Walmart goes to the cloud to close gap with Amazon

SAN BRUNO/SUNNYVALE, Calif. (Reuters) – One of Walmart Inc’s best chances at taking on Amazon.com Inc in e-commerce lies with six giant server farms, each larger than ten football fields.

These facilities, which cost Walmart millions of dollars and took nearly five years to build, are starting to pay off. The retailer’s online sales have been on a tear for the last three consecutive quarters, far outpacing wider industry growth levels.

Powering that rise are thousands of proprietary servers that enable the company to crunch almost limitless swathes of customer data in-house.

Most retailers rent the computing capacity they need to store and manage such information. But Walmart’s decision to build its own internal cloud network shows its determination to grab a bigger slice of online shopping, in part by imitating Amazon’s use of cloud-powered big data to drive digital sales.

The effort is helping Walmart to stay competitive with Amazon on pricing and to tightly control key functions such as inventory. And it is allowing the company to target shoppers with more customized offers and improved services, two top executives told Reuters in interviews at Walmart’s San Bruno and Sunnyvale campuses in California.

“It has made a big difference to how fast we can grow our e-commerce business,” said Tim Kimmet, head of cloud operations for Walmart.

He said Walmart, for example, is using cloud data to stock items frequently ordered by customers via voice shopping devices such as Google Home.

The network is helping the retailer improve its in-store operations as well. Using data gleaned from millions of transactions, the company sped up the process by which customers can return online purchases to their local stores by 60 percent. And Walmart can adjust prices at its physical locations almost instantly across entire regions.

“We are now able to execute change faster,” Jeremy King, Walmart’s chief technology officer, told Reuters. He added that Walmart can now make over 170,000 monthly changes to software that supports its website, compared to less than 100 changes previously.

To be sure, Walmart, the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, holds just a 3.6 percent share of the U.S. e-commerce market compared to Amazon’s 43.5 percent, according to digital research firm eMarketer.

Still, Walmart’s cloud effort is significant at a time when U.S. retail is undergoing immense disruption, and data-based decision making has become more important than ever to understand how shoppers make purchases.

Walmart employees work at the company’s network operations center in Sunnyvale, California, U.S. October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Nandita Bose

Walmart’s online revenue climbed 50 percent year-over-year during the third quarter, helping it post its strongest-ever quarterly growth since 2009.

“The battle between Walmart and Amazon has been playing out on all fronts and the cloud is the latest frontier,” said Kerry Liu, chief executive of Rubikloud Technologies, which offers artificial intelligence technology services to retailers.

EXCESS CAPACITY

The cloud initiative is but one of several steps Wal-Mart is taking to boost its e-commerce business. The company has expanded its online selection and acquired smaller e-commerce retailers. Walmart is offering free two-day shipping on orders of $35 or more, and it recently asked vendors to supply it with merchandise priced at $10 and up to help it turn a profit online.

Walmart has stored information in smaller internal data centers for years. And it uses public cloud storage for non-critical data. Most retailers rent server capacity offered by companies such as Amazon Web Services, Alphabet Inc’s Google, Microsoft Corp and IBM.

(For a graphic on big players in the cloud market, see tmsnrt.rs/2EYe9Ii)

But Walmart’s decision to build a network that is not reliant on a single third-party cloud technology provider has transformed its ability to understand shoppers, who now move between store, desktop, mobile and app to make purchases. About 80 percent of Walmart’s cloud network is now in-house.

Walmart’s Kimmet said security was another big factor behind the effort, enabling the retailer to better protect customer data. That secrecy extends to the locations of its six “mega clouds” or giant server farms, and 75 “micro clouds” whose locations the company declined to disclose publicly.

Walmart shareholders so far appear supportive of its cloud strategy. The company’s shares have risen 49 percent in the last 12 months, defying the broader retail sector downturn and outperforming the wider S&P 500 index, which has risen 14 percent over the same period.

Still, some investors have expressed concerns that Walmart’s approach will make it harder for the retailer to downsize if market conditions change significantly. A few of them told Reuters they would like to see Walmart commercialize its excess capacity, much as its rival Amazon has done.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) generated $18.34 billion in revenue in 2017 and has garnered 26 percent of the cloud market, according to estimates from Jefferies Group LLC.

“Walmart is very good at following Amazon’s innovations. Now they must find a way to monetize the cloud business they are building the way AWS did,” said Charles Sizemore, founder of Sizemore Capital Management LLC, who owns shares of Walmart.

Walmart’s Kimmet said the retailer has no immediate plans to provide cloud services for other companies. But he did not rule it out as a future revenue driver.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in San Bruno, Sunnyvale California; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and Marla Dickerson

IBM sues former HR boss hired by Microsoft

(Reuters) – International Business Machines Corp sued its former executive Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, who was named Microsoft Corp’s new chief diversity officer over the weekend, alleging violation of a one-year non-competitive agreement.

McIntyre, who “abruptly resigned to compete against IBM,” was in possession of highly confidential and sensitive information about IBM’s diversity strategies, hiring targets, technologies and innovations, IBM said in the lawsuit filed in a New York federal court on Monday.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours. McIntyre was not reachable for comment.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Judge Vincent Briccetti temporarily barred McIntyre from moving to Microsoft. bloom.bg/2svzK8k

IBM complained that McIntyre using and disclosing, whether intentionally or not, its confidential and sensitive information would place the company at a competitive disadvantage.

McIntyre was human resources VP and chief diversity office at IBM, according to her LinkedIn profile.

IBM said it sought to enforce McIntyre’s non-competition agreement for the 12-month period and recover from her the equity compensation she has forfeited by “violating her contractual duties” to IBM.

IBM’s diversity-related trade secrets are not valuable to Microsoft and McIntyre will not be able to use them in her new role, Bloomberg reported citing her lawyers.

Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier

​The most popular Linux desktop programs are…

Video: Barcelona: Bye Microsoft, hola Linux

LinuxQuestions, one of the largest internet Linux groups with 550,000 members, has just posted the results from its latest survey of desktop Linux users. With approximately 10,000 voters in the survey, the desktop Linux distribution pick was: Ubuntu.

While Ubuntu has long a been popular Linux distro, it hasn’t been flying as high as it once was. Now it seems to be gathering more fans again. For years, people never warmed up to Ubuntu’s default Unity desktop. Then, in April 2017, Ubuntu returned to GNOME for its default desktop. It appears this move has brought back some old friends and added some new ones.

An experienced Linux user who voted for it said, “I had to pick Ubuntu over my oldest favorite, Fedora. [That’s] Simply based on how quick and easy I can get Ubuntu set up after a clean install, so easy with the way they have it set up these days.”

Right behind Ubuntu was Linux Mint. Mint is a favorite for users who want an easy-to-use Linux desktop — or for users who want to switch over from Windows.

http://www.zdnet.com/article/the-most-popular-linux-desktop-programs-are/, followed closely by antiX. With either of these, you can run a high-quality Linux on PCs powered by processors as old as 1999’s Pentium III.

In the always hotly-contested Linux desktop environment survey, the winner was the KDE Plasma Desktop. It was followed by the popular lightweight Xfce, Cinnamon, and GNOME.

If you want to buy a computer with pre-installed Linux, the Linux Questions crew’s favorite vendor by far was System76. Numerous other computer companies offer Linux on their PCs. These include both big names like Dell and dedicated small Linux shops such as ZaReason, Penguin Computing, and Emperor Linux.

Many first choices weren’t too surprising. For example, Linux users have long stayed loyal to the Firefox web browser, and they’re still big fans. Firefox beat out Google Chrome by a five-to-one margin. And, as always, the VLC media player is far more popular than any other Linux media player.

For email clients, Mozilla Thunderbird remains on top. That’s a bit surprising given how Thunderbird’s development has been stuck in neutral for some time now.

When it comes to text editors, I was pleased to see vim — my personal favorite — win out over its perpetual rival, Emacs. In fact, nano and Kate both came ahead of Emacs.

There was, however, one big surprise. For the best video messaging application the winner was… Microsoft Skype. Now, Skype’s been available on Linux for almost a decade, and recently, Canonical made it easier than ever to install Skype on Linux. But, still, Skype on Linux?

Jeremy Garcia, founder of LinuxQuestions, thought the result might have come about because: “Video Messaging Application was a new category this year and participation was extremely low. Additionally, Secure Messaging Application was broken out into a separate category that had higher participation and resulted in a tie between Signal and Telegram.”

Of course, it’s also possible that even passionate Linux people can like a Microsoft product. After all, Microsoft now supports multiple Linux distributions on its Azure cloud.

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Alibaba signs deal to offer Disney shows on video platforms

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s entertainment arm has signed a licensing agreement with Walt Disney Co in a deal that will provide the Chinese group’s Youku video streaming platform with the largest Disney animation collection in China.

Alibaba said in a press release on Monday that the multi-year licensing agreement signed between Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment Group and Disney subsidiary Buena Vista International Inc will see more than 1,000 Disney episodes released on Alibaba platforms which include set-top boxes.

The deal comes as Disney has faced obstacles in getting digital television content into China. In 2016, its DisneyLife online content venture, which it launched with Alibaba, was shut down by Chinese regulators less than five months after operations began. The reason for the shutdown was not made public.

FILE PHOTO: The sign of Walt Disney Studios Park is seen at the entrance at Disneyland Paris ahead of the 25th anniversary of the park in Marne-la-Vallee, near Paris, France, March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

“The addition of Disney content greatly enriches the library of quality international content on Alibaba’s media and entertainment ecosystem, giving us a leading edge in foreign content distribution in China,” said Yang Weidong, president of Youku at Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment Group.

Alibaba did not disclose the value of the deal.

Youku reaches 580 million devices and gets about 1.2 billion views each day, according to Alibaba’s news website Alizila. It said the platform already has similar licensing deals with Warner Bros., Paramount, Fox, NBCUniversal and Sony Pictures Television, among others.

Reporting by Brenda Goh

Indonesia's Astra joins in fund raising for Go-Jek

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian conglomerate Astra International said on Monday it will invest $150 million in Go-Jek, joining the likes of Alphabet Inc’s Google in the ride-hailing start-up’s latest fundraising round.

Astra Chief Executive Prijono Sugiarto said the group had wanted to invest in Go-Jek for some time but had been looking for the right timing.

“We see that Go-Jek is special, its development is significant,” Sugiarto told a news conference.

The announcement comes weeks after sources told Reuters that Singapore state investor Temasek was also among those investing in Go-Jek as part of a $1.2 billion fundraising round.

The funding will help Go-Jek compete with deep-pocketed rivals as players rapidly expand their app-based services and digital payments in Southeast Asia.

Reporting by Cindy Silviana; Editing by Ed Davies and Gopakumar Warrier

McDonald's Just Did Something So Stunningly Strange That It'll Make You Wonder What's Coming Next

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

If there’s one thing McDonald’s wants you to think right now, it’s that it isn’t, you know, McDonald’s.

Not the old McDonald’s, that is.

Not the old, slightly worn, very predictable McDonald’s where the ice-cream machines rarely seemed to work.

The burger chain is trying all sorts of peculiar things to change its image.

It’s using, gasp, fresh beef. Or even no beef at all in its McVegan Burger.

But its latest foray into the unknown has a rather charming air about it.

McDonald’s, you see, is venturing into the area of, well, pretentiousness. 

You might think it unlikely or even a touch potty when I tell you that this is an ad campaign promoting the Big Mac x Bacon Limited Edition Collaboration in Canada.

But take a look and see if you find it refreshingly winning.

Here’s the Big Mac holding up a mirror to society, which, some might say, it’s been doing for a long time. 

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And here it is celebrating its sheer greatness.

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And then there’s the sense of exalted meaning that courses through every bite of a pickle-filled Big Mac. 

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What about the sense of existential harmony that pervades your Big Mac-eating experience?

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Perhaps these ads feel faintly silly.

For me, however, they show a certain courage and a willingness to shake previous negativity and rise to something slightly better. Or, at least, different.

There’s actually nothing special about this alleged collaboration at all. Anyone can ask for bacon to be added to their Big Mac.

But the attempts at wit offer a little confidence.

What’s most important for McDonald’s now — if it wants customers to reassess what they feel about a brand that’s being constantly challenged by fresher, younger competitors — is to revamp its products to create a true sense of surprise.

The problem, of course, is that McDonald’s is a huge company. 

Making the winds of change blow across the whole McDonald’s world will take a lot of doing. 

And a serious injection of, um, greatness. 

Games organizers confirm cyber attack, won't reveal source

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Pyeongchang Winter Olympics organizers confirmed on Sunday that the Games had fallen victim to a cyber attack during Friday’s opening ceremony, but they refused to reveal the source.

The Games’ systems, including the internet and television services, were affected by the hack two days ago but organizers said it had not compromised any critical part of their operations.

“Maintaining secure operations is our purpose,” said International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams.

“We are not going to comment on the issue. It is one we are dealing with. We are making sure our systems are secure and they are secure.”

Asked if organizers knew who was behind the attack, Adams said: “I certainly don’t know. But best international practice says that you don’t talk about an attack.”

The Winter Games are being staged only 80km (50 miles) from the border with North Korea, which is technically still at war with the South since their 1950-1953 war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

The two teams marched together at an Olympics opening ceremony for the first time since 2006.

South Korea has been using the Pyeongchang Games to break the ice with the reclusive North, which has been trading nuclear threats with the United States recently.

“All issues were resolved and recovered yesterday morning,” Pyeongchang organizing committee spokesman Sung Baik-you told reporters.

“We know the cause of the problem but that kind of issues occurs frequently during the Games. We decided with the IOC we are not going to reveal the source (of the attack),” he told reporters.

Russia, which has been banned from the Games for doping, said days before the opening ceremony that any allegations linking Russian hackers to attacks on the infrastructure connected to the Pyeongchang Olympic Games were unfounded.

“We know that Western media are planning pseudo-investigations on the theme of ‘Russian fingerprints’ in hacking attacks on information resources related to the hosting of the Winter Olympic Games in the Republic of Korea,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

“Of course, no evidence will be presented to the world.”

Cyber security researchers said in January they had found early indications that Russia-based hackers may be planning attacks against anti-doping and Olympic organizations in retaliation for Russia’s exclusion from the Pyeongchang Games.

Stakeholders of the Olympics have been wary of the threat from hacking and some sponsors have taken out insurance to protect themselves from a cyber attack. [nL4N1PX1HV]

Editing by Peter Rutherford

Exclusive: BMC Software explores IPO: sources

(Reuters) – U.S. business software company BMC Software Inc [BSII.UL] is holding conversations with investment banks about an initial public offering (IPO) that could value it at more than $10 billion, including debt, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The move comes as the private equity firms that control BMC – Bain Capital and Golden Gate Capital – consider ways to start cashing out on their investment after taking the company private in 2013 in a $6.9 billion leveraged buyout.

BMC has held discussions with banks in recent weeks about appointing underwriters for an IPO, the sources said. The timing of the IPO has not been decided, and the deliberations have not been affected by this week’s stock market volatility, the sources added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. BMC did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Bain and Golden Gate declined to comment.

Based in Houston, BMC provides software that helps corporations organize their information technology management functions. It generated revenue of $1.8 billion for the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, according to Moody‘s.

BMC has been facing increasing competition from so-called software-as-a-service technology rivals, and last year explored a merger with peer CA Inc (CA.O). That deal fell through over challenges in agreeing upon debt financing terms, sources said at the time.

BMC’s mainframe software business is estimated to generate approximately half of the company’s operating profit and cash flow, yet it is a flat to modestly declining business, Moody’s said in a research note in November.

January was the strongest month for IPOs on record in terms of proceeds, however IPO activity was blunted this week by wild swings in the U.S. stock market. The receptivity of the IPO market will hinge on such volatility subsiding.

Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New YorkEditing by Matthew Lewis

Amazon Studios Taps NBC Entertainment’s Jennifer Salke to Succeed Roy Price

Amazon has named a new head for its television and film production unit nearly four months after the departure of former studio head Roy Price amid sexual harassment allegations.

To fill that role, Amazon has tapped NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, who will now report to Jeff Blackburn, Amazon’s senior vice president of business development and digital entertainment. Salke, who joined Comcast-owned NBC in 2011, helped the network revamp its TV lineup in recent years with popular series such as the critically-acclaimed drama This Is Us and the singing competition The Voice. In a statement on Friday, Amazon’s Blackburn said that Salke has “built an impeccable reputation as a big leader who emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and teamwork.”

Amazon did not say exactly when Salke would start her new position, but she will be taking over for Amazon Studios COO Albert Cheng, who has served as interim head of the studio since Price was forced out in October over accusations that he sexually harassed producer Isa Hackett. Price had overseen Amazon’s entry into the streaming entertainment market, helping to build it’s Hollywood arm into a competitor of traditional film studios as well as rival streamers like Netflix, with Amazon Studios spending roughly $4.5 billion annually on original programming. Price oversaw Amazon’s acquisition of award-winning TV series such as Transparent as well as independent films like Manchester by the Sea, which won the studio its first-ever Academy Awards last year.

Price resigned in October, the same month that several allegations against Harvey Weinstein led to the Hollywood mogul’s ouster from The Weinstein Company. Those allegations against Weinstein kicked off a wave of backlash against sexual misconduct by powerful men in Hollywood and helped lead to the “Me Too” movement and the Time’s Up campaign against harassment in the entertainment industry.

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Immediately after Price’s departure, Amazon had already been rumored to be dead-set on hiring a female replacement, with potential candidates reportedly including Salke as well as Paramount TV president Amy Powell, Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden, and A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc, among others.

In her own statement, Salke said that she is “incredibly excited” about heading up Amazon Studios. “In the studio’s relatively short existence they have innovated, disrupted, and created characters that are already an indelible part of pop-culture,” she said. “I am both honored and emboldened by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary business.”

In addition to Price’s departure last fall, a handful of other TV and film executives have left Amazon in recent months, including former original TV series head Joe Lewis. The studio had faced criticism over the past year for failing to deliver a breakout hit TV series, with Price and his fellow executives even reportedly passing on popular and critically-acclaimed series like The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies, which went on to rack up awards for rivals Hulu and HBO, respectively.

None other than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly said last year that he wants Amazon’s studio to develop a global TV hit on the scale of HBO’s Game of Thrones. As such, Amazon reportedly agreed to pay a whopping $250 million to land the global television rights to the classic The Lord of the Rings fantasy novel series, with plans to produce a “multi-season” TV series based on the books for Prime subscribers and the potential for additional spin-off series. Meanwhile, just this week, Amazon was reported to be developing a new TV series featuring the Conan the Barbarian character once portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen.

U.S. Olympic Curler Is Reminding Everyone of ‘Super Mario’

The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have a surprise participant: a Mario lookalike.

TV viewers watching U.S. curling team members Matt Hamilton and his sister Becca noticed something interesting about him: He looked an awful lot like Mario, the famed character from Nintendo’s popular Super Mario video game franchise.

A Twitter user shared the observation on Wednesday by saying that Hamilton, wearing a red shirt and red hat while sporting a mustache, looked like the Nintendo protagonist. Whoever manages the U.S. Olympic Team’s Twitter account saw the tweet and challenged followers to “spot the difference” between the curler and Mario. The tweet included a picture of Hamilton and Mario, side-by-side.

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Hamilton, who along with his sister also holds the distinction of winning the first Olympic mixed doubles curling match in history, hasn’t mentioned the Mario jokes directly. He did, however, retweet the U.S. Olympics tweet on Wednesday.

Hamilton is the first of what will likely be many stories coming out of the Pyeongchang Games, which holds its opening ceremony on Friday. But it’s hard to believe we’ll find another Mario lookalike at this year’s games. Would a Luigi lookalike be too much to ask for, though?

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