Nov 24 2020

Saying No to Hybrid Models, More Organizations Are Moving Fully to the Cloud

As the benefits pile up, some businesses are moving every workload they can.

When Atlas Disposal, a Sacramento, Calif.-based waste management and recycling company, was forced to send its 40 office workers home in the wake of pandemic-related business shutdowns, it didn’t miss a beat.

“We were already pretty much all in the cloud,” says Dan Deters, Atlas Disposal’s director of technology, “While other companies had to figure out how to run their call centers when people weren’t allowed in them, I could send all our people home, and they had everything they needed to continue working.”

Over about a year, Atlas has moved virtually all its business applications into the cloud, with a mix of Software as a Service programs and systems running in a Microsoft Azure-based environment. The move began last fall, and it was accelerated after a migration to Microsoft 365 on Azure. Atlas is rolling out phone s­ervice on Azure through RingCentral and integrating it with Microsoft Teams.

“When we switched over to Microsoft 365 and started moving our file server to SharePoint, we found our needs were pretty modest,” Deters says. “We didn’t have terabytes worth of data that were going to be crazy to manage. So, we started to look for other ways to move to the cloud.”

More businesses are looking for ways to run as many of their workloads as possible in the cloud. Once content to migrate discrete applications or to use SaaS offerings to support individual functions, businesses have started to go all-in.

“The number of companies that are either on a path to or are already running most of their IT in the cloud is increasing,” says Deepak Mohan, research director for cloud infrastructure services at IDC.

Several factors are propelling the trend, according to IDC: better partnerships between cloud infrastructure and traditional IT providers, more cloud offerings from traditional IT providers, and a change in understanding around the cloud.

The Benefits of Cloud Agility

Walgreens Boots Alliance, owner of the Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacy chains, is in the middle of a transformational shift to the cloud. In the age of COVID-19, it’s already seeing benefits.

“We’d been underinvested in technology for many years,” explains Dan Regalado, the company’s vice president of global technology transformation and strategic partner management. “We have a significant amount of infrastructure that, although well architected, is starting to show its age and become an inhibitor for us becoming an innovative company.”

WBA began an ambitious, four-phase effort to adopt a cloud-first approach, including a massive migration of its 100-terabyte (and growing) corporate SAP environment to Microsoft Azure. The move to SAP S/4HANA on Azure took place over just 20 hours in January 2020.

WATCH: Learn how to deploy a multicloud strategy to control costs and increase agility.

“We want to go to the cloud to get the agility that comes with it and we’re starting to see the payoff,” Regalado says. “When we went into lockdown, we had to make significant changes in the way we serve our customers. Within a matter of weeks, we were able to give them the ability to buy online and pick up in-store or buy online and pick up curbside. We also established a partnership with DoorDash across many of our stores that was enabled by the cloud.”

If agility has been a key driver of WBA’s cloud migration, so has cost efficiency, Regalado says. The Deerfield, Ill.-based company is attempting to modernize everything in its IT portfolio — roughly 800 a­pplications in all. Since the company now pays only for the computing power it needs, it can invest more strategically.

“By going from heavy, heavy CAPEX to OPEX, we’re able to use our money wisely and enjoy speed to market,” explains Regalado. “We can very quickly, in a matter of weeks, show up with different value propositions for our customers, when historically it would take us months.”

A Business's Roadmap to Full Cloud

Going all-in on cloud may not be for every company just yet. So, how does a business know it’s ready to move aggressively?

“A good indicator is how easily the company has adopted new technologies in the past,” says IDC’s Mohan. “For example, has it adopted open-source software and unstructured databases?”

Even if the answer is yes, not all businesses can move all workloads smoothly to the cloud.

“A lot of companies with historically big IT footprints, like in banking and even healthcare and government, have workloads that have been built on and run on mainframes and Fortran, which can’t easily move to the cloud yet,” Mohan says. “As a function of scale, those will probably stay on-premises for some time.”

Mohan says that typically, web-facing and secondary storage workloads are good candidates for the cloud. So is any workload that needs to expand over time. “Data-intensive workloads like databases tend to be good workloads for the cloud because then you can take advantage of adjacent cloud services like artificial intelligence markup language and analytics to drive insights.”

Dan Deters
It’s just easier to have multiple applications in the cloud than it’s ever been before.”

Dan Deters Director of Technology, Atlas Disposal

Some applications need to be rebuilt to run in the cloud. In June, WBA began rearchitecting a pharmacy platform it runs in the U.K. in order to move it to Azure.

For its part, Atlas Disposal has been cooperating with developers of industry-specific waste management SaaS offerings to improve their functionality and integration with the company’s Azure-based services, such as single sign-on. Atlas has about 70 drivers who manage their routes through such software, running as cloud applications on Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e tablets.

“We’re starting to do a lot with single sign-on in Azure so people don’t have to worry about forgetting passwords for all the services they use,” says Deters.

Integrated Cloud Services Offer Simplified IT Environments

At AVIXA, a Fairfax, Va.-based technology industry association, on-staff Azure administrators write code to integrate the various cloud services it uses to operate globally, including between its cloud-based customer relationship management solution and the platforms it uses to register trade show attendees.

“The business layer is all hosted on Azure,” says Kapil Kher, AVIXA’s vice president of IT. “That talks to the database, which talks to our websites, which talk to everything external. We host lots of APIs in Azure to connect our applications.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Five questions small businesses should ask before choosing a cloud platform.

Kher says AVIXA takes advantage of various aspects of Azure, including single sign-on and search functionality across its websites. Its move to the cloud began about seven years ago. Today, AVIXA is nearly 100 percent cloud-based.

“We’ve gone to zero in terms of capital expenditures for server infrastructure,” Kher says. The company is now exploiting the scalability of its cloud platform to better manage operational expenditures.

“We’ve been expanding our cloud footprint over the past two years, especially regionally,” Kher says. “Over the past several months, because of how every business has been affected, cost savings are important. Our Azure team is focused on reducing server utilization.”

At Atlas Disposal, Dan Deters is a one-man IT shop, which is all the more reason to move as much to the cloud as he can. The fact that the company’s cloud runs virtually without interruption has been one of its greatest attributes, he says. “I think Azure was down a total of two hours last year.”

The company continues to integrate all its cloud services, but the fact that it can operate seamlessly during crises and add services that make its workers more productive has been invaluable, says Deters. “It’s just easier to have multiple applications in the cloud than it’s ever been before.” 

Photography by Cody Pickens