North Pole CI-Ho-ho-ho says cloud is no gift

"Santa doesn't trust the cloud," North Pole CTO Louisa Claus told CIO magazine in a recent interview during the run-up to their busiest period of the year.

"He's seen it evolve from his sleigh over the past decade and says it's mostly a load of hot air. It's riddled with holes and not remotely secure, and since we're still fundamentally a manufacturing and distribution organisation built around our data we prefer to keep our information in-house," she says.

Ms Claus has been in her role for four years now since previous incumbent, her mother Mrs Claus, moved to an operations and marketing role.

"We were having a lot of branding issues at the time with some even doubting our very existence and thinking the whole shebang was something to do with a bloody John Lewis advert." Louisa said. "In the end my mother made a shift and as a family business I took over the technology estate."

Data centre

The youthful CTO emphasised there was no real driver to adopt cloud computing since they still use their own highly-efficient on-site data centre, which they are even looking to leverage to take on the current tech giants like Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft.

"We have vast amounts of space up here, and our data warehouse has by far the lowest PUE out there. You have to remember we're at the heart of the Arctic Circle - cooling isn't an issue for us.

"We have a smaller data centre at our grotto in Lapland which doesn't run at full capacity for 90% of the year and has far better opportunities to connect to the network."

It's at this workshop, Ms Claus explains, where a skunk team of R&D elves are working on disruptive projects that will eventually be taken to market.

Unified communications

One of the products the technology team "nailed years ago" was unified communications, she says.

"Whether it be email, Tweet or a letter sent to my father, we have a software bus that can pull all of that information together and make it accessible from our bespoke ERP and CRM systems.

"We needed this in place for the billions of pieces in correspondence we get every year, while our real-time translation services have made the job even easier so we know which gifts to make and distribute."

The telepathy element of the unified comms solution, however, also encroaches on the thoughts for those unable to supply Father Christmas with a gift list.

"He knows when you are sleeping; and he knows when you're awake," she says. "But he is also able to find out what you want on December 25 if you've been too lazy to ask for anything."

Security and compliance

The CTO insists, however, that the organisation takes security "very seriously" and that regulations are in place to make sure this privilege isn't abused.

"We have always been a leading player regarding security," she says. "We were the first to solve the encryption problem, recommending children throw their letters to Santa on a fire after we discovered how to unencrypt the ashes at the other end."

Needless to say the regulatory challenges are tough for a collective that stores information from every country in the world.

"But we just focus on the German data protection regulations," she says. "If you can satisfy the Germans you can pretty much assume it's good enough for everyone else.

Data and marginal gains

Despite their own expertise they have been able to make improvements in some areas, like training and data analytics.

"But we ignored all of the large vendors trying to sell us 'Big Data solutions' which were going to cost us millions of pounds," she said.

"One thing we are perpetually looking at is 'reindeer optimisation' - the team works fantastically well together but with the exploding world population their jobs are getting harder each year.

"In the end we turned to British Cycling and Sir Dave Brailsford who do consultancy work with the reindeer to make sure the big night runs as smoothly as possible."

And, she says, that the reindeer love working with the brains behind Tour de France champions Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

"Except for Rudolph," she says. "He's a bit of a loner and prefers to do his own thing."

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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