Drifting into the Cloud Platform

Lorraine Cichowski, SVP & CIO, Associated Press
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Lorraine Cichowski, SVP & CIO, Associated Press

There’s no shortage of consultants and advisers to help you plan and execute a move of your IT infrastructure to the cloud. If you’re facing a tight deadline to vacate a data center or another pressing business imperative or you just want to take advantage of lower cost/pay-as-you go, innovative managed services, bringing in the consultants and their methodologies to drive the process might be a sound approach.

“There are several good, comprehensive framework templates that are publicly available for download, but making the framework your own increases the chances of it being embraced by the engineering and development teams that make cloud decisions”

But crafting and executing your own cloud infrastructure strategy -- really customizing it to support your unique business -- has a certain appeal: It forces a spring cleaning -- a methodical application-by-application architectural review. It focuses on the cost of supporting each application, making sometimes-difficult conversations with business owners about legacy retirements a little bit easier. It gives ownership of the cloud strategy to the architects, developers and engineers who will implement it. It highlights gaps in IT staff cloud knowledge, with enough time to plug them with training or new staff. It drives a discipline around infrastructure decisions and their impact on budget and business strategy.

Deciding whether to move an application to the cloud or house it on premise or in a third-party data center makes you think very hard about risk and what’s important to your business.

AP isn’t new to the cloud. We have a relatively long history with cloud services, dating to 2004 and our first contract with a content distribution network to boost performance of a key web portal before the General Election -- long before “cloud” terminology was common. Usage of the public cloud has grown for us since then, for compute and storage. In a significant move, transcoding, storage and web delivery of AP’s vast breaking news and archival video as well as search functionality for a key content-delivery portal were transitioned to the public cloud over the past year, with great success. The video project went from concept to production in six months, and cloud transcoding cut video order processing in half -- from 60 minutes to fewer than 30. It was a win for us and a win for our video customers.

But is cloud technology right for AP’s other 150+ new and legacy applications? How do we decide?

An upcoming expiration of a data center lease is forcing us to evaluate the future state of each of those 150+ applications and the suitability of the public cloud. Lift-and-shift certainly remains an option, to the cloud or a co-location facility. But, with a comfortable 24-month window before lease expiration, we have time to optimize many of our apps for the cloud and refine a methodology to govern our cloud decisions -- with a strong emphasis on customer experience and cost. The ad-hoc approach to cloud isn’t going to work for us going forward.

An important first step for us has been creating a dedicated team of infrastructure and development architects to own and evangelize the process. Along with a separate team planning the data center move, they’ve done an inventory of applications, with a focus on virtualization, consolidation and retirement.

A critical component of our effort is a go or no-go cloud decision framework and companion scorecard to determine if new or legacy solutions are appropriate for the public cloud. There are several good, comprehensive framework templates publicly available for download, but making the framework your own increases the chances that it will be embraced by the engineering and development teams making cloud decisions. Too many frameworks fail to get traction or realize business benefits because they’re implemented with little regard to what’s important to the organization.

AP’s Cloud Governance Framework was molded from the best elements of several public frameworks. It emphasizes simplicity. It focuses on five elements that are important to AP and likely should be part of any cloud review process:

1. Cloud Readiness. For a workload to be considered “cloud-ready,” it must, at minimum, be virtualized or be appropriate to be virtualized. It must be architected in such a way that it can easily be scaled up or down in an automated fashion. As part of the AP process, an application must be judged ready for the cloud to continue its evaluation on the following four measures. If not, it is automatically considered for a co-lo or alternate AP-managed data center.

2. Customer Experience. Using the public cloud must deliver an equal or better performance than an on premise or co-lo solution in terms of uptime and latency. Because of the demands that breaking news stories put on AP’s infrastructure, a cloud solution must support high availability and scale to handle peak loads.

3. Cost. A cost analysis should provide a three-year window of operating and capital expense, comparing cloud costs with internal costs based on the architecture and usage patterns of an application.

4. Technical Requirements. From a technology perspective, every solution considered for cloud placement should have specific implementation details based on the workload requirements. Among considerations are compute, network and storage resources; integration with other solutions; automation; planned growth, and monitoring and instrumentation.

5. Security. Data and operational security requirements must be considered. Among them are authentication, authorization, encryption and compliance regulations.

 

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