Walmart Embraces Microservices to Get More Agile

By Mike Vizard Print this article Print

The retailer is using open-source technologies to build applications using thousands of microservices that can be dynamically invoked using well-defined APIs.

To rectify that problem, Walmart plans to open hundreds more of its smaller stores in additional locations, and it's investing $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion on e-commerce and digital projects next year—up from about $1 billion in the current fiscal year. In addition, Walmart reports that Internet sales will amount to about $12.5 billion worldwide this year, and it expects those sales to rise roughly 25 percent the following year. After that, the company is forecasting that online sales growth should average 30 to 40 percent through fiscal 2018.

Making Progress, but Playing Catch-Up

Judith Hurwitz, president of the IT consulting firm Hurwitz and Associates, says Walmart clearly underestimated the impact that rivals such as Amazon would have on its sales. “From day-one, Amazon was investing in IT systems to take on Walmart,” she points out. “They were not just thinking about books.”

In the last few years, Hurwitz says, the company has made a lot of progress in terms of providing an improved customer experience that spans both their online and retail outlets. But overall, she adds, Walmart continues to play catch-up.

Much like many IT organizations these days, a core part of the Walmart IT strategy is to hire lots of engineering talent to build new applications using open-source software. But Scott Crawford, an industry analyst with 451 Research, notes that open-source software cuts both ways in terms of benefits and costs.

“With open-source software, you can lower your costs and gain more visibility into the code,” says Crawford. “But support can be a challenge in the sense of finding a fix to a particular issue because there isn't one vendor throat to choke.”

Regardless of how the company goes about becoming more agile from a technology perspective, IT organizations across the board would be well-advised to pay close attention to how the retailer’s IT strategy is evolving. As a company that generates billions of dollars in annual sales, Walmart has an impact on almost every part of the economy in one form or another.

So, when Walmart changes the way its applications interact with its backend systems, it’s only a matter of time before every organization that does business with the retailer will be required to follow suit.

This article was originally published on 2015-10-27
Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has more than 25 years of experience covering IT issues in a career that includes serving as director of strategic content and editorial director for Ziff Davis Enterprise. He writes for multiple sites, including eWEEK, Baseline, Channel Insider, CIO Insight and IT Business Edge.

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