Why Wal-Mart’s E-Commerce Group Embraces Open Source

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by Steve Norton

Wal-Mart Stores sees the open source community as a talent pipeline for @WalmartLabs, the retailer’s e-commerce group. Participation is “an important part of hiring,” a spokesperson said. “A great candidate shows us the open source projects they work on during their free time.” Developers not only use the software, but also are encouraged to contribute code back into the open source community.

Many developers hired by @WalmartLabs join the company with clear preferences about the kinds of software they want to use. That means Wal-Mart has to support open source projects all over the map, among them Cassandra, MongoDB, Elasticsearch, Docker, Hadoop and Kafka. The list goes on.

Developers also release tools back into the open source community, such as hapi, a framework for enterprise mobile development.

Most CIOs have open source software floating around in their organizations whether they know it or not. There’s still plenty of debate about the merits of open source versus closed software in the enterprise, but the reality is that it’s bound to be at least a little bit of both.

Embracing open source helps @WalmartLabs move more quickly and avoid vendor lock-in, and gives programmers flexibility to customize applications, the spokesperson said. Take software like Node.js, a JavaScript tool that helps developers execute code faster. Paired with other software, it helps bring scale and speed to projects like real-time Web applications. At @WalmartLabs, lots of that software runs on an in-house platform called Pangaea.

@WalmartLabs says it’s one of the largest enterprise users of OpenStack, an open source platform that helps companies build and manage cloud computing and storage projects.  Supporters say it brings the ease and agility of cloud-service vendors, while running on a company’s own server systems, the WSJ notes. @WalmartLabs is also exploring software-defined networks and block storage that relies on OpenStack projects, according to a company blog post.

Silicon Valley is paying attention. At last week’s Open Networking User Group conference in New York, Cisco System Inc.’s vice president and CTO for cloud computing, Lew Tucker, made mention of how Wal-Mart’s affinity for open source software is paying off. “It’s a recruiting tool for developers,” Mr. Tucker said. “It’s to get the best people to come into Wal-Mart.”

 

This article was originally published by the Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal.