Coles Supermarkets is in the midst of deploying a hybrid cloud model that is forecast to save the company “millions” of dollars per year and speed up delivery of IT projects, according to CIO Conrad Harvey.
Harvey – along with a dedicated cloud team of about 15 staff members out of Coles’ 650-odd IT team – is working with Virtual Ark to set up a hybrid cloud environment for its Kronos-based ‘time and attendance’ workforce management application in order to quickly stand up testing and training for projects. Infrastructure deployment times can go from six weeks to one day, depending on the project.
“We are using it in testing and training environments and almost wherever we can on workloads that run naturally on Linux or Windows,” Harvey said.
“We are enthusiastic to think about how we can reduce the cost of infrastructure but also how we can be more nimble in the first instance of the project. So this makes it easier for us to provision hardware for projects and for training at a lower cost point using automation and public cloud, as well as get more workloads onto the private cloud to be able to get environments up quickly and scalable in different parameters than the ones that we are used to.”
Harvey said 600 to 700 workloads will be moved to the cloud over the next year or so, with about 30 per cent already in the cloud.
“Where we have idle time or unproductive time while we are waiting for an additional test environment to be set up, it immediately give us that. It allows us to save money on environments and it allows us to share the load more effectively between the applications and infrastructure teams.
“It’s also an efficiency gain in terms of effort once you have done the automation, as it can reused by project teams. But also it saves you in hardware because you can do temporary loads in the public cloud without buying the hardware.”
With Coles already having a high level of virtualization in its Australian-based data centres, Harvey said the hybrid model offered more value than going totally private.
“The incremental benefit of just doing a private cloud is valuable, but not as valuable as being able to take some loads and shed them off onto the public cloud providers. So we needed to do both to get a real next step, otherwise it would have [only] been incremental value on top of the very virtualized data centres that we have already.”
Harvey added that cloud may not be suitable for all business applications, and it can be easy for many CIOs to get caught up in “doing it because everyone else is”.
“We haven’t found too many examples of bursting specific loads out into the cloud that have really paid back. We can do it, but that hasn’t [brought] massive value. Where we have found more value is using the public cloud for test and training environments where you typically only need it for days or weeks,” he said.
“If you have got a data centre that’s already five or six years behind the latest practice, then the cloud allows you to leap frog ahead by using it as a way of getting to virtualization.
“If you are [already] highly virtualized, then that means you have resolved a lot of underutilised assets… and you then need to find the incremental value through automation and load sharing out into the public cloud to make it worthwhile. And you have to understand whether or not you have enough project demand, flexible demand, etc.”
Harvey said he plans to incrementally move more workloads into the cloud as needed, with an objective of reducing Coles’ IT infrastructure footprint over time.
“We’ve already been able to do some very significant promotions and activities using cloud-type services to help us get us to scale on an initiative either for team members or customers very, very quickly. So by extending that flexibility into our data centres and into our more traditional infrastructure, we see the ability to get scale and speed up incrementally across all the applications we serve and not just those we buy as services,” he said.