Albert Heijn (AH) is the Netherlands’ largest Food and Technology company
Part of Ahold Delhaize, one of the largest retail groups in the world,
Albert Heijn is the Netherlands’ largest supermarket chain. It uses MongoDB Atlas for over 50 microservices that support customer-facing applications, such as their digital receipts. This app gives customers real-time and historical insight into their purchases after paying in-store. MongoDB Atlas is reducing operational overheads through lower maintenance and database administration while enabling faster time to market for new projects, making developers happier and more productive and making savings of 25% per year.
Enabling database evolution
Founded in 1887, Albert Heijn (AH) is the Netherlands’ largest Food and Technology company – a supermarket chain with over 1,000 locations and a thriving online presence. AH relies on constant innovation to attract and retain customers in a competitive market where low-cost and digital native alternatives are always putting pressure on traditional supermarkets. AH also prides itself on continual operational improvement and seamless omnichannel engagement – none of which is possible without a team of dedicated and talented developers.
AH had been using containerization and localized, on-premise instances of MongoDB for almost ten years to stay one step ahead. The company’s autonomous teams are empowered to choose the right tool for the right job, and had initially chosen MongoDB because of its flexible, scalable approach to databases. In 2020 it decided to migrate fully to a Microsoft Azure cloud environment, partly driven by a fivefold increase in online shopping during the first COVID-19 lockdown. This involved migrating its MongoDB databases as part of the process, which would entail some manual scripting. The company wanted to automate the process, introduce new features and ensure cloud-agnosticism so it turned to MongoDB Atlas. “Having worked with MongoDB for so long and been impressed by its capabilities, Atlas was the natural choice. We also needed its latest and greatest features, scalability and flexibility. At the same time, there is practically zero maintenance, so our development team is free to focus on more rewarding and valuable tasks,” explains Bart Rijnders, Site Reliability Lead, Albert Heijn. “We knew what we were getting, having used MongoDB for a long time.”
Digital Receipts provide customers with real-time and historical insight into their purchases after paying in-store.
AH worked with MongoDB Professional Services to migrate the services associated with the native, on-premise MongoDB databases. Together, they closely collaborated to ensure a seamless migration. From there, AH handled everything in-house – integrating the Atlas control panel with Terraform, configuring and syncing production.
“Migration was simple. It took just two weeks to get the infrastructure set up and then we were able to sync each of our databases in a single morning. This is because MongoDB has a large and vibrant community of developers and ecosystem of partners around it which has plenty of tools such as Terraform and MongoMirror. Terraform is a key feature AH uses to automate the process at no extra cost, and MongoMirror makes migration easy,” continues Rijnders.
“Now, we use MongoDB Atlas as both a staging area for other data and as a host for specific applications, such as Track and Trace which allows customers to follow their order status.”
MongoDB Atlas also provides the platform for AH’s latest innovation, Digital Receipts, which provides customers with real-time and historical insight into their purchases after paying in-store. Digital Receipts is 30 times the size of regular microservices databases accounts for over 300GB and handles over one million transactions every day. This is all scaled automatically so AH doesn’t need to worry about resizing. This is all scaled automatically so AH doesn’t need to worry about resizing.
“We have certain core principles, including aiming for 100 percent automation, and MongoDB Atlas plays a vital part in meeting that goal,” continues Rijnders. “Everything happens automatically.”
Albert Heijn also benefits from the reduced costs associated with moving from on-premises to the cloud.
Joost Hofman, Director Engineering Enablement, Albert Heijn
Courtesy of that inbuilt automation, including autoscaling and auto backup, MongoDB Atlas has eliminated a huge amount of the operational overhead. Developers can manage their own MongoDB Atlas instances and avoid bottlenecks, making them happier and more productive while bringing new projects to market more quickly. For example, because of their long experience with MongoDB, developers can now work more flexibly, spinning out local clusters via containers, conducting their work and then pushing it seamlessly to the cloud.
“We used to run ten MongoDB instances, which was easy to manage, but now we are up to 60 clusters. Previously that would have caused lots of problems as everything was filtered through one team,” comments Rijnders. “Now individual developers can control their own databases. At the same, with MongoDB Atlas we don’t need to beef up the operational team to cope with more clusters, which saves money.”
By avoiding the need for investing in additional resources, AH is saving around 25% per year, while certain internal resources can now be redeployed to focus on innovation rather than maintenance. The company also benefits from the reduced costs associated with moving from on-premises to the cloud. And, as noted previously, MongoDB Atlas is cloud-agnostic, giving AH long-term flexibility and freedom from lock-in for its cloud infrastructure.
“MongoDB has been our first choice for document storage for almost ten years and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” concludes Rijnders. “That is because it frees up our developers to focus on what they like doing rather than boring manual tasks via automation. It’s a future proof data platform which makes it easier for our developers to build new features around search and mobile, and saves a lot of code trying to do things like archiving.”
Bart Rijnders, Site Reliability Engineer, Albert Heijn