Mar 03 2021

Microsoft Ignite 2021: How Companies Moved Quickly to the Cloud When Disaster Struck

With help from services such as Azure NetApp Files, businesses migrated huge workloads in days.

In many ways, 2020 was the year of the cloud: Businesses of all types found that their success in managing the trials of that year depended at least somewhat on the extent to which they were already running key workloads in the cloud, or the speed with which they could make the transition.

Ferguson Enterprises, a Newport News, Va.-based distributor of plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning supplies, made the transition “practically overnight” — or, more precisely, over a “week or two” with a “couple of long nights and weekends,” recalled Scott Wright, an enterprise cloud architect for the company, speaking at Microsoft Ignite, the annual conference for Microsoft customers, partners and analysts, happening virtually through March 4.

That’s impressive, given that Ferguson, which has about 1,400 locations in the United States and Canada, had to quickly move more than 14,000 of its employees to remote work environments when the pandemic struck. What made it possible was the work it had been doing before the pandemic to increase its presence on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, he said.

“About three years ago, we were given a mandate from our CIO that had us look at how we would work in the future and how we would adopt solutions in the cloud,” Wright said. “We wound up on Azure. We wanted to elevate our data in the cloud and make it more consumable for our lines of business and stakeholders across all of our companies. So, when COVID happened, it just kind of accelerated our push to the cloud.”

Azure NetApp Files Simplifies Cloud Migrations

Ferguson deployed Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft’s solution for virtualizing its Windows operating systems, as well as Azure NetApp Files, a file storage service that runs demanding file workloads in Azure without the need for any code modification. It is built on NetApp's ONTAP technology.

“When COVID hit last year, we were well along on our journey with Windows Virtual Desktop, allowing folks to be more agile, work from home, work anywhere on any device,” Wright said.

Ferguson is just one of many companies that accelerated their cloud migrations in 2020. For example, revenue from sales of cloud infrastructure products increased 9.4 percent in the third quarter of 2020, while investments in noncloud infrastructure declined 8.3 percent during the same period, according to IDC.

“We’re living through an interesting time right now, and every company is trying to figure out, ‘How do we reinvent ourselves? How do we do business differently?’ And cloud is a key ingredient to that transformation,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president in charge of Microsoft’s cloud services. “What makes the Microsoft Cloud unique is both the breadth and depth of what it provides. We have infrastructure and application platforms and an AI-rich set of services that anyone can build on.”

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

The Cloud Delivers Scalability and Improved Performance

CONA Services, an IT platform for the North American Coca-Cola bottling business that provides Coke’s independent bottlers a common set of processes, data standards, manufacturing and customer solutions, needed a way to scale its data cost-effectively. Leaders had concerns about the cloud, however, having heard mixed reviews.

“We didn’t want to be one of those bad stories,” says Francesco Quinterno, CONA’s CTO. “We took a measured approach to our cloud journey — gradual and slow, so that we could learn the platform. We wanted to make sure our people were well-versed in what the cloud can do. Gradually, as our confidence grew and we understood how the platform works and we were able to put our own governance routines around the environment, then we put more and more onto Azure.”

Once worried that the cloud might destabilize critical applications, especially the company’s business intelligence platform running on SAP HANA, Quinterno is now relieved by how smoothly the transition has gone. “I’m glad to say that the stability was phenomenal and is even better than it was before.”

Ferguson’s IT team, meanwhile, continues to look for new ways to drive innovation in the cloud. One upcoming project is to take advantage of the recent upgrade of Azure Arc, announced in September, that allows Azure customers to run and manage workloads across clouds — including those of Microsoft’s competitors. “We can get that single pane of glass with applications that might be on Google Cloud or Amazon Web Services, to really bring everything together and make it more consumable to our architects and other staff,” Wright said. “At the end of the day, it’s about our users being able to consume the data they need to support our customers.”

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of Microsoft Ignite here.

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