Walmart is built on a hybrid cloud architecture, operating a private cloud in its data centers, partnering with public cloud providers and building edge compute in stores, according to Suresh Kumar, chief technology and development officer of Walmart, speaking last week at the 2020 Walmart investors meeting.
The company has innovated and operated on top of a legacy technology stack, which has expanded through acquisitions, said Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart, speaking at the meeting. As the company has grown and expanded internationally, its stack became a "series of systems and it needs to be simplified and modernized."
Walmart is migrating its portfolio by optimizing for the technology. "We're not just taking an old legacy complex application and simply just moving them to the cloud," said Kumar. "We are rebuilding them so that they can take advantage of what the cloud really has to offer."
Consider Walmart a power user in the technology space.
The challenge is layering in technology to complement operations. To do so, Walmart turned to a technology industry veteran. Kumar joined Walmart last year, coming from leadership roles at Google, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM.
With the hybrid architecture, Walmart "can take workloads and we can move them seamlessly from private cloud to public cloud to make use of the flex capacity when we need it; this is something that we did very effectively last holiday season," said Kumar. It allows Walmart to make use of specialized compute capabilities in the public cloud, running "complex workloads," including machine learning models and big data.
The company can use machine learning to improve customer experience. Called "smart substitutions," if an associate picks items on behalf of a customer to fill an order, but one of the items is out of stock, smart substitutions provides an alternative. The trained model extracts information about the products Walmart sells, infers relationships between them and adds in customer preferences.
Atop the Fortune 500 since 2013 (the company has maintained a slot in the top two since 2000), Walmart has figured out a technology stack that can power operations spanning 27 countries with 2.2 million associates.
Much of Walmart's technology is calculated as an operating expenditure, McMillon said. In its guidance, Walmart increased its investment in technology, with improvements seen over a number of years.
Last year, Walmart experienced technology leadership turnover with the departure of CTO Jeremy King in March. Clay Johnson, EVP and enterprise CIO at Walmart, left Walmart in September to take over as the chief digital and technology officer of Yum Brands. Johnson was CIO Dive's 2018 CIO of the Year.
King and Johnson helped lay the technology foundation for Walmart. Now, its Kumar's turn to build on it.