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Hopping aboard the cloud

We talk to three companies that have taken different approaches to cloud computing

How three very different organisations - Open Universities Australia, Les Mills, and Boeing - are using cloud in their operational environments.

Open Universities Australia: Total cloud coverage

Acting CIO at Open Universities Australia (OUA), Anthony Russo, claims his organisation experimented with every flavour of every type of service provisioning a CIO can think of before arriving at the public cloud.

The educational institution began by trialling hosted services, before moving to a private cloud environment in 2012. Today, it is looking to move all core services onto the public cloud, and has about 70 per cent of its environment with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The transition from on-premise to public cloud was the inevitable outcome of rapid commercial expansion, which has driven up infrastructure requirements by as much as 30 per cent year-on-year, Russo explains.

“In our first year, we shifted premises and data centre, but with that kind of growth it was difficult to keep up with scaling requirements,” he says.

“We used all the latest technology on the market to try and stay within an in-house environment, but it wasn’t sustainable. To move the next level up would have meant a new data centre, a new building with multiple power generators, and multiple Internet links and it was just too expensive.”

OUA trialled a hosted environment but again found the set-up wasn’t flexible enough. “Every time we needed to add a server to the pool, we had to buy, it was a 4-6 week wait for delivery and it took too long,” Russo said. “We needed to be more agile and in our speed to market.”

OUA transitioned to a private cloud in 2012, cutting down server procurement time from six weeks to 5-7 days. The private cloud option OUA sourced from NextGen Group, Infoplex, also offered the benefits of third-party data centre management and scale, as well as built-in disaster recovery and the option to use dedicated or shared servers. The only work to be done was around connecting the primary and secondary data centres, Russo says.

“There was also some inherent security coverage for things like a denial-of-service attack that addressed that side for us,” he says.

Public cloud was not on the table at the time, mainly because OUA wanted to avoid latency issues with an overseas datacentre. However AWS’s decision to launch operations in Sydney prompted the university to re-evaluate once more.

“AWS looked good, we decided to trial the platform with our new business offering, Open 2 Study,” Russo explains. “We built the entire solution with Amazon’s help. In the Amazon cloud you don’t have any private servers, you can’t customise, and you have to use their way of architecting a solution. But if you do that, you get all these additional benefits.”

Among these are automatic disaster recovery, high responsiveness to growth and provisioning, autoscaling capabilities, and more resilient cyber security. OUA outgoing CIO, Michelle Beveridge, says AWS also provided a security expert to talk to the OUA team and board, who had been raising security questions, to allay any data fears about the move to a public cloud environment.

In addition, public cloud offered the ability to pay by the hour for usage, not per month or as part of a multi-year agreement, as was the case in hosted and private cloud environments, Russo says.

After its initial move to public cloud in 2012, OUA launched the new Open Training Institute product line, which it also opted to run on AWS. Russo then started using the Salesforce cloud and moved CRM to a SaaS environment.

Legacy limitations

A common CIO concern when pushing critical infrastructure onto the public cloud is the ability to be able to switch providers or retrieve assets. Russo says this wasn’t an issue for OUA as it had already conducted a trial of getting on and off the private cloud. It has a copy of its data elsewhere for backup and retrieval purposes.

To avoid lock-in, OUA has also written in the ability to get on and off cloud services into its partner agreements. “We are not afraid to move away, depending on what the solution is and if it fits with the business solution and strategy,” Russo adds. “This is working for us now, but who knows what the future will bring.”

OUA is now working with AWS to transition the group’s core ERP platform onto the cloud. According to Russo, the challenge has been that legacy apps are not designed to work across a single cloud-based infrastructure stack.

“It’s in the pilot stage but is looking promising and passing the load tests so far, so we could end up 100 per cent Amazon,” he says.

“What we’d really like in future is a cloud with offerings of AWS, but also Salesforce. What Amazon gives you is cloud-based solutions at an infrastructure level with some applications in there, but if you add in any other applications like PeopleSoft, it comes with the licensing implications of that solution.

“We want a scalable solution from top to bottom. AWS is a good point for us right now, but we’d like a mix of the two.”

Also on the cards is virtualising desktops and telephony services and moving those into the cloud. This will lower resource overheads and allow the team to focus on bigger business imperatives. “All we’d have to do is light management of the technical stack and spend our time on much more productive, business-related stuff,” Russo says.

But he admits OUA is hindered by ongoing “licensing issues” and the fact that many software providers are still not supporting the flexibility to ramp up and down services. “Technically, I can build anything in the cloud, the thing that’s preventing me is the licensing,” he says.

While cloud has been a big win for agility, a side benefit has been the positive change in IT’s skill set and focus. Beveridge says OUA has needed more developer and DevOps skills in-house to better utilise the cloud, and retrained existing staff to do the job.

“There has been this fear among infrastructure and systems managers about losing their jobs to cloud, but by retraining them it actually makes them more marketable,” she comments. Russo also spends less time working on the plumbing, and can focus on more business-oriented and strategic work.

“Cloud is a good story for IT infrastructure managers; don’t be afraid of this stuff,” Beveridge adds. “For Anthony, it’s given him the chance to build his skill set and now I’m leaving OUA, to take on the CIO’s role.”

Next up: Les Millls - email, Office and SharePoint in the cloud

Tags boeingLes MillsAnthony Russocloud computingOpen Universities Australia

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