by Jennifer O'Brien

Nine’s operations chief is on a ‘kubernetes’ high

Feb 26, 2019
Big DataCloud ComputingCollaboration Software

As head of infrastructure and operations at Nine Publishing, Rob Hill said he’s right in the action of keeping some of Australia’s biggest websites up and running – SMH, AFR, and TheAge – to name a few.

Last year, Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment joined forces, creating a $4.2 billion integrated media firm that establishes Nine as one of Australia’s leading independent media companies. The merger represents one of the biggest moves in Australian media history.

CIO Australia was able to take a peek under the covers and chat with Hill about his main tech projects at the newly merged entity. While he couldn’t reveal all, he did hone in on a big area of focus: cultivating new technologies.

In his current gig, he said he’s continuing to improve the ability of devops to get new products and services to production quickly and cheaply – currently doing multiple production releases every day.

He’s also using using new technologies – including kubernetes – to drive further cost out of the platform. “We are making great strides here,” he said.

Nine’s Rob Hill

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration system for automating application deployment, scaling, and management.

“Kubernetes – originally developed by Google – has become the de facto container orchestration technology. We jumped on that road very early and it’s been the right choice,” he explained.

“Containerisation and kubernetes is the way to do things in the future. It allows you to very densely use infrastructure.”

And while there’s a flurry of headlines about the new entity and possible implications, Hill said it’s “business as usual” for him in his sphere – in the aptly named product and technology unit. “We are a very self-contained unit delivering the mastheads.

“We are entirely infrastructure-as-code, with a brand new microservices-based architecture. Everything’s in the cloud, using kubernetes at scale to do all of our container orchestration. We have multiple production releases per day via automated pipelines that allow the business to be incredibly agile and innovate constantly.”

Indeed, Hill is no stranger to an operations and infrastructure role. He has a broad background across operations, product management and software development, and said he’s become adept at improving end-to-end processes across organisations.

He joined Fairfax Media two years ago and at the time was busy making fundamental changes to the core infrastructure. Prior to Fairfax, he was the CIO of the Rubik Group and also formerly the senior product manager for Dimension Data.

“Fairfax went through the process of rebuilding the Metro Publishing business from scratch. Previous attempts of rejuvenating things . . . hadn’t really worked so they went all out and created a new business, opened a new office in Surry Hills, handpicked a few employees and essentially rebuilt the publishing platform from scratch taking into account the processes and the culture.”

He said he was able to rebuild the entire publishing platform including all the editorial tools using microservices and infrastructure-as-code, as an example. Nine months later he was able to implement the technology at The Brisbane Times, TheAge, SMH, WA Today and the Canberra Times.

Today, he said he’s currently moving the technology platform across to the last targeted masthead, The Australian Financial Review.

Asked the benefits of microservices, he said it allows them to scale easily.

“But more importantly than that, it’s fast. It’s fairly hands off from an operations perspective in terms of getting new apps and services deployed out to production. The remit of our devops team is to enable the business to do their job,” and allow developers to enable new products and apps and services with as little friction and as quickly as possible, he said.

“So we’ve built a pathway to production for them. . . Our core mantra from a business perspective is to enable the business to innovate quickly and effectively.”

Asked his priorities for 2019, he said he wants to continue to provide innovative services to the business on a daily basis. “We have ongoing cost cutting initiatives. We are constantly able to make use of new technologies to make it cheaper to deliver the services we’ve been delivering.”

Hill said he’s excited about the cutting-edge aspect of the technology. “It’s so cutting edge we keep getting compliments from our major vendors like Google and Amazon – and we are far ahead of any of their other customers,” he suggested.

“So we really are far ahead of the vast majority of Australian businesses – and even some US businesses,” he said, explaining this is also a challenge.

“Being at the cutting edge, means there’s no roadmap. We kind of have to find our own way forward. That can be an interesting challenge in itself – and very few other businesses are in that situation.”

He advised companies not to wait to work with new technologies like kubernetes. “Don’t wait to dive into these technologies. Start now – even if it’s only in a small way.”