As a new parent, my favorite part of the day was coming home from work to hear my wife say Daddy’s home and see my son sitting in his high chair flashing a smile. One evening that familiar greeting was replaced by my wife’s frustrated exclamation, I can’t access the website for our baby formula. It took me a minute to connect her comment to an NPR story I heard on my drive home a major healthcare product company was recalling about 5 million containers of their leading, name brand powdered infant formula because of possible insect contamination. The media’s recommendation was for us go to the product website to determine if what we had sitting in our cupboards was being recalled but the website was so slow and unresponsive that it was impossible for us to check.
This event reminded me why it is essential for companies to have a cloud strategy to ensure they are agile and prepared for unexpected surges in demand. All companies and IT organizations need to make decisions about how much additional capacity they will procure when building out their infrastructures. Often companies will outsource hosting infrastructures or build out virtual environments to make scalability easier or more cost effective, but without a cloud strategy it is generally cost prohibitive for companies to prepare for a traffic surge. Prior to the on-demand technology of cloud computing, companies needed to build out a large infrastructure that would sit idle waiting for an event (they hoped would never occur). As a result of that inefficiency, companies generally accept the risk that their systems cannot handle the extreme load whether the drivers for the increase in traffic is good or bad.
About half a day after the announcement, the website for the baby formula was re-directed to a content delivery network which allowed the static marketing and recall announcement to be available, but did nothing to deliver the application customers wanted to access the database of recalled formula lot numbers. By the time enough capacity was added to support some of the traffic demands, consumers were reading headlines like Few answers on recall Web site, hot line and articles included quotes from frustrated parents and caregivers.
Consumers who reached the website were greeted by a note that we are currently experiencing site problems due to high traffic volume and the company was forced to publish alternate technology options so worried parents could get the information they were seeking. In the first twenty-four hours after the recall, when many parents were unable to verify the safety of the formula in their cabinets, some of them went to the store and purchased a competing product to feed their babies. Would they ever go back to using that brand of formula again?
A cloud computing strategy could have allowed the major healthcare company that manufactures this formula to instantly scale and deliver this application to its customers. Cloud Computing platforms allow organizations to utilize the infrastructure of service providers in the utility model use and pay for the resources when you need them, not in case you need them. The recall application this organization provided was simple enter a lot number, check the recall database, and if included, collect information from the customer so return shipping labels can be sent and could have been easily deployed to the cloud.
While this case study is based upon a bad event, what if it had been a good one? If your business and website was unexpectedly featured on the Today show, would your website be able to scale to the 5x, 10x, or 20x increase in visitors? Would you be able to convert that positive PR into sales?
While the industry is early in the adoption of cloud technologies, there are strong cloud computing offerings from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and others. While some applications cannot be effectively deployed to the cloud, many can be, and as these offerings mature, companies will find that the secure, shared tenant model saves money, increases uptime, and allows instant scalability for events both good and bad.
All organizations should have a cloud strategy model to better understand how the cloud can help manage costs or mitigate risks today and develop a roadmap for the future. When building that roadmap, since cloud offerings are still in their infancy, consider building a roadmap that includes private clouds that may ease a future transition to public clouds and outlines what integration or middleware requirements will be necessary to provide a seamless experience for your users.
While an overall cloud strategy must be developed in concert with the overall IT and business strategy, it should also have pragmatic steps to insure the IT organization has experience with the cloud offerings by putting test or new applications in the cloud. Once your company begins to embrace its cloud strategy, it can begin to migrate public facing applications to the cloud to insure that major events do not impact customer’s perceptions of your business.