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Wal-Mart Backs Node.js for Mobile Apps

The big news at last week's Node Summit was, arguably, Microsoft's full-tilt support of the server-side JavaScript development environment. But it might turn out to be the endorsement of giant retailer Wal-Mart that marks the tipping point in its evolution. Wal-Mart's vice president for mobile engineering, Ben Galbraith, and its VP of mobile architecture, Dion Almaer, told conference attendees how the company is using this relatively new (three-years-old) technology in its mobile applications.

The problem the company faced, providing a Web site that would be rich and dynamic on devices that weren't very powerful, is a common one in the enterprise, Galbraith said. Node solves that problem, he said, by allowing his team to deliver sophisticated features to mobile users on the client side. All front-end code in Wal-Mart's mobile app is now executed on the back end.

"We're excited to have a viable back end for that," Galbraith said. "That's why Node really excited us, and at Wal-Mart, we're doing a lot with that kind of architecture right now."

"We rely on services all over the world," Almaer added. "But we don't use all of those services. Node allows us to front all these services... and scale up very nicely. It's perfect for what we're doing in mobile."

The duo (and they are a team) said that they considered using HTML 5, but decided against it.

"We haven't seen people create what we want for retail in an HTML 5 app," Galbraith said. "For us, hybrid is more interesting in something like what the LinkedIn app has done. It's the same UI across all platforms, but it provides a native experience."

If you have any doubts about the potential impact of Wal-Mart's decision to embrace Node.js, consider its influence on RFID. In 2003 the company announced plans to roll out an RFID tagging program with its suppliers. As Mark Roberti put it in his recent analysis  of enterprise RFID deployments, "RFID is woven into the fabric of [Wal-Mart's] IT systems." A number of big retailers have followed Wal-Mart's example, including Macy's, which, earlier this month, announced that it would require clothing suppliers to apply passive ultrahigh-frequency RFID tags to items that account for about 30 percent of the company's sales.

BTW: Almaer and Galbraith founded the Ajaxian.


Posted by John K. Waters on January 30, 2012