For retailers the buy-or-build cloud decision looms large

If you need proof that cloud deployment stories can touch off religious disputes, my recent report about @Walmartlabs deploying 100K cores of OpenStack to run the retail giant’s e-commerce operations is Exhibit A.

This is, by any measure, a massive private cloud, and some readers were incredulous that [company]Walmart[/company] would go this route instead of plying public cloud services. It’s the old build versus buy discussion all over again, with many of the participants weighing in on the “buy” side.

One reader, termed this decision “ridiculous,” pointing out that @walmartlabs has hired on 1,000 or so engineers over the past year — although no one said all those people were dedicated to building or maintaining the aforementioned OpenStack private cloud. Still the argument is, if you go with public cloud, you won’t need to bring that much expensive talent in house. Engineering talent is pricey, especially in Silicon Valley. @walmartlabs is headquartered in San Bruno, Calif.

Wal-Mart StoreHis opinion is that a big retail outfit is far better off using “out of the box” public cloud capabilities for much of its work rather than reinventing the wheel (or building its own cloud.) For this camp, Walmart’s decision to build a customizable and flexible cloud with OpenStack makes no sense.

On the other hand, private cloud (and OpenStack) proponents noted joyously that Walmart’s work proves “private cloud deniers” wrong. (Does anyone else find that phrase disturbing? It brings to mind thought of climate change and holocaust deniers and seems to lack a sense of proportionality but back to the topic.)

Server Density CEO David Mytton, a buy sider, wrote about the Walmart private cloud here. Bottom line, he said Walmart is:

dedicating significant resources to building their own “private cloud” and although it’s true there is no specific vendor lock-in, they are locked into their own development. They’re competing in resources, talent and innovation against the public cloud providers (who have more resources to dedicate to engineering both product features and efficiency at scale).

Anybody but AWS?

Remember, given the competitive retail landscape, Walmart was hardly likely to run Amazon Web Services public cloud seeing as how Amazon.com is seen as Darth Vader by many of the rest of the retail universe. Target used Amazon.com (not AWS) for infrastructure but left the fold in 2011.

AWS would likely point out, if it were prone to comment on such things, that its cloud business is run as a separate entity than [company]Amazon.com[/company] — [company]Netflix[/company] is a huge customer after all and Amazon also runs Amazon instant video. But I’ve talked to other retailers who, off the record, will point to the political incorrectness of turning over key retail functions to Darth, er AWS.

Jeff Aden, co-founder of 2nd Watch, a systems integrator that works with customers to deploy AWS, said his company has several retail customers running on AWS, including Diane Von Furstenberg. Other AWS retail users include Gilt.com and Nordstrom Rack.

Mytton, conceded that AWS might be a tough sell for a big reseller to use, but why not throw in with [company]Google[/company] Cloud Platform or [company]Microsoft[/company] Azure? He points out that Ocado, the big British retailer is a Google cloud customer.

Last week I spoke with Sudhir Hasbe, director of software engineering BI and data services for Zulily, a members-only online fashion retailer that has fully embraced Google cloud services — BigQuery, Google Storage and Google Compute Engine. In this, Zulily is sort of a counter-narrative to the @Walmartlabs story.

Zulilly puts 9,000 new items on its site daily but wants to make sure it displays only the items that are relevant an potentially of interest to a given shopper. If you’re a woman who shops for herself and maybe a 6 year old boy, then she’ll see options for those demographics and not have to wade through the rest. “Search doesn’t work well in retail,” Hisbe said.

“For this we need the full big data platform so we can perform maximum data processing– what preferences do they have, what do they like. It also means when you have that much data, the whole supply chain side needs to consume it to make decisions,” he noted.

What’s nice about deploying Hadoop clusters on GCE, is that once the processing has run, the data is pushed into BigQuery where it’s available to all the business units and analysts, and the bill for Hadoop processing stops. The data is all stored in inexpensive Google Storage.

Anyway, feel free to comment on when and in what circumstances it makes sense to deploy public cloud or BYO private cloud. But please keep it polite.

Agree or not, Mark Cuban’s take on net neutrality is worth a listen

For those who missed, Mark Cuban visited the Structure Show last week to re-iterate/explain his thinking on net neutrality and why he thinks turning over internet governance to the FCC is a big mistake. Check it out below.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/193100656″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Walmart starts selling its Vudu Spark streaming stick for $25

Remember Walmart’s very own HDMI streaming stick, which I spotted in the FCC’s online database two months ago? Turns out Walmart already started selling it for just $24.95, and is now getting ready to make it more widely available.

Walmart’s Vudu video streaming service just added a dedicated section for the Vudu Spark, as the streaming stick is called, to its website that includes lots of details about the device. Vudu’s website states that the is “available only at Walmart.com and select Walmart locations.” I wasn’t able to find it on Walmart’s website just yet, but I would expect it to make an appearance shortly. A Walmart spokesperson told me that the company actually started selling it “in about 2400 Walmart stores” last month already.

Always low prices: Walmart is cutting costs on the Spark by not including a power adapter.

Always low prices: Walmart is cutting costs on the Spark by not including a power adapter.

Here are a few more details about the Spark, straight from Vudu.com: It’s a HDMI streaming stick that is controlled with a dedicated remote control and powered via USB. It looks like Walmart is only putting a USB cable but no power adapter in the box, so Spark owners will either have to use their TV’s USB port to power the device, or supply their own adapter. Connectivity is provided via 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, and it supports video resolutions of up to 1080p, and 7.1 surround sound.

As I predicted back in November, Vudu Spark is very much a one-trick pony. The user manual reveals that it only comes with Vudu’s app preloaded, and there is no mention of any way to load any additional apps. In fact, Vudu’s app launches automatically as soon as the device successfully connects to a Wifi network.

I’m honestly not sure how big of a market there is for a single-purpose streaming stick, but Walmart is pricing it pretty aggressively. Not only does it cost $10 less than Chromecast, the company is also offering new and existing customers up to $25 in Vudu credits for activating the stick.

This post was updated throughout at 3:36pm with additional information about availability and pricing.

Google’s Nexus Player Android TV streaming box about to go retail

It looks like Google is about to bring its Nexus Player streaming box to some online and brick-and-mortar retailers within the next few days: The Nexus Player as well as the optional Nexus Player gamepad, both of which are being manufactured by Asus, started to appear on Newegg’s website. The online electronics retailer still lists both as unavailable, with a release date of January 25.

nexus player at newegg

Newegg will sell the Nexus Player for $99.99, and the gamepad for $39.99, which is what Google is charging customers on Google Play as well. But it looks like Newegg won’t be the only retailer to sell the Android TV streaming box: On Reddit, two users are reporting that they have seen the device at their local Walmart. The Walmart website doesn’t list the player just yet, but it’s likely that it will make an appearance there within the next few days as well.

Google officially announced the Nexus Player in October, and started selling it through Google Play in November.  At CES, Razer showed off its own Android TV-powered streaming box, and Huawei has announced that it is going to make an Android TV streaming player while Sony, Sharp and TP Vision are all getting ready to sell TV sets powered by Android TV in the coming months.

I recently recorded a video of the Android TV experience on a Nexus Player — check it out below:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg4qaq2mteU]

Disney Movies Anywhere is coming to Walmart’s Vudu

Disney Movies Anywhere, the cloud locker service that recently expanded from iOS to Android, is coming to another major retailer: Disney CTO Jamie Voris announced at a company event in Los Angeles Friday that the service will launch with Walmart’s Vudu streaming service next Tuesday. This means that Vudu users who have linked their account with Disney Movies Anywhere will be able to access Disney titles they have previously bought via iTunes or Google Play through Vudu apps, and vice versa. Interestingly, Vudu is also the first retailer that has partnered with both Disney’s cloud locker and the Ultraviolet locker run by most other major studios.

Walmart starts selling Google’s Chromecast streaming stick

Google (S GOOG) just added another major retailer to distribute its Chromecast streaming stick: Walmart (S WMT) started selling Chromecast in its stores as well as online Monday. The addition of Walmart comes just days after news broke that Chromecast now also sells at Staples(s spls) as well as via Verizon’s(s vz)(s vod) and Motorola’s websites, and in time to make the device a big seller this holiday season.

Staples, RadioShack remove Amazon Lockers from their stores

Staples and RadioShack are both pulling Amazon Lockers, which allowed customers to pick up online purchases at their convenience, from their stores. It’s not that surprising: Other chains, like Walmart and Target, both stopped selling Kindle products last year.