Cloud Computing to the Max at Bechtel

Google, YouTube, Salesforce and Amazon provide Bechtel with benchmarks for a cutting-edge cloud computing infrastructure and applications modelled on SaaS.

By Stephanie Overby
Tue, October 07, 2008

CIO — Call it the CIO "clean slate" fantasy.

If I were starting from scratch, what kind of IT systems would I build to support my business today?

For most IT leaders, bound by long-standing infrastructure choices and loads of legacy systems, it's little more than a parlor game. For Geir Ramleth, however, the question provided the foundation to a new model for delivering corporate IT services.

Ramleth isn't the IT leader for some hot, new startup. He's the senior vice president and CIO for Bechtel, the construction and engineering company that got its start 110 years ago building America's western railroads and later made a big splash helping raise the Hoover Dam. "We said, If we started Bechtel today, would we do IT in the same way we're doing it now?" says Ramleth. "The answer was no."

When Ramleth first asked the question more than three years ago, the company had just completed a major initiative to streamline IT systems, which had cut costs by nearly 30 percent. But with Bechtel's projects increasingly executed in far-flung geographic locations, from Santiago to Shanghai—and with its systems being accessed by thousands of temp workers, customers, even competitors—Ramleth knew a more drastic shift in how IT services are delivered would be necessary to support the company's complex, distributed business model.

Starting with that imagined technology "tabula rasa," Ramleth took his cues from some real-life IT pioneers who, unlike most corporate IT organizations, could take advantage of an actual clean slate when building their technology platforms. He incorporated high-bandwidth networking practices from companies such as YouTube, the standardized server approach of Google, extreme virtualization techniques from Amazon, and the multitenant application support strategy of Salesforce.com, among others.

The result is the Project Services Network (PSN), an infrastructure to apps overhaul of Bechtel's technology environment that Ramleth says will provide secure, ubiquitous, simplified and rapidly deployable access to corporate and customer information for any user around the globe who needs it. Ramleth calls his approach the "consumerization of the computing environment"—an internal cloud-computing infrastructure serving up in-house applications on demand. Others say it's a sign of the IT times.

"It's really in vogue right now if you're overseeing enterprise IT to look at these upstarts that are talking about how they run hundreds of thousands of servers," says Howard Rubin, president and CEO of Rubin Worldwide and a Gartner senior advisor. "As corporate IT bemoans the issues of virtualizing or large-scale standardization, these younger companies do it all as a matter of course. CIOs are starting to wise up and look at what they're doing right."

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