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On the road to agile development

Building a comprehensive foundation for agile development with VMware Tanzu Kubernetes Grid

The famous Hong Kong jewelry brand Chow Sang Sang gets its name from the Chinese classic philosophy text, Book of Changes. It means "everything is repeated, and life is endless." Chow Sang Sang is passionate about jewelry, insisting not only on excellent quality, but also on instilling innovation and creativity. Over the past 80 years, Chow Sang Sang has made many breakthrough achievements, becoming the first jewelry company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (1973); the first jewelry brand to launch the Hello Kitty boutique Series (1997); and the first Hong Kong jewelry company to establish a brand website and online store (2001).

Online sales channels are critical to Chow Sang Sang. The company actively participates in e-commerce platforms such as Tmall and Jingdong. In 2017, its online sales continued to grow, reaching 14% of mainland sales. In 2018, Chow Sang Sang began promoting digital transformation, teaming with VMware to build a comprehensive foundation for agile development by adopting the latest VMware Tanzu Kubernetes Grid. Chow Sang Sang intends for the Tanzu Kubernetes Grid containerised infrastructure to support physical stores and networks.

“Chow Sang Sang's digital transformation and cooperation with [VMware] is a milestone,” said Donald Mak, CIO of Chow Sang Sang. The company developed its website using SAP Hybris's standalone architecture 10 years ago, and recently, after almost a year, decided to implement their IT transformation plans. The Chow Sang Sang team constantly thinks about how to implement IT transformation. For the business transformation, IT capabilities are the core driver. Therefore, Chow Sang Sang works with VMware and Dell to establish a private cloud platform and seamlessly connect with the public cloud. With this, DevOps automation is realised, from software development to operation, and they can now fully automate and catch up with business transformation with agile IT.

Gold Jewlery. Display windows.
Photos by Chow Sang Sang

The challenge of digital transformation

Consumers are becoming savvier, mainly because of the existence of e-commerce channels. Mak explained that Chow Sang Sang began to actively enter the channels of Tmall,, and Vipshop 10 years ago. Sales achieved rapid growth, but it also brought challenges to offline channels. Since consumers can easily obtain product and price information from different e-commerce channels through mobile phones, they especially like to browse products online, go to physical stores to see products, listen to salespeople, and then go back to online channels to buy products. As a result, the salesperson who led the physical store did not have the motivation to attend to such customers.

By integrating the physical store sales process, tracking online sales results, and calculating the offline store contribution rate in a sales process, offline stores can also share online sales results, which is part of the new omnichannel concept proposed by Chow Sang Sang.

Mak believes that omnichannel coverage goes beyond integrating the physical stores with online stores. Rather, true omnichannel coverage requires the company's IT to be more agile and deliver business changes. Also, e-commerce partners are in a state of rapid change. For example, JD's unbounded retail also requires the cooperation of physical stores, and Chow Sang Sang's IT becomes more agile. On Chow Sang Sang's official website, you can also achieve the "Monthly Money," part of the internal CRM system. These internal- and external-facing systems need to integrate, but remain loosely coupled to avoid painful upgrade processes. Therefore, the ever-changing business and IT needs of shopping, online stores, and CRM systems require a microservices architecture. This is the main reason for choosing VMware Tanzu Kubernetes Grid, and seamlessly opening the private cloud through the Tanzu Kubernetes Grid and VMware Tanzu Application Service. With the public cloud platform, it connects its business system with the e-commerce business system to meet the rapidly changing needs of the business.

Chow Sang Sang’s digital transformation and cooperation with [VMware] is a milestone.”
Donald Mak, CIO, Chow Sang Sang

“All-channel” IT platform

Chow Sang Sang is building a new generation of omnichannel sales of physical and online stores, which correspondingly requires the company's IT to become an "all-channel" platform to achieve agile IT and support agile business. Because it used to be a standalone system, Chow Sang Sang also needs to establish a full cloud architecture, including splitting a large Oracle library into an independently expandable, distributed database.

VMware provides a modern agile development process and a cloud native platform that can be deployed on every major private and public cloud. In addition, VMware's cloud native platform supports the full application lifecycle from development to testing to production. In addition to the cloud native Tanzu Application Service, it also provides data platform solutions: VMware Tanzu Greenplum and GemFire. In the agile IT architecture, containers are an indispensable technology and an important foundation for modern microservices. VMware also offers Tanzu Kubernetes Grid, an enterprise-grade Kubernetes-based solution for running containerized workloads. VMware services like VMware Tanzu Greenplum also ship in a containerised version to run on Tanzu Kubernetes Grid.

Tanzu Kubernetes Grid is based on open source Kubernetes container orchestration technology, a project started at Google. For Chow Sang Sang, the biggest benefit of Tanzu Kubernetes Grid is that it can be seamlessly integrated with VMware software, allowing the company to use VMware's unified SDDC infrastructure for containers. To ensure maximum portability, Tanzu Kubernetes Grid adds support for the latest version of Kubernetes in parallel with the major public clouds.

Software developer on laptop

“Kubernetes itself is more complex and there are still many challenges deploying and operating the open source version,” said James Tso, Chief Strategy Officer at Masterson, Chow Sang Sang's IT partner in Hong Kong.

Tanzu Kubernetes Grid addresses many of these problems by providing a simplified installation experience and automated Day 2 operational experience (especially with VMware and Google), providing zero-downtime upgrades. Through a Tanzu Kubernetes Grid integration platform, you can achieve DevOps without spending too much time and effort on development and operations management. For the new version of Kubernetes, production system downtime is not required for updates.

Tanzu Kubernetes Grid operates open source Kubernetes on top of BOSH, a platform for infrastructure configuration and automation. BOSH abstracts away the complexities of operating across multiple different private and public cloud infrastructures. In addition to GCP, Tanzu Kubernetes Grid is compatible with AWS, Alibaba Cloud, and other public cloud resources and hybrid clouds based on OpenStack and VMware vSphere. BOSH solves the automated management of cloud resources for container applications and the automated operation and maintenance of Kubernetes clusters in production environments.

Chow Sang Sang's next-generation IT system is based on VMware SDDC's private cloud software and Dell EMC hardware-enabled, cloud-based private cloud, the VMware Tanzu Architecture for Dell EMC VxRail. Tanzu Architecture hosts the Tanzu Kubernetes Grid container management platform, a complete cloud solution based on Dell Technologies. This provides Chow Sang Sang with the "all-channel" IT resources that have laid a good foundation for Chow Sang Sang's next digital transformation.

Chow Sang Sang has changed from a technical level to an innovation-driven company.”
Donald Mak, CIO, Chow Sang Sang

On the road to agile

Mak noted that Chow Sang Sang has three DevOps teams in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Under the premise of rapid business changes, Chow Sang Sang needs to execute simultaneous software development using the three teams. Each team should independently develop different parts of the application. Chow Sang Sang has been working with Masterson and VMware since May 2018. Using the complete VMware Tanzu stack and agile methodology, adding automated CI/CD automation will build the foundation of agile development.

In addition to Tanzu Kubernetes Grid, Chow Sang Sang's current agile development mainly uses Spring Boot and Spring Cloud, an open source development operation and maintenance framework based on microservices. VMware is the leader of the Spring Cloud open source community and also offers Spring Cloud business solutions. The cooperation between Chow Sang Sang and VMware has more room for innovation.

Mak stressed that the core of Chow Sang Sang's digital transformation is data-driven decision making. The all-cloud platform and agile development will support the “all-channel” transformation of Chow Sang Sang's business and use data analysis to achieve more refined operations for the company.

“To launch a new business, we must have the support of IT systems. Double 11, smart stores, etc., need to be implemented quickly. IT is involved more and more in the business, promotion, and conversion,” Mak said. “Chow Sang Sang has changed from a technical level to an innovation-driven company.”