Web-Scale Infrastructure: Making the Leap

Transitioning a web-scale model requires breaking old habits and garnering C-level buy-in.

Marcia Savage

May 5, 2017

6 Min Read
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Although IT predictions are plentiful and sometimes painful, I know that companies will adopt web-scale infrastructure. Once only achievable by cloud giants like Google, Facebook and Netflix, it's clear more companies in 2017 will follow in these giants’ footsteps by adopting this infrastructure model. AWS has got us all hooked on self-service, flexible, highly resilient, and on-demand infrastructure, so now developers at large enterprises are asking: Why do I need to open a ticket with IT and wait? In fact, according to Gartner, 50% of global enterprises will have adopted a web-scale IT architectural approach by the end of this year.

AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure are great services, but they will never be all things to all people. In the same way that enterprises figured out in 2000 that outsourcing to IBM was not a silver bullet, they will also likely conclude that public infrastructure is a great tool for some companies, and some workloads. But for companies delivering applications to customers, the performance, cost, security and availability of their application will always be strategic to their company. That's why organizations like Dropbox and Pinterest are leaving the public cloud for private cloud, and through this year, we will see other organizations follow this path.

Cost, flexibility, and user-friendliness are all factors influencing this adoption. To understand the benefits of public vs. private cloud, I credit Dheeraj Pandey of Nutanix with a great analogy: It’s like the difference between renting a car vs. owning a car. While companies may want to use public cloud for the short term or a side project just like people may want to rent a car for a weekend trip, for key and core assets, companies need to build their own infrastructure and build it the web-scale way. Just like owning cars is ultimately more cost effective, adopting web-scale is simple, reliable, functional, easy to manage, not heavily engineered, and bespoke.

But while organizations are ready to get rid of the rental car and see the benefits of owning, they’re struggling with just how to do so. For the past 20 years, IT vendors have been selling car parts and asking customers to do the assembly and testing themselves. We need to do better.

Calculated risk 

Generally, a company’s default behavior is to be risk averse to making IT changes. While this may be comfortable, history demonstrates that aggressive, risk-taking companies can reap outsized rewards in their markets. At the current rate web-scale IT is growing, five or ten years from now companies who fail to innovate will find themselves lagging behind bolder competitors. The market has a way of weeding out those who do not innovate over time.

When we think about successful companies over the past decade and why they achieved this success, a willingness and ability to innovate has always been central. Think about Amazon and Salesforce in particular. Amazon had to overcome the likes of Barnes & Noble, and did so primarily through an innovative approach to IT to gain competitive advantage. Now they are taking on UPS and 7-11 at the same time. Similarly, while Siebel was a major CRM player at the turn of the millennium, Salesforce’s cloud-first approach allowed it to grow rapidly and outmaneuver its older competitor, ultimately taking many of Siebel’s customers along with it. You cannot achieve the reward without taking the IT risk first.



But risks can be hard to take; those ingrained in legacy infrastructure may find it challenging to think about moving away from the legacy black-box technology vendors. How do you inspire your IT team? First off, know that not everyone is ready to take the leap at the same time, but it's important to get a substantial amount of your IT team behind the change. Meet with your legacy infrastructure enthusiasts and let them air out their concerns with the project. Clearly call out the benefits and assure them that their skills are still highly valuable to the organization. Consider identifying a project champion who can meet, present, and connect with other team members about the project. There are a lot of ways to go about inspiring the team and every organization is different, but it's critical to treat this like a task on the project plan.

Executive buy-in

Many executives will understand the need for transitioning their infrastructure strategy. Yesterday, IT was a cost center. Tomorrow, IT can be a strategic enabler. Transitioning infrastructure from the Wall Street model to the web-scale model is a golden opportunity for forward-thinking executives to make IT a strategic weapon for their employer.

Despite this realization, change is hard; some teams are so occupied with keeping things afloat that they don’t believe they have the bandwidth to make these seemingly superfluous changes. For these execs, being able to demonstrate the total cost of ownership vs. return on investment is a crucial step in the journey.

Case in point:  A Fortune 20 multinational bank that made a significant upfront investment in building a private cloud and training its operational team on a new toolset that was different from the proprietary tools the team was ingrained in. By standardizing on a common toolset and operating model, they were able to drastically optimize and reduce operational expenditures by as much as 90%, and push services out to the market faster.

The long-term role of private cloud in an organization needs to be top of mind, which will ultimately drive organizational changes. Where I have seen the most success in an organization making the change is when there's corporate mandate to think of infrastructure strategically coupled with an executive level sponsor who understands and is willing to tolerate the risk of this transition with a large reward. Buy-in needs to start at the top.

In my next blog post, I'll explain more steps companies can take to make a successful transition to web-scale infrastructure.

You can hear more about web-scale IT at Interop ITX in Las Vegas, where Cumulus CTO JR Rivers will present "Goodbye Traditional IT Buying, Hello Web-Scale IT." Don't miss out! Register now for Interop ITX, May 15-19.


Josh Leslie is a seasoned technology executive who brings more than 18 years of industry experience to Cumulus Networks. He was previously at Instart Logic where he was the first sales executive and was responsible for helping sign and cultivate Instart's first 150 enterprise customers, participating in over $50M of venture capital fundraising and growing the company from 30 to over 130 employees. Prior to Instart, Josh spent six years at VMware and held leadership roles in both sales and business development as the company scaled from less than $100M to more than $1B in sales. Before VMware, Josh was a field rep for CommVault Systems.

About the Author(s)

Marcia Savage

Executive Editor, Network Computing

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