IT managers rescued by cloud computing

IT chiefs explain why and how they chose to use cloud computing, including the Telegraph Group, British Airways and a life boat charity, to name a few.

For those still sitting on the fence when it comes to cloud computing, this article includes several IT managers of well-known UK companies that chose to share their experiences of the model and explained ways in which it has benefited their business.

Cloud computing has been creating a storm in the UK for a while now, but IT managers want to know where it fits into their business model and how the one-service-fits-all system will suit their business needs if every company is different.

As the digital age continues to evolve, many IT managers have taken the approach that when change is afoot, it's important to stay nimble.

Life boat charity uses cloud to save lives
Peter Bradley, navigator and operations manager for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), said the life boat charity used the cloud to take the "search" out of search and rescue. RNLI performs 8,000 search and rescue missions every year. On average, 22 people are saved every day through a network of 9,000 volunteers, according to Bradley.

The Telegraph's IT strategy is that 100% of new business ventures will be cloud-based. No software procurement or hardware provisioning looms on the horizon.

Toby Wright, chief technology officer, Telegraph Group,

"The question was: Can we develop a system that lets us know if a fisherman is OK? Or that a vessel has sunk? If a fisherman goes overboard, our cloud solution enables us to know exactly where to find them," Bradley said.

Since implementing a new cloud system, Bradley said nine lives have been saved in three incidences so far.

The RNLI decided on Active Web Solutions as its chosen Microsoft partner to aid them with their life-saving vision. Active Web Solutions is a software company based in Suffolk, and is a Windows Azure specialist and Microsoft surface expert.

Microsoft surface is a multi-touch product that allows multiple users to manipulate digital content through the use of gesture recognition. This can include hand motions or physical objects. The charity went live with the Azure system in 2009.

Richard Prodger, technical director at Active Web Solutions, explained that one possible answer to the charity's problem was a satellite-based vessel reporting system, incorporating a personal safety device known as the Man Overboard Guardian (MOB Guardian).

Cloud-based vessel reporting system overview
A unit fitted on the boat sends alarms up to a satellite and down to an on-premise RNLI data centre in the Czech Republic, as well as the Windows Azure data centre in Suffolk. Active Web Solutions makes decisions based on the information received and sends this to the life boat charity. As this offering evolved, Active Web Solutions decided to move it into the cloud. Initially, the MOB Guardian service was run over RNLI infrastructure and hosted by Active Web Solutions.

"At present the on-premise and cloud solution are running parallel as we build up the RNLI's confidence in fully migrating across," Prodger said.

A cloud platform was chosen to expand the charity's service due to the fact that in the first 18 months of operating the MOB Guardian, the system ran on 15 servers across two data centres handling about 10,000 boats. By moving the system to the cloud, the charity was looking to expand the service to every commercial and leisure craft in UK waters.

If the charity was to continue using the traditional servers in their data centre model, they would have needed to have doubled the amount of infrastructure to add another 10,000 boats. With a cloud model, the RNLI realised that it could get the added capacity to scale up, but without huge upfront costs.

Prodger said Azure was chosen for Zero Capex and an off-premise backup system.

"In addition, we can now replicate the platform for other charities. It is written in Microsoft.net code, so we can migrate the code across. Our future vision is to save more lives, expand into other verticals and centralise the alerts from all vessels and standardise them," Prodger said.

The Telegraph Group embraces cloud amidst dwindling print sales
The RNLI is not the only organisation to change with the times and embrace new technologies. When the Telegraph Group's chief technology officer, Toby Wright, found himself having to check circulation numbers more often, he realised it was time for a different approach to media.

Wright said he always has to revise his circulation numbers because they are always changing. Less people are buying newspapers today and more are going online. He explained that the company had a challenge on its hands, as it needed to reduce head count, but also had to build a website and start online networking. The Telegraph Group has approximately 400,000 subscribers and runs a 24-hour news cycle.

According to Wright, 45% of the company's traffic comes from the U.S., with 8% to 10% of total traffic coming from social networking. The Telegraph Group has about 28 million unique users a month.

Wright explained that a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model was a good fit for the Telegraph Group because it enabled the firm to tackle the subscription systems, which was achieved through Salesforce.com.

"It would have taken us two years to build everything on premise; instead it took us five months because Salesforce.com put everything in the cloud, then email and Exchange," he said.

[Cloud security] will be driven by dips in peoples' behaviour, such as terrorism attacks and online paedophilia cases.

Mary Hensher, chief information officer and IT partner, Deloitte,

Wright added that Amazon does analytics with the company. The Telegraph Group uses Informatica and Google for its human resources processes, diary and calendaring. Ooyala is used for video content. For example, the firm recently had a video of England's football manager Fabio Capello talking about the team on the website. For social media, the company uses Force.com, and Cordys is used for social media and workflow management.

Essentially, Wright wants to get out of the business of running IT, as he recognises that service providers work out to be less expensive than running a self-hosted data centre. He also believes that SaaS security has improved so much that providers can offer a more resilient service than what the Telegraph Group initially had in place or could afford to implement.

"In fact, the Telegraph's IT strategy is that 100% of new business ventures will be cloud-based. No software procurement or hardware provisioning looms on the horizon," he said.

Wright advised other businesses not to shortcut their requirements, that data migration and culture change are the most challenging aspects, that some technical skills are transferable and others are not, and encouraged them to build and develop an internal capability.

He also advised: "Don't get locked into a five-year contract deal, hosting should be done on a per month basis."

British Airways remains cautious
Not everyone in the UK is so convinced. Gordon Penfold, chief technology officer for British Airways, explained that the airline has not yet dipped its toe in the cloud market, but is definitely weighing how it can benefit from the model.

Penfold expressed his concerns with the leakage of his own company's data: "Our frontline staff, the flight and cabin crew, are always on the move and they need communication with those on the ground. However, there is the issue of having sensitive data in different territories," he said.

Mary Hensher, chief information officer and IT partner at Deloitte, agreed but added that it's not the information in motion that is the issue, but where the data is at rest.

Hensher said: "We have to ensure that when the data is at rest it is backed up and encrypted, as our data is our clients, so security is key. These cloud issues won't be fixed in a linear way. It won't be the progression in technology that drives advances in security; it will be driven by dips in peoples' behaviour, such as terrorism attacks and online paedophilia cases."

Hensher explained that she understands the advantages of a cloud model, which is why UK-based Deloitte chose to put their services in the cloud. However, she said that the company is completely mobile, meaning it needs continuous connectivity in the cloud. "Where is all that connectivity going to come from?" she said.

She added: "I get its benefits, but there are a lot of fakers out there."

Kayleigh Bateman is the Site Editor of SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK.

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