Belron, the vehicle glass repair and replacement multinational behind Autoglass, made its first tentative steps into the cloud almost four years ago and learned a number of valuable lessons.
The firm didn't save money, as the hype at the time suggested it should, and realised that simply 'lifting and shifting' from on-premise to the cloud is not the way to do it.
"It was hard and we had to ask whether it was the best use of our resources and time, especially when the hardware we were running wasn't end-of-life," said Belron IT transformation manager Ben Naylor, speaking ahead of the V3 Cloud & Infrastructure Live event, where he will present.
"We moved a couple of our file servers into the cloud and various other, albeit not business-critical, applications.
"A lot of the time, if you're running a similar architecture under infrastructure-as-a-service, deployed in the same way as you would run it in VMware, we found that often it wasn't as cost-effective as we first thought it would be.
"We had to reset and ask hard questions about what the cloud environment will really give us. That was when we started to discover that we needed to re-architect.
"Should we store data in an AWS Elastic Block Storage volume, which you pay more for, or could we put it into an Amazon S3 bucket? How do we put it into an S3 bucket? And it started to break down into some of the other services.
"So, we trialled it and it didn't work. It just opened a can of worms. If you move systems like for like generally speaking it costs you more than running it on-premise."
However, Belron didn't simply revert to in-house IT lock, stock and barrel. Instead, Naylor took a different, more strategic approach because cloud computing offered a lot of potential benefits for a company operating in 34 countries in five continents, provided that the shift was planned and implemented correctly.
"You have to think about re-architecting the platform and ask what's the best and most efficient way of re-deploying it for a cloud environment?" he said.
"Then we thought, actually, in six months' time there's going to be a new release [of the software] or the supplier will make a cloud-ready version, so it's better to leave the on-premise systems where they are and focus on new things. That was really our change of approach."
Today, Belron has production systems running on Microsoft Azure and AWS, and much of its remaining in-house infrastructure is expected to be shifted over the next few years.
The move to the cloud has also enabled Belron to push out more responsibility to national and regional parts of the business. For example, the various brands' websites are all run from a common code-base running in AWS.
The templates are largely the same across the world, and the structure has driven efficiency and allowed the company to maintain a common brand more easily.
Now, however, IT organisations are being asked to take over responsibility for the architecture and platform of the websites running under AWS, according to Naylor.
"AWS has enabled us to say: 'We're going to create for you an environment and copy-and-paste the entire website platform for, say, Spain into that environment for you.' So the portability that the cloud has given us has been massive," he said.
At the same time, of course, the cloud has greatly reduced the cost of scaling up in anticipation of marketing campaigns in the UK, Germany, Spain and everywhere else that Belron operates.
This alone has tremendous benefits in terms of business agility, and Naylor suggested that it is IT's responsibility to communicate these benefits clearly to the business so that it can take full advantage.
It also means pushing national and regional IT groups to follow the lead started by Naylor and his team in the UK, which now has a cloud-first policy.
"We put everything into the cloud with the expectation that our on-premise data centre will become 'end of life' during its natural course. We are not going to go for a big-bang approach for our data centre by saying: 'As of Monday morning it gets switched off,'" he said.
"But there will come a point where there are so few services running in the data centre, can we do a quick migration of the remaining ones? It will be a natural approach."
Belron International now runs some 70 per cent of services in the cloud, Naylor said, and the data centre may well be closed before 2020.
That shift may take longer alsewhere in the Belron empire, but subsidiaries in Belgium and Australia are already weighing up the costs and benefits of migrating to Azure, for example, when they upgrade their Microsoft Dynamics AX installations rather than running it in-house.
V3 will host a Cloud & Infrastructure Live online event on 20-21 April discussing numerous aspects of moving to the cloud and the benefits it brings. Register now to hear more about issues concerning data centres and the cloud.
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