Everyone wants to "do cloud" these days, but reality—and legacy applications—bite. Some of the burden of moving to the cloud comes down to hefty labor costs, but some is simply a matter of figuring out what "cloud" actually means.
While we tend to talk most about Software-as-a-Service (e.g., Salesforce.com) or Infrastructure-as-a-Service (e.g., Amazon Web Services), there's an oft-overlooked third cloud variant, Platform-as-a-Service, and it's having a big impact on a range of businesses.Take Springer Nature, for example. Springer Nature is the world's largest research, education, and professional publisher—home to iconic brands such as Springer, Scientific American, Nature, Macmillan Education, and more. The company, formed in 2015 through a merger of four global publishing and research firms, has more than 13,000 employees in 50 countries worldwide, with annual revenues of nearly $2 billion.
Big companies often come with big bureaucracy and legacy cruft, all of which makes a move to agile infrastructure more difficult. A solid PaaS can make this transition easier, however. How much easier? As Daniel Otte, Springer Nature's head of platform engineering, told me, the company "went from zero to 1,200 microservices apps in the first year" after standardizing on Cloud Foundry.
Cats and dogs, operations and development
Prior to the merger, Springer Nature's 40 development teams were already globally distributed with no standardization across groups. From commit to production typically took more than two weeks. Tasks like provisioning new VMs, configuring networks and firewalls, load balancing, and writing Chef scripts were considered chores that the disparate companies' 350+ developers tended to find too tedious to worry about. This 'tribal knowledge' approach created flaky systems where developer teams became overly reliant on operations teams.
Not surprisingly, the merger exacerbated these issues.
By embracing the Cloud Foundry PaaS, Springer Nature initiated "a big change in the working relationship between operations and development," Otte said. For example, changes to Springer's primary business channel, SpringerLink, once meant downtime.
SEE Why microservices are about to have their "cloud" moment (TechRepublic)
With PaaS, however, Springer Nature was able to dramatically improve uptime by empowering development teams to self-serve. According to Otte, "By embracing PaaS, we let dev teams own their applications in production without worrying about the operational hassles." This also resulted in "simplified operations and reduced costs across the board."
This fits 451 Research's survey data that concluded IT increasingly worries about improving agility, rather than simply shaving pennies off hardware and software costs:
This focus on faster time to market, lowering risk, and improving product quality have combined to make cloud a "must have" for IT. Getting to cloud, however, is non-trivial.
Transitioning to the future
On this front, Otte told me there was minimal hassle in deploying the PaaS solution into its current enterprise infrastructure. They then migrated applications running on legacy technology and "built net-new applications that leverage microservices in a fraction of the time it used to take."
The results are impressive. As mentioned, Springer Nature "went from zero to 1,200 microservices apps in the first year." Additionally, it "reduced deployment time from weeks to minutes."
Looking forward, Otte expects Cloud Foundry to support a substantial percentage of Springer Nature's applications, with plans for all customer-facing applications—including migrated legacy apps as well as net-new—to be running on it.
SEE PaaS: The cloud layer targeting app developers (TechRepublic)
Partly this is a credit to Cloud Foundry, but it's also an indictment of the legacy platform, which "simply wasn't flexible enough to support even minor changes without an outage."
Despite this PaaS love, Otte is keeping his options open. As he told me, "We're committed to operating in a multi-cloud environment that uses open source and cloud-based technologies in everything that we do." This means, among other things, that the company will continue to use OpenStack to stand up private and public clouds, even as it uses Cloud Foundry's container-based architecture to build portable images and then run them in any language.
"Running containers using Cloud Foundry helps us stay flexible and stable," Otte said. "We can run containers in a reliable environment and, most important, move containers from team to team to maximize our resources. By using microservices, we get new application functionality to market faster than ever before."
While not a simple task, Otte and the Springer Nature team are adamant that the effort is worth it. The company is better positioned to respond with flexibility and speed to changing market conditions, making IT a friend, not foe, to the core business.
- Why microservices are about to have their "cloud" moment (TechRepublic)
- CIOs keep trying to defy cloud gravity (TechRepublic)
- Google Cloud Platform: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- PaaS: The cloud layer targeting app developers (TechRepublic)
- The cloud money is in SaaS (TechRepublic)
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.