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Technology / Cloud

Does no Pain Mean Lots of Gain?

You have to hand it to Amazon. It knows how to corner a market when it sees one but while its Web services have been largely responsible for its recent 800 per cent growth in profits, not every business sees its cloud renting model as the be all and end all. Of course, cloud services are driving considerable change in how IT is managed and deployed within business but as ever, there is no one size fits all approach. Today’s strategies for technology transformation raise questions and concerns around culture, cost and security. Is a completely cloud-based datacentre strategy really the key to the kingdom of IT contentment?

A recent KPMG report, The Creative CIO’s agenda: six big bets for digital transformation featured a key point about the next generation IT operating model.

“IT value comes directly from providing services and capabilities in order to enable business outcomes,” says the report. “This requires IT to meet demands for innovation, flexibility, and faster delivery cycles, and puts the emphasis on leveraging emerging technologies and sourcing alternatives as well as integrating them with existing legacy applications and data.”

Well said. The point is that cloud services are a part of the strategy not the final strategy or as the report continues; “The new operating model builds capabilities to multi-source, integrate, deliver, and manage services to respond to these new challenges.”

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Jon Forster, Global Programme Director, Data Centre and Transitional Services at gym chain Fitness First, has spent the last year re-working the company’s IT infrastructure and recognises the new challenges. The push he says was for improving the infrastructure speeds and performance but also reducing the number of boxes and tin without compromising data security.

The datacentre consolidation started in 2015, with Fitness First replacing its legacy environment with a hybrid cloud combining the privately-owned Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Platform with the Microsoft Azure public cloud. Forster says the business has now migrated all of its applications across to its Nutanix kit, so what has the transformation meant?

“It’s no longer a case of waiting weeks and buying lots of hardware to cope with new platforms and projects – no one thinks like that anymore,” he says. “Is it invisible? Yes, it is because when I talk to those that have to deal with the infrastructure team that are dealing with it every day, they never talk about the hardware.”

While he adds that he thinks only two people have visited the datacentre in the last six months and that was because they had to physically go and plug in a new piece of kit, no one goes to the datacentre other than for a day out. So what’s the difference? Why not outsource this bit to the cloud service providers?

“We do a lot of new development so being able to stand up to new environments has been a real change,” says Forster. “You can see it in the team – they weren’t the ones holding it back so now it’s never a case of ‘we can’t do this because there is no hardware to put it on’ (Everyone still calls it hardware even though it’s a virtual machine of course) – that part has really gone away. There are no excuses anymore.”

It is this new visibility across the development workflow that is an added benefit, a value of virtualisation.

“When the business is looking for some new functionality, for example, to manage personal training booking and delivery in a better way, how can we help to do this more quickly? Can we get the building blocks in place more quickly? The change, I think is that the whole development pipeline becomes much more visible, so we can see where the delays are, the problems, where we need to focus next to make it better.”

Of course transformation is also about reducing costs, streamlining processes and making everything run more efficiently. Forster is happy this is being achieved but admits that it has to be a stepped approach, to minimise mistakes and risk.

“Don’t try and land on the moon with the first version,” he says. “Do it quick and get it out and then tune it. Drip feed new features as you go.”

So where is it now? Forster believes the hybrid infrastructure is enabling growth because they have control and flexibility. New clubs can be set-up quickly now although some regions, such as Asia, can be challenging.

“It’s too expensive to put infrastructure in until you hit a critical point, so why don’t we host it in the cloud until we can get there? The problem is that running it in the cloud is still too expensive but it is worthwhile for a period of time to get the business up and running. This is what is happening in India.”

It is the flexibility, the best of both worlds that is making this happen. For a fast growing international business (it has clubs in 16 countries now) that is crucial. As the business now explores mobility and geolocation-based services, Forster says he feels empowered. Not worrying about the infrastructure has its benefits but he is cautious too, not wanting to get carried away.  Transformation after all is a moving beast but one that does not necessarily come with a bite.  No pain no gain? Not on Forster’s team anyway.

Paul Philips is Senior Regional Director, UK, Ireland and South Africa, Nutanix
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CBR Staff Writer

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