Big Data at Sears

Sears plus Kmart belong to Sears Holdings, whose goal is to get closer to its customers and increase customer loyalty. That requires big time data analytics capabilities for consumer behavior. While revenue at Sears has declined from $50B in 2008 to $42B in 2011, rivals like Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon have grown steadily with better profits. Amazon’s business  has grown from $19B in revenue in 2008 to $48B in 2011, passing Sears for the first time.

Sears used IMS (IBM’s first generation database product) on mainframe plus Teradata. Its ETL process using IBM DataStage software on a cluster of distributed servers took 20 hours to run. Since their adoption of Hadoop back in 2010, one of the steps (taking 10 hours out of the 20 hours) ran at 17 minutes. Their slogan is “ETL must die”, as they would like to load raw data directly to Hadoop. The old systems consisted of EMC Greenplum, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle Exadata (four boxes) for analytical workload. That is all being replaced by Hadoop, Datameer, MySQL, and InfoBright. Teradata is staying.

Sears’ process for analyzing marketing campaigns for loyalty club members used to take six weeks on mainframe, Teradata, and SAS servers. The new process running on Hadoop can be completed weekly. For certain online and mobile commerce scenarios, Sears can now perform daily analyses. The Hadoop systems at 200 Terabytes cost about one-third of 200-TB relational platforms. Mainframe costs have been reduced by more than $500K per year while delivering 50-100 times better performance on batch jobs. The volume of data on Hadoop is currently at 2 Petabytes. As the CTO says, Hadoop is no longer a science project at Sears – critical reports run on the platform, including financial analyses; SEC reporting; logistics planning; and analysis of supply chains, products, and customer data. Sears uses Datameer, a spread-sheet style tool that supports data exploration and visualization directly on Hadoop. It claims to develop interactive reports in 3 days that used to take 6 to 12 weeks before.

Sears has actually spun off a new subsidiary called MetaScale to offer cloud services to other retailers with Hadoop platform. They are leveraging their three years of acquired expertise in Hadoop to make money in analytic services. There are many open questions on whether Hadoop will be that platform that brings big success to Sears in the future.

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