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Harvard Business Publishing learns some lessons about work in the cloud

Joab Jackson | Oct. 3, 2014
When Ken Griffin, the director of IT operations for Harvard Business Publishing, warned his staff, "12 months from now, those servers are being switched off," his message was crystal clear -- there's no going back, learn the cloud or step aside.

Three IT employees left because of the shift to the cloud and were replaced by people well-versed in the "devops" style of management more suitable to cloud environments, Griffin said.

Uptime is also an issue that needs to be rethought. Griffin asked Amazon about specific SLAs (service-level agreements), or the guaranteed time AWS would be up and running for a year. Amazon techs responded that the company could provide any SLA needed, simply by architecting the system to the needed resiliency, spreading resources across different geographic zones, establishing multiple, redundant operations and so on.

Nonetheless, downtime happens. So the team is putting a notification system in place to alert employees when systems such as email are offline.

Griffin admitted the publishing company faces a number of unknowns using AWS. He doesn't know exactly how much it will cost to run everything on AWS, though he has estimated it will be about the same cost of running an in-house infrastructure. He also doesn't have a clear exit strategy for pulling operations out of AWS. Architecting a system to AWS does mean using proprietary hooks, which can't be easily translated to the hooks of other cloud services.

"We have all of our resources in one basket," he said.

Overall, Griffin is comfortable with Amazon's reliability, though. "There are scenarios where AWS can fail, but there are more scenarios where our data centers can fail," he said.


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