Woolworths shifts infrastructure to Azure

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Woolworths shifts infrastructure to Azure

Claims successful peak Christmas period.

Woolworths has decommissioned its in-house infrastructure and shifted its systems into Microsoft's Azure cloud, the retailer revealed today. 

Head of customer technology Sujeet Rana told the Microsoft Ignite conference that the retailer had delivered its Christmas 2016 online operations on the Microsoft technology.

Rana said 18 years after Woolworths debuted its first online shopping service, HomeShop, it was time to reconsider its infrastructure setup.

"To cater for the [business'] extensive growth, the team made the decision that rather than continue to host the service internally, we would seek a cloud alternative," Rana said.

"The series of unique requirements we had made our decision to move to Microsoft Azure clear cut."

At last count Woolworths’ technology environment spanned 550 major applications supporting 25,000 point-of-sale (PoS) units, 7000 self-service checkouts, and 11,000 back-office workstations. It relies on an SAP system for its core merchandising activities.

Three data centres with 6500 servers supported its applications, alongside 3200 in-store servers and 250 servers across its distribution centres.

In 2013 the retailer predicted it would close its custom-built Erskine Park, Sydney data centre within five years as a result of its growing cloud appetite. At the time the facility was "60 percent of one-third full".

The retailer has been contacted for detail on which specific workloads it has migrated to Azure. 

Woolworths would only consider a locally-based, multi-region, active-active cloud solution that could guarantee its uptime and availability, Rana said.

"Trying to replicate this internally would have been far too costly."

It also wanted something that would be integrated easily with its predominantly Microsoft-based technology stack.

Shifting its infrastructure out from owned and operated data centres to a cloud computing platform meant its IT team could spend more of their time on the application layer, system performance, and user experience, Rana said.

The retailer has also started using Azure apps and services like Azure SQL, VMs, Blob, traffic management, AppInsights, and Application Service Environment, he said.

His team ensures security of the platform through regular penetration tests of the Microsoft environment and use of Azure's SQL Database’s Transparent Data Encryption (TDE).

The Woolworths IT team now no longer needs to manually scale its environment to deal with periods of peak load, Rana said - something that was previously impossible.

The retailer has also taken the opportunity to implement a "genuine" DevOps approach with "true blue/green deployments" as a result of the active-active configuration.

"It lays the foundation for our A/B testing so we can do live comparisons of different service iterations and provides far easier rollback options," Rana said.

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