Wal-Mart CTO details HP data warehouse move

Hewlett-Packard Co. shook up the business intelligence world Wednesday when it announced that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had added HP’s new data warehouse technology to its IT landscape.

Wal-Mart, which is thought to run the largest data warehouse in the world, has been a long-time customer of NCR’s Teradata Corp., and HP’s Neoview technology was just publicly announced in April.

In an interview today, Nancy Stewart, Wal-Mart’s chief technology officer, said that the Neoview technology will augment the company’s existing Teradata data warehouse and will be used to perform analysis needed for queries from suppliers. “We gave them no breaks in terms of our expectations for them to run in production, [and] they held up to it,” she said. “It had to run in production just like any of our other systems before we would support it.”

The Neoview offering, which began shipping in October — months before the company began publicizing the technology — integrates data warehousing hardware, software and services. HP developed it as part of an internal effort to consolidate more than 700 data marts into an enterprise data warehouse, with high availability the main criteria for the new system, Stewart added.

“I was adamant that it had to perform and have the highest availability because we run at 100 percent availability,” Stewart said. “It had to run the queries and have the same response time as all other systems. We could not favor it in terms of giving it extra capacity to have the same response time as other queries.”

Stewart added that Wal-Mart is satisfied that Neoview is up to handling a “blitz day” like the day after Thanksgiving and “pump out the queries so we can get through that 24-hour period with flawless execution.” Wal-Mart handles approximately 800 million transactions daily.

A representative from HP said Wednesday that Wal-Mart also was attracted to Neoview’s “next generation business intelligence” features such as support for operational BI, where analysis is embedded directly into a worker’s process. But Stewart declined to comment on how the technology might be used in next-generation BI projects. Wal-Mart, like many others in the highly competitive retail industry, historically has been reluctant to talk about its data warehousing and BI projects.

Stewart did say that Wal-Mart’s biggest BI challenge today is the massive amount of data it has to analyze. “We have so much data that you really have to think about how you want to do the analysis and assessment against that amount of data,” she said.

HP unveiled its entry into the BI arena in January with the formation of the Business Information Optimization unit in its HP Software division. The new unit oversees HP’s business intelligence and information management offerings.

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