The Troposphere

Jul 17 2018   6:31PM GMT

Walmart’s cloud strategy sticks by OpenStack, despite Azure migration

Trevor Jones Trevor Jones Profile: Trevor Jones

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Walmart’s cloud deployment strategy takes a big turn to Microsoft Azure, but it won’t leave OpenStack completely in the dust.

A five-year deal to make Microsoft Azure the preferred cloud provider for Walmart, the largest corporation in the world, isn’t a shocker, but it does raise questions about Walmart’s future use of the OpenStack. The retailer has been one of OpenStack’s biggest cheerleaders and has spent millions of dollars on a massive private cloud deployment of the software inside its own data centers. The technology, originally seen as an open alternative to public cloud platforms such as AWS and backed by some of the biggest names in IT, has lost nearly all of its momentum in recent years and failed to keep pace with the hyperscale public cloud providers.

OpenStack is notoriously difficult to operate, which is part of why it never truly took off. Some companies, including Walmart, have reported success, though it helps to possess a fleet of engineers to build and maintain it. Abandonment by a company the size and cachet of Walmart would all but serve as the death knell for OpenStack, but that doesn’t appear to be the case just yet, as its OpenStack deployment isn’t going anywhere, according to a company spokesperson.

“In no way does this take away from the work we’ve done there,” the spokesperson said. “Clearly we’ve invested a lot there from a time and financial perspective.”

Walmart will continue to contribute to the OpenStack project and use the software for its private cloud, but the deal with Microsoft adds flexibility and agility to the company’s hybrid cloud strategy, said the spokesperson, who declined to be identified. Walmart will rely on Microsoft to burst workloads to the public cloud, and will utilize a range of Microsoft cloud tools across its various brands, including Azure and Microsoft 365. Large parts of Walmart.com and Samsclub.com will move to Azure, while Walmart will use IoT tools to control energy consumption in its facilities, and implement machine learning to improve supply chain logistics. All told, the companies will work together to migrate hundreds of existing applications, Microsoft said in a blog post.

Walmart’s cloud strategy: Anything but AWS?

It’s a major win for Microsoft, if not entirely shocking. AWS is the largest provider in the market, but parent company Amazon.com happens to be a huge competitor for Walmart’s retail business. Some retailers have been wary to support Amazon through its IT arm, and reports last year indicated Walmart pressured its retail partners to get off AWS.

And Walmart already had a relationship with Azure —  online retailer Jet.com, which Walmart acquired in 2016, has hosted its infrastructure on Azure since its inception.

Azure may be Walmart’s official preferred cloud provider, but the company leaves open the possibility to use other cloud platforms when appropriate.

“We obviously are going to continue to look at ways to partner with everyone and anyone that we think will helps us be more agile for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

Even as Walmart underscores its commitment to OpenStack for its private cloud, however, it remains to be seen how much of that agility will come from OpenStack going forward.

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