Coles has adopted a cloud-first policy as an extension of long-running architecture principles that gave preference to buying software over building it.
“Our architecture principles when we’re looking for a solution is firstly can we re-use something we have. If not, can we buy something. And only if neither of those is possible do we actually go and build something,” Patrick Ramsden, head of strategy and architecture at Coles Group, told the CeBIT Cloud 2014 conference this morning.
Software-as-a-service “is really the ultimate ‘buy’,” Ramsden said. “Whenever I’ve been buying traditional products, I still had to get infrastructure to put it on, run it on the network, find storage etc. If I can get something as software-as-a-service, I don’t need to worry about that.
“I don’t need to worry about disks; I don’t need to worry about CPUs; I don’t need to worry about databases and application services. I just buy the service.”
The updated model means that SaaS is the first option after re-use, Ramsden said.
Alongside SaaS applications, both infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service are used. PaaS can be used to deliver innovation and speed, Ramsden said.
“When we do need to build something, we need to build something quickly," he said. “That’s where we can use platform-as-a-service.”
He gave the example of a promotion that Coles ran involving boy band/musical atrocity One Direction. The campaign gave customers who had bought certain products the opportunity to enter a lottery to win tickets to a One Direction concert.
The project went from inception to execution in just six weeks, Ramsden said.
“We had to build a solution that could capture the details from customers’ receipts, process the results and really run the lottery for them all within six weeks.”
In order to meet the tight deadline the team used Windows Azure. PaaS delivered the desired outcome in a situation where traditional IT would struggle, Ramsden said. “We would still have been writing a business requirements document if we were using traditional IT processes,” he said.
IaaS gives Coles Group the ability to make better use of its own infrastructure as well as augment it with Amazon Web Services Ramsden said.
“So what we’ve done is we’ve built a private cloud, but it’s essentially a hybrid,” Ramsden said. “We have the ability to burst out to Amazon and soon we’ll be bursting out to Azure as well.”
For the hybrid set up ServiceNow provides orchestration and RightScale helps manage the multiple cloud services that Coles Group relies on.
“We’ve got about a quarter of [our] server load now running on this private platform and we’re increasing it,” Ramsden said.
Cloud both increases agility and reduces complexity, he said.
“We need to be able to reduce the number of different technologies that we as an organisation have to be able to master,” he said.
“By using the cloud we’re essentially outsourcing the skills that we no longer need to have. So if we can reduce complexity, that ultimately allows us to provide more seamless service at a more cost effective way into our business.”
The ultimate goal for retailers as well as many other corporates is getting completely out of the business of running data centres. That may not be around the corner, but “you can imagine a time when the cloud gets to such a point that actually we don’t need [our] data centres any more”.
“We’d, quite frankly, be glad to get out of it.”