Industry leaders reveal how they’re building cloud infrastructure that’s fit for business

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“Choosing the right multi-cloud setup can be confusing,” says UKFast director of enterprise technologies, Chris Folkerd. “Formulating the right mix requires consultation and discussion, as it’s often a case that satisfying an organisation’s full range of requirements can only be done by selecting from a range of different services and providers.”

Getting that mix right has never been more important than it is today. Fundamental shifts brought about by the pandemic call for equally profound changes in the way businesses design and implement core infrastructure and, for many organisations, the only practical solution is cloud.

In 2020, according to research by Synergy, spending on cloud surpassed that on data centres for the first time. This is perhaps unsurprising, with 90% of respondents to a survey by software management firm Flexera saying they were using cloud more than they’d planned, post-pandemic. After 18 months of quarantine and lockdown, remote working, socialising, and shopping rely more than ever on cloud-backed services, and this has knock-on effects on the enterprises that underpin the supply chain.

Global logistics provider Maersk had to rework its technology landscape at speed, ramping up from a regular at-home workforce of 4000, to 40,000, as staff across three time zones started dialling in every day. This was only possible thanks to the flexibility of cloud, which accelerated the transition from the six months it would have taken with ‘traditional’ infrastructure to just six weeks.

But cloud hasn’t just helped organisations to ride out the pandemic: in many instances it’s helped them drive profit. Maersk saw trade booked through its digital channel, rather than customer services, go from a standing start to capturing 36% of its business in less than two years. Likewise, Sainsbury’s saw online orders treble as customers shopped from home. Without cloud, said the supermarket’s group CIO, Phil Jordan, “I think we’d really have struggled to pivot and adapt our business as fast as we have… that scaling up of platforms is only possible with the cloud consumption model.” The phenomenal resilience of its online operation has helped Sainsbury’s to recognise that it should now be looking to move yet more of its processes to the cloud.

But moving to cloud, while quicker than building on-site, isn’t always the right solution. “With some workloads, like a warehouse management system, that’s better off staying in the warehouse because it’s closer, there’s less latency, and there’s less risk if you lose your internet connection to your service provision,” said UKFast’s Folkerd.

Each use case must be judged on its merits, and the appropriate solution selected and championed by the CIO or CTO. Board-level advocacy is essential when selling the idea of cloud in house where competing interests, like that of some CFOs to sweat existing infrastructure, will need to be overcome.

For Matt Valentine, head of technology and transformation at social housing provider RHP, realising that cloud was “starting to take out the role of the traditional IT department” was a revelation – and a net positive. “If you have a lot of highly paid people sitting managing ‘stuff’ in rooms, rather than helping the organisation make best use of technology, you’re not investing sensibly,” he said. From that point on, whether consulting or employed, his goal has been to reduce the need for organisations to manage anything beyond a platform’s configuration software while relying on partners and specialists to provide the technical depth that his own teams don’t possess. If he’d been maintaining traditional infrastructure on premises, that simply wouldn’t be possible.

Contracting with a cloud provider isn’t the same as fully outsourcing, though, and for most organisations there still needs to be an in-house IT stakeholder. “When you outsource services, it doesn’t automatically become someone else’s problem,” said Que Tran, head of IT at DP World. Whoever is leading the technology team, is “responsible for the deliverable, regardless of where it resides or who manages it on your behalf… moving to the cloud, you don’t forget [for example] about firewalls, because suddenly there are web application firewalls.”

Increasingly – and particularly post-pandemic, when clients and staff alike expect to interact more through the browser than they do face to face – cloud is becoming central to an ever-growing range of organisations’ daily operations.

It’s a shift that was encapsulated by Nadine Thompson, global chief technology officer at MediaCom, when she said that “at the moment, when we’re looking for a new application… should it be on the cloud is no longer the question. It’s more a question of which cloud we’re going to use.”

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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