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eBay's X.commerce changing ecommerce app development

eBay's X.commerce platform is trying to change the way developers and businesses do retail online.

Jeromy Carriere says he conceived the X.commerce platform on a napkin. A little more than a year later, that napkin has unfolded into an enormous fabric, encompassing a wide variety of ecommerce technologies.

I give [eBay] a great deal of credit in taking such a bold step in putting forth this type of platform.

Jeromy Carriere,
chief architect, X.commerce

eBay's X.commerce platform is an initiative for ecommerce developers and businesses, led by Chief Architect Carriere. It incorporates a range of commerce-related applications, from open source ecommerce platform Magento to online payment giant PayPal, with the goal of creating an all-encompassing ecosystem for anyone doing business online, and the developers who make it possible. Developers use the ecosystem to sell their own applications and build plug-ins to existing services like Magento or Businesses buy those applications and can benefit from third-party development of plug-ins.

The scope of the plan, its underlying technologies and a growing base of users and partners, is what led Fanplayr, a social couponing platform, to integrate into X.commerce.

"What I see it enabling for retailers is really the liberation of technology," Fanplayr Co-Founder and CMO Mark Schreiber said. "Whether they are Magento or Shopify or Demandware, they can leverage X.commerce and now integrate all these incredible technologies from vendors like Fanplayr without a high overhead."

X.commerce is built on the cloud using OpenStack and Cloud Foundry and is designed with developers in mind. Carriere talked up the relentless automation, openness, build-for-failure design and DevOps mindset of the fabric.

"I give [eBay] a great deal of credit in taking such a bold step in putting forth this type of platform," Carriere said.

The "bold step" impressed Schreiber and Fanplayr CEO Simon Yencken. Both said they were excited about the size of the X.commerce ecosystem and the speed at which it was growing.

"There's quite a big community of developers, solution providers and partners who are really part of this initiative," Yencken said. "Being part of that community, getting access to complementary services and products is a really big plus, and I can't think of an equivalent community within ecommerce."

What is Fanplayr getting out of X.commerce?

Fanplayr's couponing service is based around the idea of gamification. In an ecommerce context, that means they provide social "games" that consumers play to get offers or coupons. Merchants can use the service as a new way of reaching customers. The ability to find those new customers is why Fanplayr chose X.commerce, Schreiber said.

"It has accelerated our access to our target, which are Internet retailers. We've seen a phenomenal acquisition through our connection with X.commerce," he said, adding that Fanplayr has brought in hundreds of customers through X.commerce it wouldn't have found otherwise.

Yencken said Fanplayr found it easier to reach small to medium-sized retailers that are spending on IT, but aren't looking to compete with the large budgets of big retailers.

Ideas and trends behind the X.commerce fabric

The X.commerce fabric that attracted Fanplayr was designed from the ground up by Carriere. From the start, he focused on building a platform for the cloud, and that meant building a platform with failure in mind.

"We have to always be prepared for any given thing to fail," Carriere said. "There's no presumption in any of our application logic. None of our design principles admit the possibility that something can always be available."

While failure is planned for, Carriere said the system works to eliminate it through automation and the forced simplicity of NoSQL, a constrained data model.

"We've learned through hard-fought experience in building systems at scale that if you need a person to actually touch a server, touch a piece of application infrastructure, touch a firewall, touch a load balancer directly, you can't scale," he said.

All those principles combined with a growing network of developers and more than 100,000 merchants has given the platform a lot of momentum, which in turn gives developers the ability to work at high speed through continuous deployment (CD). Carriere sees CD as the logical extension of continuous integration (CI), meaning that anytime something is ready to be deployed, it is deployed.

"What that means for the way we build is, as any given component is checked through our source code control system, it goes through a CI test phase and then gets deployed into environments," he said.

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