Third & GroveThird & Grove
Mar 1, 2020 - Justin Emond

Shopify Plus is the Enterprise Commerce Platform of the Future

Yes Shopify Plus Can Scale

A funny thing happened on the way to 2020: Shopify Plus became an enterprise solution so quickly that Adobe Magento, SAP Hybris, Oracle ATG, and the rest of the legacy players still don’t understand what happened. 

Why does this matter now? Well, Mother’s Day is coming up, and Father’s Day after that, and then every other major buying holiday for the rest of 2020. While coronavirus has already had an outsize impact on in-person retail with the US economy largely being shutdown, the longtail of this impact is just starting to be understood. Retail, even more than the rest of the economy, is on track for an 18-24 month recovery. The pandemic will only accelerate this shift from physical retail to online retail. To roar out of the pandemic recession every brand is going to need a rock-solid platform, and Shopify Plus is that platform.

Let’s look at why Shopify Plus has become the enterprise commerce platform.

What does it mean to be an enterprise solution?

Ah, the often dreaded “We need an enterprise solution” statement. When some people hear enterprise all they think of is unpublished, arbitrary pricing based on how much the vendor thinks a prospect can pay. Still, others think about bad user interfaces and solution lock-in. So what, exactly, is an enterprise solution?

It’s really not that complicated. An enterprise solution has three common characteristics: scalability, extensibility, and provability. An enterprise solution needs to scale to fit your demand usage, however uneven, of your business. But scalability is more than just usage, it also means expert support when you need it (any time), and pretty damn quickly.

An enterprise solution must also bend (and not break) to address your custom use cases because, whether you admit to yourself or not, your organization -- and every other one out there in the US -- is a special damn snowflake. Provability is the last characteristic many buyers miss completely: has this been proven to work?

Ask anyone that did IT work in the 2000s with Microsoft products and they will tell you the same thing: Don’t deploy it until after the first service pack is released. With an enterprise solution, you don’t want to go first, you want to go early (to be ahead of the curve).

The most common question we get when we bring up Shopify Plus to our enterprise prospects is “But can it scale?” Not only can Shopify scale but it leads the pack amongst its competitors. Let’s look at how this is possible.

Many clouds, not many good architectures

The great thing about being an engineer is it is easy to call bullshit when “cloud” is thrown around in discussions. I still remember thinking, when I learned that Magento, a leading on-premise commerce platform, was launching their cloud offering several years ago one a white-labeled version of, that this was yet another sign that this commerce platform didn’t understand scalability.

It should not come as a surprise as Magento 2’s internal architecture suffers from, and makes devops such a challenge, an entity key-value data storage model that is simply not designed to scale. With challenging internal architecture decisions and an on-premise model more at home in 2005 than 2020 Magento simply had no options to build an actual modern cloud to underpin Magento. The other traditional players like SAP Hybris, Oracle ATG, and WooCommerce, suffer some all the same limitations.

To understand what puts the scalability of Shopify Plus so far ahead of leading platforms like Adobe Magento, SAP Hybris, and others, you need to look under the hood at how Shopify chose to build their platform.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty and not everything is known publicly, so I won’t get this exactly right, but at a high level, Shopify actually has two clouds: one that powers page requests for things like the home page, category landing page, and the product details page, and one that handles the checkout/cart flow. The infrastructure for the pages is a standard, best practices infrastructure with instances per site. However, it is with the cart/checkout requests that things start to get really interesting.

What you don’t know can kill you

See, what the traditional players don’t want you to know is that spinning up server instances to handle additional spikes of activity doesn’t actually make a commerce site scalable because launching each of those takes ones of minutes. A 60-second delay, hell, even a twenty-second delay could easily cause a 1,000 orders that would have converted to not convert. Black Friday is going to be bleak Friday because it’s why you got fired, not promoted.

Shopify has solved this issue by building a true worker system, a true cloud architecture, where Shopify can instantly, truly, beautifully, instantly, launch massive numbers of additional workers at any store on the platform to handle any spike in orders.

The question isn’t can Shopify Plus scale, but, how do the other platforms ever manage to? 

Proven scale

Shopify can’t always talk about the details of the leading brands on their platform but there are Plus sites that handle 15,000 orders per minute at peak. All without a single devops person working at the brand.

When someone shows you who they are, believe them.