Cloud and Compromise: Many Ways of Managing Needs

Cloud and Compromise: Many Ways of Managing Needs

It’s a spectacular view isn’t it?

“It certainly is,” I replied

I’m halfway up a tower in the centre of London. If I look ahead, I can see St. Pauls, The London Eye on the Thames and the Houses of Parliament, and way over to the west I can see the arch of Wembley Stadium and, I know, a little further on, just to the north, is where I live. It certainly is a good view of the power house of London from here, the place where I grew up and had my first taste of senior management.

I’m at a meeting of an advisory board I sit on, and the rather dry subject is Driving Innovation, etc. However, what has cropped up is the use of cloud technologies. There are six of us around the table from industries such as postal services, pharmaceuticals, media, domestic services and me, the NGO.

Without exception, we all have different implementations of cloud. This isn’t surprising of course, as the term is loosely applied, and we’ve all heard many different views and opinions. And let’s face it; there can’t be more to add, right? I come from the position that I’m after services and the infrastructure cloud technologies are useful and perhaps an intermediate step.

However, more and more we are moving to procuring the service around the cloud, something that is now being recognized by the likes of Amazon. Having a flexible infrastructure is good, but having a flexible service is much more powerful.

Those with larger operations find the commodity infrastructure approach a great way to either reduce data centre growth or act as the catalyst to replace it. For me, the need is that it’s a bit of a replacement, but one of the great challenges is to reduce our need to maintain a workforce purely dedicated to keeping our infrastructure running, a classic “is it core” question.

Our focus now is on the added value with the business so it’s about data management, optimizing systems for the business and looking at new ways of dealing with business issues. I don’t want to be investing in manpower on commodity activities, like networks and server management, unless it is unique to our industry or we really can do it better. (As an NGO we do have some unusual network locations that require VSATs, and we do have to maintain some skills in this, for example.)

We all agree that we are changing, although of course it’s at different speeds. Inevitably, some areas of our business are reticent, and others want all and every cloud service. However, this is really a balance between opportunity and risk.

Our Digital Comms group is the line of business responsible for developing the core website, and they use third parties to write and maintain the code. These developers would love to base it all on a famous public cloud and have complete control over deployment, but our website is not only an information site, but it also handles an online shop and donations.

Losing the website impacts our income; during a crisis, we take a lot of online donations, so our site is an important asset to us. Now I’m not saying that all web developers are somewhat “relaxed” about testing and release, but experience shows that they tend to fall into the category of, “it’s agile, and we can fix it quickly if it’s broken”.

This can translate into errors hitting production environments. Our web application sits in a private cloud and has some rigor around the release process. Although in reality, we have compromised somewhat, and there is still some access to the live environment by the developers.

It’s a rather uneasy truce as the trust builds. I suspect this causes a little more diligence on all sides (there are now five technology parties and three lines of business just for the website). We have had a couple of outages during the 18 months since we deployed the website, and they were caused by code hitting the live environment. As always, we undertake a major incident review to ensure the learning is shared and acted on. The point is there is no version of the truth or one way of doing this. What we have are many ways of managing our needs.

We wrap up about 9:30pm as the sun is setting over London and the buildings are lighting up. Nowadays, building designs seem to incorporate lighting effects, so the skyline is changing again as it gets darker. London’s changed a lot since I’ve lived here; there’s a lot of building work going on, but it’s still got its heart and there’s a real sense of energy.

As the centre of the banking industry in the UK, this place is sometimes vilified. And yet with all the building work and what appears to be signs of a gentle recovery, this place is clearly buzzing. It’s certainly changed over the years, and it’s reflecting what we have to do: look for the opportunities and change the way we work, but don’t undermine your operation.

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Peter Ransom

Peter Ransom, CIO, OXFAM

As Head of the IS Division Peter is responsible for managing a team of IT professionals in the UK HQ in Oxford and Internationally supporting all of Oxfam GB’s employees, operating in 56 countries with 2 data centres, 22 Offices in the UK... More   View all posts
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