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Dutch businesses have heads in the cloud

In the Netherlands, cloud computing is used by the central bank, large multinationals like Unilever, startups such as WeTransfer, and even a Dutch potato processing plant in China

When the television talent show The Voice of Holland caused a network traffic jump like never before due to a suspected distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, the cloud capacity scaled and it all turned out alright.

The TV show is one of many cloud users in the Netherlands, with about three-quarters of Dutch companies now using cloud in one way or another. This is according to research published in December 2016 by IT training provider Global Knowledge.

The study asked 500 Dutch organisations about their cloud usage, including software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and other forms of cloud, next to public and private clouds.

The main reasons for going into the cloud are typically to have more flexibility and better scalability, as well as to improve business performance and prevent up-front investments in hardware and software.

Dutch company Aviko has slightly different reasons. The international potato processor, which has customers such as the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn and British supermarket giant Tesco, is an Amazon Web Services (AWS) customer, but it didn’t choose the service with cloud in mind. The usual benefits of cloud computing were not as important to its decision to sign up as its expansion into China.

“Half a year ago, I knew nothing about AWS,” said Kees Jansen, ICT and program manager at Aviko. He shared his experience at AWS’s Enterprise Summit, which took place in September 2016 in the Dutch city of the Hague, where Jansen was one of the featured customer speakers.

The Chinese market was quite fresh for Aviko. “Two years ago, we started a joint venture and opened a potato chips factory in Inner Mongolia,” he told the summit. For this expansion, a connection to Aviko’s existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was needed, but the unique Chinese situation presented hurdles.

There was also uncertainty surrounding SAP’s ERP solution, Business ByDesign, which the company uses. “SAPs strategy for the technology was unclear,” said Jansen. ByDesign was folded into SAP’s Hana. Originally, the plan was to utilise the SAP installation, which was running in the Netherlands, and not to have another datacentre locally in China.

Encountering problems with latency

Still, the China operation turned out to be somewhat problematic. The connection between the Dutch datacentre and the Chinese operation was inconsistent. Jansen said there was too much latency, VPN use was costing money and the Chinese government restricts certain kinds of internet traffic.

At the end of 2015, Aviko was approaching a deadline and had just three months to get things operational. The clock was ticking and people were sweating, said Jansen, so the only option seemed to be to have another SAP installation in China.

Then Aviko’s consulting partner Aepex recommended having a copy running in the cloud in China. This was enabled by the presence of AWS’s cloud in China, which was launched just three years ago. The solution for Aviko seemed simple: just copy the whole SAP instance to the Beijing region. But this proved to be easier said than done.

First, there was the matter of the copying 900GB, which took about a week through a VPN connection. And then there was the matter of licences for the now cloud-based software. There was much coordination with China and SAP in Walldorf, Germany, and the development environment of the SAP system was up and running two weeks later. Within three weeks, the whole SAP installation was live in AWS.

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It is currently an isolated instance with no synchronisation back into the main Dutch installation. First, Aviko needs to assess which data and how much data it needs to keep in sync.

“That will be our next IT project. Perhaps the only required data will be sales reports,” said Jansen. “This will probably be batch transactions instead of online data transfers, because of the problems that necessitated this cloud migration. But at least we now have insight.”

The Dutch company has big ambitions for the large Chinese market. It currently has one production plant in China and wants to build out. But to unlock its market potential it must first have ICT operations in place, which in this case are in the cloud.

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