Mar 04 2021

Microsoft Ignite 2021: How Companies Get On the Cloud at Different Growth Stages

Agility, scalability and cost-effectiveness are all key benefits for both a year-old startup and a Fortune 500 enterprise.

From the largest enterprise to the scrappiest startup, organizations continue to find that the cloud offers advantages over traditional architecture that are simply too appealing to pass up. How businesses go about engaging with cloud services, however, does depend to a large degree on how much they’re migrating into the cloud — or whether they’re migrating anything at all.

Dow Chemical, for example, one of the largest businesses in the world, has been aggressively moving to the cloud for the past three years.

“We’ve become a cloud-first shop, and that means we’re looking to the cloud to drive increased agility and speed to market,” said Tony Rubenacker, Dow’s associate IT director for cloud, platform and data center services. “For our internal partners, how do we deliver traditional IT, compute and storage services faster to meet the digitization needs of our internal clients?”

It’s a massive undertaking: With nearly 50,000 employees, Dow has seven data centers around the world and almost 7,000 virtual machines. The company’s IT systems are “very traditional,” Rubenacker said. They are “what you’d expect at a large company like Dow: very centralized and mainframe-centric. So, what we have to do is leverage the cloud to help us eliminate technical debt and get those VM workloads off of our on-premises systems and into the cloud.”

Security, Performance and Cost Are Key Cloud Objectives

Rubenacker, speaking at an IBM-hosted panel at Microsoft Ignite, the annual conference for Microsoft customers, partners and analysts happening virtually through March 4, said the company’s primary concerns when making the migration were security, performance and cost.

“The migration approach we take is lift and shift first where possible for VMs. We’re targeting approximately 2,500 VMs to move. Our objective is to maintain continuity — to move those systems as seamlessly as possible. We’ve been able to build out the new cloud environment using the migration factory approach to the Azure environment,” he said.

A cloud migration “factory” is a term that refers to processes and tools that help an organization plan, execute and support workload migrations.

Rubenacker added that Dow is able to move its workloads seamlessly “because we’re moving the image. We make sure all the security protocols, all the DNS routing information, all the monitoring of systems and applications — all those things remain intact, so that when we turn on the switch and it’s in the Azure environment, everything works as it did on-premises. That’s the model we have to do these migrations en masse.”

The Advantages of Cloud for Startup Businesses

From an IT perspective, Car Capital is a world away from Dow Chemical. The year-old, Carrollton, Texas-based startup, which provides independent auto dealers with technology and capital for car buyers, was born in the cloud, according to CTO Christopher Mahanna.

He said that avoiding the kind of technical challenges confronted by large enterprises, where ever-multiplying VMs consume lots of resources, was a big part of his goal as he was devising the Car Capital IT strategy. The cloud makes it easy to scale as needed without having to worry about VMs or hardware.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Strategies for securing data through cloud storage encryption.

“Coming from a background that had a traditional data center and racks of servers and so forth, we wanted to make sure that, as we built this company, we didn’t have the complexity of having to forklift out a piece of hardware,” Mahanna said. “There’s a lot of effort involved in that. With a completely Azure-based environment, I don’t have that complexity. I use the Azure services, which allow me to have that scale literally by clicking. In a traditional environment, you have to buy a big piece of hardware to manage a peak. I don’t have to buy that big piece of hardware.”

As for security, Mahanna said he worries about it no more with the cloud than he would with a traditional server environment. He can isolate key systems on Azure in much the same way he would in an on-premises data center, using layers of security controls and encryption to keep such systems “locked in a cage.”

“We make sure we have all those different security mechanisms in place, which really is a multilayered approach,” he says.

As different as the two companies are in their business models, stages of growth and cloud engagement approaches, each is looking for similar outcomes from the cloud: the ability to scale easily and cost-effectively without losing performance and without compromising security.

“Being a chemical company, ensuring our data is as secure as it is in a centralized model was paramount,” Rubenacker said. “We also had to ensure that our performance for our customer internally was maintained. We obviously can’t allow latency. And cost: We had to move to the cloud in such a way as to minimize and actually lower costs.”

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of Microsoft Ignite here.

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