Tesco: Speed, Scale and Data
Thu 26 Feb 2015
Tomas Kadlec, group technology director at Tesco, discusses how the traditional grocery retailer is introducing digital strategies and exploiting its data centre and cloud potential to bring its store experience into the online space. Kadlec will be speaking at Data Centre World at London ExCel on the 11th and 12th March.
Tesco is currently trying to bring an online experience into its store, by delivering compute power and transforming the way in which our customers and colleagues connect to the store.
Our data centre is pivotal in this effort. For retailers with a strong online presence, the data centre is a crucial element in achieving complete digital presence. In our case, the data centre is the platform on which we drive national and international expansion and innovation. Tesco has built the biggest online grocery outlet in the world, and its successful deployment across our eight international markets over an 18 month period would not have been possible without our data centre and its integrated systems, with existing regional capabilities easily replicated across the international portfolio.
Today, our data centre is mature and our capabilities are increasingly relevant to the store environment, with smart tools for ordering products, click and collect, and product location services.
For us, data centres are a cost-effective platform. Cloud is great for getting something ready quickly, but it is not necessarily the most cost-efficient solution. If a workload is fairly deterministic then it is generally cheaper in a data centre than it would be in cloud. If a workload is internet-facing and unpredictable however, cloud would be the obvious answer. The data centre must be seen as the solid foundation, and cloud reserved as a platform to manage ambiguity and uncertainty.
At Tesco we are trying to extend this cloud and data centre experience into our stores, in order to ease navigation and interactivity, and to translate our extensive online product range in-store. The first task is to completely change the way that the CPU, supplied from the cloud or our data centre, is consumed on end-devices in a distributed environment.
A few years ago Tesco embarked on a programme to help achieve this goal, named ‘Consolidate, Centralise and Converge’. This project aimed to bring our whole network under one umbrella, making it much more cost-efficient and easier to operate.
A certain level of maturity and scale has now been attained in this process and the focus needs to change to preserve agility. Our IT estate must be dealt with in a completely different way as suddenly everything has been brought together and our systems have become much bigger with greater, more concentrated, more critical compute power, and is therefore much harder to change. Our focus has therefore moved from ‘Consolidate, Centralise and Converge’ to ‘Speed, Scale and Data’.
Over the coming months we are building a private Platform as a Service (PaaS), skipping any need for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – which we have historically deployed in creating a number of internal portals. Now however we want to go straight to a scaled PaaS to deliver greater benefits.
We are also right in the middle of re-platforming store connectivity. Over the next 18 months, we will be improving the network in all of our stores to deliver 40 times greater bandwidth, and decrease latency.
Mobile phone infrastructure has developed the most within our ecosystem and is the main consumer of our data centre and cloud services. In order to enable our in-store customers to access and consume our cloud and data centre through their mobile phones, we must also step change connectivity particularly for mobile phones, improving connectivity and introducing 4G across thousands of stores.
Tesco has a huge security agenda – I am dedicated to ensuring that our systems are safe for customer use, as well as secure for Tesco itself and my colleagues. In the past, our network has never been exposed to external parties and has very much been treated as a closed system. Now, however, we are delivering more and more from our data centre and cloud capabilities.
Green credentials are also prioritised in the same way that security is in Tesco’s digital strategy. Companies do not need to be building programmes to protect the ozone layer or save the polar bears, but I do believe that respect for the environment must be in a business’ DNA.
Obviously, there are many challenges that have to be overcome in the ‘Speed, Scale and Data’ programme. As I have mentioned, issues around latency and bandwidth must be smoothed, but I would say that relevance and cost are the two main points of address. It is of upmost importance that our new technology solutions are both relevant to business goals and are affordable.
Without a doubt the maturity of the IT community is exciting, but this excitement does not mean that new developments are necessarily the right solutions or the right cost. Businesses must find use cases for individual technologies and create a hybrid environment with old and new systems running alongside each other. We have to create a positive tension whereby existing infrastructure delivers confidence, predictability, and stability, while new technologies broaden horizons, speed up workloads, and provide opportunities to scale.