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What eBay looks like under the hood

Eric Knorr | July 1, 2016
eBay CTO Steve Fisher offers a guided tour of the architecture, technologies, and best practices of one of the world's largest e-commerce operations

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

What eBay looks like under the hood

The Internet giants, from Google to Facebook to Amazon to Twitter to eBay, lead the way in enterprise technology. Their enormous scale presents them with problems that require new solutions and compel them to squeeze maximum utilization from their infrastructure.

That's one reason I jump at the chance to see what these operations look like under the hood. What can enterprises learn from their advances? At the same time, it's important to remember that the Internet giants tend to focus their technology development and maintenance efforts on a single, hyperscale application.

As eBay CTO Steve Fisher put it in a recent interview with InfoWorld, in contrast to enterprise IT, "We're not supporting the business -- we are the business." The whole company is focused on this gargantuan e-commerce site's road map and how it should be implemented.

How the monster app lives

Like most mammoth e-commerce operations, eBay uses microservices architecture rather than a monolithic design. Fisher says eBay runs more than 1,000 services, with "front-end experiences that call the APIs for those services...There's a back-end service for shipping, a back-end service for every job." The "experiences" he refers to are Web, native iOS, and native Android apps, all of which call intermediate orchestration services that then talk to back-end services

Each development team is responsible for its own set of services. When a team wants to spin up a new service, it uses an internal cloud portal to provision dev/test, staging, and production servers.

"We'll spin up a continuous integration environment for them and, basically, you tell us what you want. You push a button, and within our internal cloud across the various security zones that we have, we will give you the infrastructure that you need," says Fisher. "Then basically the team manages that infrastructure."

This service orientation removes unnecessary dependencies and makes it easier to divide the work to make improvements and add new functionality. At an operation like eBay, that sort of activity never stops.

Taking search to the next level

According to Fisher, eBay is in the middle of a "transformation on the technology side."

The most important current initiative goes to the heart of the eBay value proposition from the beginning: the concept of a listing. With 800 million items for sale at any given time, "we've given the people listing those things the flexibility to describe them as they deem appropriate." But that flexibility has always had some drawbacks for buyers. Fisher provides an example:

We may have 20,000 iPhones 5s -- 64GB, slate gray, AT&T -- on eBay for sale but we haven't really been able to, in the past, connect them all together so that we knew that these were all actually the same thing ... We have millions of great deals ... but it's difficult to identify a great deal when we don't know that these 20,000 iPhones are actually the same thing.


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