CIOs describe the ‘perfect storms’ that drove them to cloud computing

The potential benefits of cloud computing have been debated in Canada and elsewhere for years now, but a panel of IT leaders speaking at Microsoft’s Virtual CIO Summit on Tuesday suggested they only started making the move when they felt they had no other choice.

After years of offering primarily on-premise products and services, Microsoft, Oracle and many other companies have been aggressively rolling out cloud-based alternatives and opening up local data centres. Yet perhaps nothing sells the idea of cloud computing better than walking into a CIO role with technology that desperately needs to be replaced, IT leaders at the event, which was streamed live from Redmond, Wa.

Perfect Storms

“I came in two and a half years ago and walked into the perfect storm,” said Tom Grounds, CIO at Dillon Gage, a precious metals and refining company based in Dallas, Tex. “We had a data centre where we were facing end of life across all the equipment. We had issues with power stability and Internet stability — which affected trading platform — and added to that, I was looking at (setting up a colocation facility).”

For Dillon Gage, approaching those issues with an on-premise approach would have  doubled infrastructure costs, according to Grounds.

That was similar to the scenario described by Mark Masterson, CIO for the Arizona Department of Education. He said when he joined his organization four years ago, some legacy platforms were 10 years old, running on unsupported operating systems and outdated SQL boxes.

“Everything that could be wrong was wrong,” he said. “It was a situation where you could either just completely start over, or stabilize the situation and then start over.”

Growth Factor

Another driver — although it may sound like a nice problem to have — is growth. According to Andre Garcia, AVP of global infrastructure services at New York City-based facilities management firm ABM Industries, his organization was spreading beyond its roots in North America to the U.K. and beyond.

“For us, the giggest steps with cloud was being able to take advantage of data centres in Ireland and the Netherlands and bring applications closer to where our customers and employees were,” he said. “To access applications across the pond is not good, because they’re latency-sensitive.”

Staged Migrations

None of the CIOs on the panel suggested moving to the cloud was immediate. Grounds said Dillon Gage started with moving “commodity technologies” such as Microsoft Exchange, Project and Sharepoint to Azure two years ago. It has now moved its ERP, which it is planning to sunset in favour of MS Dynamics, and has started building custom applications. For Masterson, the migration was even more staged, which some pieces of IT infrastructure still running in parallel with what’s been moved to the cloud. Future architecture, however, is cloud-first.

Garcia suggested experienced CIOs will be used to the gradual nature of these transitions.

“The cloud now is paradigm-shifting just like virtualization was,” he said. “When people started shifting to virtualization platforms, there was a lot of reticence, hesitation, wondering what could we actually do. The same thing is happening in the cloud. There’s a steep learning curve, and what’s making it difficult is the cloud space is constantly evolving. We’re not talking evolution cycles that are annual or biannual. It’s weekly.”

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