If artificial intelligence lives up to the hype and becomes the most important aspect of cloud computing over the next several years, Walmart wants to make sure it’s prepared.
The retailer is planning to build a neural network cluster based on Nvidia’s AI chips over the rest of the year, according to Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdry, as reported by Barron’s. The cluster will allow Walmart’s OneOps team, which builds and maintains the company’s internal application development system, to build a series of neural networks in order to train AI systems within current and future applications.
AI could become a huge differentiating factor in the retail stores of the future, and it’s one big reason why Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion this year. Whole Foods gives Amazon Web Services’ artificial intelligence team reams of data on shopper behavior to study and train its own AI systems, and AWS will be able to use Whole Foods stores to test drive AI-related services that could eventually become part of the core AWS product lineup.
Walmart, of course, has a rather difficult relationship with Amazon. Not only are the two companies locked in fierce competition for retail spending in the U.S. and beyond, but Walmart is reportedly telling its suppliers to run their applications on any cloud other than AWS. The problem is that there are only a handful of companies that can compete at the highest levels of artificial intelligence research, and Walmart isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Baidu, Facebook, and others.
Still, this is what Walmart Labs was created to do: bring the dominant retailer of the 20th century into the digital world as quickly and efficiently as possible. Walmart Labs acquired OneOps in 2013, and released an open-source version of the platform-as-a-service technology last year.
Chowdry said Walmart’s AI network would be about a tenth the size of Amazon’s, but you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s also another feather in Nvidia’s cap, as leading AI researchers continue to put its chips at the heart of their workloads.