Technology landscapes across corporate Australia will no doubt look different in the months after the COVID-19 finally subsides.
The pandemic has forced some organisations to deliver technology projects with a ‘new level of urgency’ and hybrid cloud projects are no exception. In fact, IDC said recently that there would be a ‘heightened demand’ for managed cloud services as government agencies and private sector companies address pandemic-related areas that require the resources and capacity that cloud solutions enable.
Tech execs gathered for a virtual roundtable event recently to discuss their approaches to hybrid cloud infrastructure and the challenges they face as they move more and more services to third party providers. The event was sponsored by Lenovo.
COVID-19 is best described as a ‘spanner in the works’ as it has delayed activities around technology transformation, says Will Sessions, head of technology and transformation at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
“I really feel that COVID-19 only highlights the need for IT to be at the core of all business activities and the strategic importance in what we are doing. Our cloud infrastructure migration is now back on track along with other identified core IT projects such as our CRM rollout,” Sessions says.
John Khoury, group chief information officer at Allied Pinnacle, says that his organisation has been fortunate enough to have been able to leverage a combination of existing legacy VPNs from businesses it has acquired in the past.
“We also quickly upstaged more modern, long-term secure and best-in-class virtualised solutions such as remote desktops while also using MS Teams and SharePoint,” he says.
Meanwhile, Brett Mildwaters, chief information officer at design and architecture firm, Buchan Group, says COVID-19 has had little impact on the company’s cloud infrastructure plans.
Workloads are staying where they are – in the cloud and on-premise – which was the organisation’s plan before the pandemic hit.
“As for remote working, there’s been no change. Although we did not have full remote working prior to COVID-19, we were fortunate that it had already been fully planned out. COVID-19 just expedited the execution,” Mildwaters says.
“We are somewhat unique in our requirements for remote working due to the nature of our individual staff workloads (heavy 3D design), we could not push out to staff member’s computers at home. Instead, we supported staff securely accessing their normal design workstations remotely,” he says.
Through this approach, he says, all compute and data stays within a secure perimeter while supporting staff to do their jobs as if they were in the studio.
“This worked incredibly well – we were able to transition all staff globally from office-based working to working from home within the space of a week without any drop in productivity,” he says.
Deciding what to automate
Cloud infrastructure removes the need for system administrators to spend time on configuration, patching, provisioning, migration and capacity planning tasks. Tech teams need to decide how to strike a balance between which tasks should be automated and which ones need human intervention.
“My IT team has a clear mandate on this one: automate everything that makes sense to do so,” says Buchan Group’s Mildwaters.
“So long as the time spent making it automated is less than the time we will spend over a 6-month period performing the task manually. I do not see value in paying highly qualified and experienced technical staff to do repetitive, manual tasks when instead they can be spending that time focusing on adding value to the business,” he says.
Sessions and his tech team decide what can be automated by analysing how individual applications and services interact with each other.
Doing this level of preparation at both the functional application layer and component infrastructure level helps the organisation map its infrastructure and optimise cloud services that are required without sacrificing performance, cost or functionality, he says.
“At this point, we are staging our cloud infrastructure and running an infrastructure-as-a-service layer. We are also deciding which platform-as-a-service or software-as-a-service offerings that we can take advantage of in the future.
“We are also creating templates with the idea of making repositories of code which can be used to do further enhancements to our corporate landscape as well as make them available to other cultural institutions who could benefit from the lessons learned,” he says.
Dealing with cloud challenges
Despite the clear move towards cloud in 2020, limitations around data transfer, lack of visibility and ownership are often overlooked by those undergoing a cloud transformation. This results in overconsumption of cloud resources, performance and ultimately, increased costs, says Joao Almeida, chief technology officer at Lenovo’s Data Centre Group in Australia and New Zealand.
“While some of these challenges can be addressed through robust processes and strong planning and design, others are best overcome by deploying a cost-effective and high performing on-premise or hybrid cloud solution,” he says.
Almeida says that when managing a hybrid cloud environment, organisations should focus on establishing robust processes that ensure the right workloads are systematically placed in the right platforms on or off-premise.
“Agility, simplicity and financial flexibility are all accessible benefits of cloud deployment and management,” he says.
“However, without a solid plan that optimises workload locations, organisations could find themselves dealing with over expenditure and runaway costs when conducting a total cost of ownership analysis.”
The Australian National Maritime Museum’s approach to cloud is different to other businesses and industries in the type of data that it stores, says Sessions.
“Many of the assets we have are digital native or digital only. If something were to go amiss with labelling, recording and storing [information], there could always be the chance that the sole artefacts of Australia’s history could be lost forever,” he says.
For this reason, the company is introducing frameworks and processes to ensure that there are multiple checkpoints within its end user operational and technical cloud processes that will ensure this won’t happen, he says.
“Cloud services that offer redundancy, automation, security and good cost management have matured to a point now that I am extremely comfortable with them when used correctly and with shared responsibility [between the museum and cloud provider].”
Common challenges for Buchan Group include cloud performance or more specifically, the connections to and from data centres, making sure data sovereignty requirements are met, and dealing with rising costs as more services are rolled out. Services also need to be easily administered and security policies and procedures always adhered to, says Mildwaters.
“Of those, the most difficult one to overcome for us is the performance issue. Some of the projects are very big developments or components of large built environments and as a design gets more detailed, the file size grows exponentially,” he says.
“When file sizes reach more than 200GB, design changes can cause the entire file to be updated instead of just a delta. This large amount of data becomes problematic for cloud-based solutions simply due to internet connections to the cloud. Even with high speed internet, 200GB of data needing to be synchronised to and from the cloud for each individual working on a project causes performance issues.”
On-premise infrastructure, although a little traditional, does not have this issue, he says.
“All staff are connected to high speed LANs and access a single master copy of the design data on a local server cluster. Even if the entire design is updated, all staff have immediate access to it without any lag or delay,” he says.