Ocado to port its platform to the cloud as part of global expansion plan

By Graeme Burton
08 Apr 2014 View Comments
Ocado director of technology Paul Clarke

Ocado, the online grocery retailer, is porting its software platform to the cloud as it gears up for the next stage of its expansion.

The move forms part of the company's strategy to both offer its software and know-how under Ocado Technology, as well as preparing the company for possible overseas expansion.

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"We have been shipping groceries for nearly 12 years," said Ocado Technology technical director Paul Clarke. "The cloud wasn't around then, but it offers many exciting possibilities in terms of hosting our systems."

What has helped to make cloud computing viable now, is platform-as-a-service and the technical standardisation that it is bringing. "The tools have evolved massively, whether that's the administration tools or the tools to be able to move a complete 'estate' to the cloud. That's what we are doing now," said Clarke.

"We're not moving one or two systems [to the cloud], we are looking to move our complete 'front end' operations. Everything that doesn't run a warehouse or control a warehouse will eventually end up in the cloud," he added.

He continued: "For us, it isn't about saving money, it's about agility, both business agility and develop agility. Although it's enabling our developers to experiment faster, to get production solutions deployed faster, to evolve our solutions faster than we could do with a finite-sized infrastructure team.

"It's also about being able to use the cloud as a 'sand pit' in which to explore ideas at very low cost and if they don't fly it costs almost nothing - pennies rather than hundreds of thousands of pounds on hardware."

Most of all, though, it will enable Ocado to expand more easily overseas, believes Clarke. "The business agility is about being able to build bridgeheads into other territories without having to build data centres there as well."

However, the manner of Ocado's expansion - either setting up operations outright, managing online retail as a service or simply offering solutions and associated services in the cloud - is a decision that the company's board hasn't yet finalised.

"I would expect us to do the complete spectrum. At one end, that's us building our own warehouses using our own technology in other territories. At the other end of the spectrum, you might have arms-length licensing. Ultimately, you've got the shrink-wrapped product idea, but I think that's further on," said Clarke.

Ocado is approached "many times a week, by organisations from all over the world wanting to use our technology in their backyard so it's not a question of whether there's interest here", he said.

At the same time, Ocado is planning to implement core big data technologies, too. These include NoSQL databases, like Cassandra, and the Hadoop framework for handling the large-scale processing of data-sets.

"Those are both key to us - how you store data in the cloud, how you manipulate data in the cloud in a massively parallel way is a fundamental piece of the puzzle that we need at Ocado," said Clarke.

Ocado Technology technical director Paul Clarke was talking to Graeme Burton in an exclusive feature for the next issue of Computing. Click here to subscribe to the print or iPad edition of Computing.

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