Ocado expands public cloud use with Google Compute Engine

Ocado has expanded its relationship with Google to use Compute Engine for its warehouse robotics applications, as the retail delivery and logistics outfit seeks to move more of its production processes into the public cloud.

Ocado has been a Google customer for a number of years and is one of the only IT vendors that the company deals with directly.  Unlike most firms, Ocado develops nearly all of its IT in-house, employing an army of 340 developers to build and maintain its systems.  Other than Oracle databases, operating systems and developer tools the only off the shelf software used by Ocado is the Google Enterprise technologies.

“Right the way from the web shop and mobile apps, through all the middleware, right down to the low level control systems that drive parts of the warehouse, and even everything in between, it is all written in-house,” Ocado’s head of IT, Paul Clarke told ComputerworldUK.

Ocado’s main data centre is at its headquarters in Hatfield, just outside of London, and the firm has smaller server rooms in its new Dorden warehouse.  In these warehouses goods are packaged and assigned to delivery to different parts of the UK, before being sent out for delivery by van, or to other smaller distribution centres. The warehouse control systems used for Ocado’s logistics operation are all written in Java, with some C# on top of middleware such as Apache ActiveMQ.  Simulation, mathematical modelling and optimisation systems for its warehouse IT are also developed in-house.

Knowing that almost every line of code is owned by the company is crucial due to Ocado’s “unique business model, and allows the firm to run a 24/7 operation without worrying about external providers to ensure high levels of system availability.

Ocado’s technology, which supports all aspects of goods delivery from retailer to customers, is seen as the company’s main selling point, and its IP is central to its recent deal to deliver on behalf of supermarket Morrisons. There have also been suggestions from analysts recently that Amazon should look at buying up the logistics provider in order to support it own forays into selling groceries in the US.

According to Clarke, the relationship with Google is helping enable the firm to continuing its growth, and support its ambitions to move into new markets abroad by moving more of its systems into the cloud.

“We have made it clear we have aspirations beyond these shores, and that the reason we have invested so much in building our own IT solutions is to be able to do what we do in other countries,” he said.

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