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Hopping aboard the cloud

Hopping aboard the cloud

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

Les Mills - email, Office and SharePoint in the cloud

“Cloud? I don’t really like the term. It has a lot of mystique around it,” says Aaron O’Brien, CIO of Les Mills International (LMI). “It makes it seem intangible, and many businesses do not like things that are intangible.

“In reality, if you look at email in the cloud, it is there, sitting in some data centre in Singapore, so it is not in the cloud. Because of that, I was not looking at moving to the cloud for the sake of it; I looked at the business need.”

LMI is the largest provider of branded group fitness and training programs, used in 15,500 clubs and gyms in more than 80 countries. It has more than 100,000 certified instructor guides, as well as 1000 trainers, 100 of them in the United States.

In the past two years, O’Brien has moved the company’s email, Office and SharePoint into the cloud. The company has also implemented a sales, club and portal for its instructors on cloud-based development platforms.

The business case for the move started when O’Brien was presented with the cost of upgrading LMI’s SAN every year, and putting a restriction on the mailbox sizes. “Fundamentally, I never believed in restricting users of mailbox sizes,” he says. “I know it is costly, but everything I do is about the user experience.

“I was presented with a cost to upgrade every year if we archive,” he says, referring to the original proposal by Origin IT, which managed LMI’s infrastructure. The vendor also provided options like putting another Exchange Server in the US to serve LMI’s global offices.

“I went up the white board and wrote, ‘US$25 a month a person, 25 gigabyte inbox and unlimited archives’. You have to beat that and come back another two weeks and we will look at it. Otherwise, we are going to move to [Microsoft] Office 365.

“I believe that is the only way we can run our ever-expanding networks across the world cost effectively and from a user experience point of view.”

Origin IT took on the migration to Office 365, but O’Brien says a challenge was getting a local reference organisation. LMI also wanted to move quickly because LMI was experiencing Exchange outages and other issues.

Today, LMI has email, SharePoint and Lync working together. “It really opened up how we communicate,” he says. Lync provides instant messaging and free voice and video calling from any device and has been very useful particularly in the US, where LMI has remote users in different states.

“The way we can collaborate is just fantastic; it has really changed the way we work,” O’Brien says.

Explaining to the board

O’Brien did not use the word ‘cloud’ when he explained to the board why they had to decommission the on-premise server and move to Office 365.

Instead, he explained it this way: “We have a Microsoft product Exchange. It is like a telephone exchange or a mail exchange and it holds all of our mail. And it is going to cost us X amount to resolve the issues staff are complaining about.

“We are going to use somebody who provides a service that is more specialised, and move forward redundancy and infrastructure, maintenance and support. They are going to move it directly to their data centre in Singapore, which is hosted by Microsoft.

“What we are doing is a hosted service by Microsoft, so there is no one better in the world who could manage it.”

There was no argument, O’Brien says. “If I used the world cloud, there would have been a different discussion.”

LMI is also using ‘as-a-service’ technologies in other areas of the business. This includes a self-service portal based on Salesforce.com for the 15,500 clubs to manage instructors.

The portal has been rolled out in one of LMI’s US offices and holds a number of applications that allow instructors to register and go through a certification process. As part of that process, instructors have to film themselves teaching a class and submit that video for assessment.

Online, these all come together to create an instructor profile. Once instructors have passed the assessment, they are affiliated with a club to teach. Through this portal, they can also buy the quarterly release of fitness videos.

LMI is also using another service-based application, Box.com, to produce its videos. After filming, footage is turned into two products: A physical DVD and a digital product that can be downloaded, he says. For this, LMI uses Box.com.

“It enables us to keep the business moving forward while we are looking for longer-term solutions,” he says.

By providing it as a service, the instructors can also get the latest material, and the company does not have to consume huge amounts of plastic and incur shipping costs. “My CEO is incredibly environmentally conscious,” O’Brien adds, “and we have an environmental policy around all the hardware we buy”.

Boeing: Flying ahead with public and private

At the recent Interop event, Boeing's chief cloud strategist, David Nelson, outlined a couple of ways the aircraft manufacturer is not only using the public cloud, but combining that with on-premises virtualised workloads to create a hybrid environment.

The results are applications that Nelson says run more efficiently, are less expensive and serve the needs of Boeing better than if the company had done it all in-house.

Nelson first described an application the company has developed that tracks all of the flight paths that planes take around the world. Boeing’s sales staff use it to help sell aircraft showing how a newer, faster one could improve operations. The app incorporates both historical and real-time data, which means there are some heavy workloads.

“There’s lots of detail and analysis,” he says. It takes a ‘boatload’ of processing power to collect the data, analyse it, render it and put it into a presentable fashion.

The application started years ago by running on five laptop computers that were synced together. They got so hot running the application that measures needed to be taken to keep them cool, Nelson said.

Then Nelson helped migrate the application to the cloud, but doing so took approval from internal security, legal and technology teams.

Read more: New tools to lead through IT megatrends: EMC

In order to protect proprietary Boeing data the company uses a process called ‘shred and scatter’. Using software supported by a New Zealand firm, Greenbot, Boeing takes the data it plans to put in the Cloud and breaks it up into the equivalent of what Nelson called puzzle pieces.

Those pieces are then encrypted and sent to Microsoft Azure's cloud. There it is stored and processed in the cloud, but for anything actionable to be gleaned from the data, it has to be reassembled behind Boeing's firewall.

Hybrid apps

That’s not the only Boeing app hosted in the cloud. Nelson, who previously served as director of service oriented architecture or SOA at Boeing, described a second application that uses Amazon Web Services Cloud, along with on-premises Boeing resources to create a hybrid application.

It's basically a toolbox app that allows mechanics around the country to research, conduct and verify maintenance and repairs. The Digital Toolbox app combines data that Boeing hosts itself about its own planes, but Nelson said the real innovative part is the work the company has done to integrate repair information from other aircraft manufacturers.

The application automatically routes the users to data either inside Boeing’s data centres if it’s there, or to AWS Cloud if it’s information from another airline. “It's seamless to the end user, but it provides all the functionality they need,” Nelson said.

It’s been a success, Nelson said, because many of the big airline companies work with multiple aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus, but they can go to Boeing to get the repair and Toolbox information from a variety of manufacturers.

These applications took years to develop and many different approvals within the company, Nelson said. It’s still a challenge, to get cloud applications perfect, he said after his presentation.

To get both the technical deployment of the application perfected as well as the legal, regulatory and security assurances in place is not easy.

But, if completed it can create efficiencies and open up new products and services for companies.

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Tags cloud computingboeingOpen Universities AustraliaLes MillsAnthony Russo

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