Woolworths is preparing for Amazon's arrival in Australia by hooking up with Microsoft

Woolworths online. (Source: Microsoft Australia blog)

Long before Facebook and iPhones, grocery giant Woolworths had an online shopping service. But after 18 years of selling online, and with Amazon busily preparing for an Australian assault, the supermarket chain has revealed how it has partnered with Microsoft to modernise its back-office.

On the first day of Microsoft’s developer conference Ignite held on the Gold Coast, Woolworths announced that it had decommissioned its in-house technology infrastructure in favour of moving its systems into Microsoft Azure data centres.

Woolworths customer technology general manager Sujeet Rana said that outsourcing to the Microsoft cloud would allow it to focus on the online shopping experience, rather than spending energy keeping infrastructure running.

“[Infrastructure is] not the area that provides us with our competitive advantage. By using Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure and tools, more of our teams’ energy and time can be focused on the areas that do – whether they be the application layer, system performance or user experience,” he said.

The news comes as Woolworths and other Australian incumbents brace for multinational Amazon’s possible arrival this year into the local retail scene. With threats to “destroy” the competition by undercutting to the tune of 30%, local rivals have been compelled to streamline their operations to compete.

Rana said that the supermarket just successfully pulled off its first Christmas shopping season on Azure, and feels “confident” that the Microsoft cloud can handle its daily demands “without requiring direct intervention”.

“It happened to be our busiest Christmas period ever. For Woolworths, using technology like Azure that allows the systems to blend into the background and allow customers to focus instead on the shopping experience,” he said.

Amazon, as well as its online shopping market, has its own cloud service, Amazon Web Services, which competes with Microsoft Azure. Both Amazon and Microsoft operate data centres on Australian soil.

Woolworths assured customers that their data is safe on the cloud, citing Azure SQL Database’s Transparent Data Encryption (TDE) and regular cycles of penetration tests conducted with the Microsoft team.

Rana added that hosting systems on the cloud means that computing power can be automatically scaled up when there are a lot of customers logging on – something that was impossible with in-house infrastructure.

The Ignite conference saw Microsoft’s global cloud boss Scott Guthrie deliver a keynote this morning in front of more than 2,500 tech professionals. The annual event runs through Friday.

The journalist travelled to the Gold Coast courtesy of Microsoft.

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