Data Enabler VoltDB Takes Stock Of Retailers’ Evolving Inventory Needs

BOPIS – buying online and picking up in the store – is quick and easy for customers, offering the best of both worlds: They can browse to their heart’s content on the device of their choice, and then, instead of waiting five to seven days for shipping, they can pick up the purchase the same day.

It has advantages for retailers, too. BOPIS empowers them to offer the best shopping experience, including the potential for impulse buys and up-selling, with a hybrid online-offline model.

But BOPIS also creates challenges. How can brick-and-mortar locations ensure they have enough inventory – and the right inventory – to keep up with demand? Online orders move faster than the postal service, with the potential for hundreds or thousands of queries per second. Stock the wrong quantities and unpopular items can start to linger, eating up shelf space as in-demand items sell out.

Data Enabler VoltDB helps retailers carry that load, with broad, deep, and most importantly, fast data reporting that enables them to adapt to fluctuating inventory needs on the fly. Flipkart, the largest online retailer in India, relies on this Data Enabler to track and manage inventory in real time.

VoltDB’s cloud-friendly, in-memory database also enables companies in the telecommunications, financial services, ad technology, gaming and other sectors to meet data management challenges posed by the fast-evolving Internet of Things.

PYMNTS caught up with Dennis Duckworth, senior director of product marketing, to find out how VoltDB is supporting retailers and others to keep up in the digital world.


PYMNTS: Can you explain the business please?

DD: VoltDB is an in-memory database for application modernization initiatives requiring an unprecedented combination of data scale, volume and accuracy. It supports all three modern application data requirements:

  1. Millions – VoltDB processes a relentless volume of data points from users and data sources.
  2. Milliseconds – VoltDB ingests, analyzes and acts on data faster than the blink of an eye.
  3. 100 percent accuracy –  Data managed by VoltDB is always accurate, all the time, for all decisions.

PYMNTS: How does your business overlap with the payment processing or e-merchant world?

DD: As commerce speeds up and continues to become more virtualized, retailers need to speed up their inventory management and order fulfillment systems to stay competitive with e-tailers. A recent trend in retail is the increased use of buy online and pickup in store (BOPIS).

The traditional retail model allows for some supply to run out, but the BOPIS model requires there to always be enough items at the closest location to the customer. Today’s customers want fast, or even same-day, fulfillment. Online retailers need to know what they have, where it is and how much of it they have – whenever an order comes in. Traditional systems are just not fast enough to keep pace with the needs of customers.

Implementing a just-in-time inventory management system enables retailers to supply just enough items to each store. An advanced inventory management system will automatically track orders, trigger real-time alerts to replenish products and use customer data to predict demand and necessary inventory.

VoltDB has been proven in real-time BOPIS environments. Designed for high performance, VoltDB’s cloud-friendly architecture provides retailer infrastructures with high availability, redundancy and fault tolerance, all while being fully ACID compliant.

PYMNTS: Can you give the history on the founding and launch of the company?

DD: VoltDB is the commercial implementation of H-Store, an academic research project led by Dr. Michael Stonebraker (winner of the ACM Turing award) and a group of researchers which included Dan Madden, Stan Zdonik, Sam Abadi, Pat Helland and Andy Pavlo. Started in 2007, VoltDB’s first commercial release was in 2010.

PYMNTS: Why was the company founded? What was the grand idea that sparked it?

DD: VoltDB was designed to address the shortcomings of traditional online transaction processing (OLTP) systems. With VoltDB, Stonebraker and his team were able to eliminate performance issues such as latching and locking, buffer management and transaction management. VoltDB was built to bring speed, scalability and performance to modern operational applications.

PYMNTS: Can you give me some personnel growth numbers? 

DD: John Hugg is the founding engineer. The company now has 54 employees.

PYMNTS: What’s the company culture like?

DD: Collaborative and open.

PYMNTS: Can you show me some data or proof points on how the company has helped retailers?

DD: Connexity (formerly Shopzilla), Flipkart and other eCommerce and retail providers use VoltDB to provide the necessary insights for marketers to build stronger relationships with their customers. Their solutions connect buyers and sellers throughout their path to purchase and enable smarter marketing at every step.

PYMNTS: Looking back since founding, what has been the proudest moment for the organization?

DD: In 2016, VoltDB version 6.4 passed the Jepsen Test. Jepsen is famous in the database industry for finding undiscovered problems with distributed systems. There are few tests as recognizable as Jepsen in our community. VoltDB passed the most stringent Kyle Kingsbury, creator of the Jepsen test, has created.

PYMNTS: What has been the biggest hurdle? How did the company overcome?

DD: Fast, early customer wins gave us a distorted view of where we fit in the market. Technical pioneers saw that VoltDB was unique in its speed, scalability and predictable low latency, and they used it for things we hadn’t expected, which was difficult to replicate in the following years.

We did a detailed analysis of our customers, their industries and their use cases and refocused our strategy to attract and land similar customers in our major industries (Telco, FinServ, AdTech, Gaming, and IoT), while giving others the ability to try and use VoltDB in a more self-service model, freeing up our resources to concentrate on our focus areas.

PYMNTS: What is next? What does the future look like?

DD: We’re excited to work with more companies across a variety industries, including retail, to provide the foundation for industry-leading database solutions. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Internet of Things and virtualization are going to be game-changing, and we’re ready to help companies with their application modernization.

For retail specifically, the top performers are going to be the retailers who leverage the power of fast data to drive their business. On the retailer’s end, that means faster order processing and fulfillment, both of which require fast, accurate data.

However, the real modernization of retail relies on other industries. For example, programmatic or native advertising for the newest product. Or pushing coupons to a customer’s phone depending on what product they’re looking at. Or enabling fast, secure mobile payment, to eliminate the checkout counters of yesteryear. Or even virtual retail environments.

No matter the retail solution, VoltDB’s fast transactional database will be the best way to power it.