How Walmart abstracts its hybrid cloud for developers

Walmart recently put the finishing touches on a hybrid cloud platform designed to allow its software developers to leverage a variety of infrastructure types and cloud services from a single console.

Through the so-called Walmart Cloud Native Platform, the global retailer wants to provide its thousands of software developers with an abstraction layer that makes it possible to use public cloud and Walmart-owned and operated infrastructure and services together.

Building a common platform

“The idea is to abstract the underlying infrastructure so that it looks the same, so application teams and developers don’t have to worry about the differences between Azure or Walmart infrastructure, for example,” Kevin Evans, vice president of infrastructure services at Walmart , said InfoWorld.

Evans works on Walmart’s platform engineering team, which is focused on three areas: building a common infrastructure layer and set of cloud capabilities for all developers at Walmart, maintaining a single data platform, and improving developer productivity through streamlined common tools and automation.

“We’re providing a container platform, or VM, that becomes the central interface point for our engineers to write on, while giving them the best features to consume,” Evans said.

Walmart developers can access this catalog of managed services through the internal console. “They can choose a la carte a feature or resource that they need,” Evans said. For example, Walmart engineers can choose between Azure Cosmos DB or Google Cloud Spanner databases. “These are skills that are specific to their platforms but will become part of our suite of best-of-breed options,” Evans said.

Developers currently have some flexibility in how and where they run their applications, but there is also a growing selection of pre-built patterns, or golden paths, that solve specific technology problems but give developers less flexibility over how and what they want to build let run.

“As we mature, we want to embed in the platform decisions where to put something and drive that decision-making process based on codified requirements and configurations,” Evans said.

This, of course, creates a trade-off between opinion and abstraction. Evans doesn’t want Walmart’s developer platforms to become too rigid to stifle its developers’ ability to take advantage of the best that cloud providers have to offer. “We have to be aware of that,” he said.

The Triplet Model Cloud is taking shape

Walmart works with Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud as cloud partners, but not specifically with Amazon Web Services like many retailers do. Walmart’s so-called triplet model cloud strategy is inherently hybrid and relies on developers being able to work in a consistent manner with existing Walmart data centers, either public cloud platforms, and a growing choice of edge locations.

“By coupling public clouds with our Walmart private clouds via a regional cloud model in the US (West, Central and East), we are enabling 10,000 edge cloud nodes in our facilities, bringing computing power and data closer to our customers and employees ‘ wrote Suresh Kumar, global chief technology officer at Walmart, in a LinkedIn post.

In practice, this means that Evans and his team must maintain both a large fleet of containers running Kubernetes and a large private OpenStack cloud platform for VM-based workloads (known internally as OneOps).

Currently, containers are the preferred method for building greenfield applications at Walmart, but Evans admits that “we have a very large landscape and VMs are going to be a part of this story for a long time.”

Then there’s the edge where Walmart hopes to leverage the computing power in its 6,000 or so stores, distribution centers, and fulfillment centers across the United States. While some enterprise applications are best placed in a central Walmart data center, other applications are better hosted in the store or warehouse to allow greater operational resiliency and low latency for sensitive workloads such as checkout and pricing applications.

Save money, streamline development

The triplet model opens up both productivity and innovation opportunities for developers and brings up to 18% annual price optimization opportunities for the company. Walmart estimates that it can now make 170,000 adjustments to its website backend each month, a 1,700x increase over what was possible before these changes.

“Placing workloads in the right places helps us increase application performance and reduce latency across the board,” Kumar wrote. “In addition, the triplet model offers increased capacity, allowing us to better respond to moments of consumer demand, such as B. the Christmas business or a low price for a popular game console. “

Evans estimates that 70% of Walmart’s apps are “generic in nature” because they “can run almost anywhere.” This makes them more portable in Walmart’s growing range of landing zones.

“We want to make moving workloads seamless and make it a platform feature rather than a developer choice,” Evans said. “By eliminating as much friction as possible, we can put something in a more cost-effective place.”

While this sounds like a win-win situation in the short term, Evans is acutely aware that data gravity, with Walmart’s increasing reliance on public cloud services, could lead to higher cloud bills in the future if not carefully monitored.

“These services are sometimes surprisingly expensive in the public cloud, so we worked with our partners to determine where workloads would best run,” Evans said.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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