speaking, it’ll be easier for companies to allocate resources where they need to go when there is a huge spike in computing tasks. If there’s a huge surge in customer orders on Black Friday, it’ll now be much easier to put the additional jobs onto a public cloud than before, Kimmet said. That means you can rent those extra resources by the hour and not pay for them 100% of the time, he added.

He acknowledged that there is no magic here. If vendors charge—as they typically do—to transfer your data out of their cloud, you’ll have to pay.

“But, my point is we’ll make those vendors compete with each other on those costs. A number of companies have run their businesses on a single cloud and locked into that cloud’s APIs,” he noted, referring to the software that funnels data to and from cloud services.

“Some even put their big data platforms in someone else’s cloud and that’s where it really is Hotel California,” he said.

Putting OneOps into the public domain, will help companies outside Walmart avoid that fate, he said.

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