Application Strategy Improves IT Agility

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A series on CenturyLink’s Information Technology team’s move into the cloud

As part of our journey to the cloud, our CenturyLink IT team has made a commitment to migrate 90% of our strategic applications to the cloud. The foundation for this is our long-standing strategic plan for our application portfolio that we call “cap and grow”. Driven by both natural IT strategic evolution and numerous acquisitions, we’re “capping” our investments in many legacy systems and retiring others, while “growing” our investments in existing and new, strategic applications.


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The SaaS Challenge

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Liberty. Freedom. Power. You likely experience all these feelings when your department “declares independence” from the IT department and signs up for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering in your area of the business. Having fast, flexible access to a widely-used version of your mission-critical application is an empowering capability. No more waiting for system upgrades. No more waiting for credentials. Access from any device, wherever you need it. A good SaaS application is designed to be easy to consume – and a good user experience makes it especially easy for your business to get hooked.
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5 Important Lessons about Bimodal IT and Innovation

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Based on Episode 3 of the “Hybrid IT Files,” a monthly live, online series from CenturyLink dedicated to searching for the truth in the concept of Hybrid IT. 

I am a fan of a good talk show, and one of my new favorites is a live-streaming show, called The Hybrid IT Files, produced by a team here at CenturyLink. Episode 3, Bimodal IT and Innovation (embedded at the bottom of this post), featured a high-speed conversation between host David Shacochis, VP of Cloud Platform, CenturyLink, Jonathan Murray, founder of n.flex.n software and former CTO of Warner Music Group, and Odell Riley, VP of Corporate Services at CenturyLink IT.
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Bi-Modal IT and Innovation

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We’ve all read them – amazing case studies about software-driven startups that disrupt established industry incumbents with born-in-the-cloud thinking and development agility. We read the articles, listen to the stories, and get increasingly frustrated at how unfair it all seems.  “That sort of thing couldn’t work at my company!”

Now more than ever, enterprise IT leaders are waking up to the fact that if their company hasn’t been disrupted yet, they will be soon.  Anyone who claims that fast-paced agility “would never work here” is engaging in self-fulfilling prophecy.  This has led to the emergence of a hybrid technology leadership model, where some resources are focused on the traditional business, and others are focused on exploratory innovation. Dubbed “Bi-Modal IT” by Gartner, this trend represents a critical strategic concept for IT leaders in many different industries to understand and embrace.

However, the trick with Bi-Modal IT is that, by adopting it, you can actually drive a wedge through your organization which does more harm than good.  The stakes are high!

In our next episode of the Hybrid IT Files, we shift our focus to yet another layer of the IT stack – the business strategy layer.  Alignment between IT and the business has been a critical challenge for decades.  But in the face of disruptive innovation, companies need to figure out how to re-invent themselves on the fly without jeopardizing their existing revenue streams that keep the lights on.  Our guests will be technology thought leader Jonathan Murray and Odell Riley of CenturyLink, two technology executives with strong perspectives on what Bi-Modal transformation is like on the front lines of leadership.

  • We’ll get at the answers of questions such as:
  • What is the origin of the term?
  • What are the motivations and thought process for adoption?
  • How do you get over molehills to implementation?
  • What are the industry trends surrounding the success and failure in adoption of Bi-Modal IT?

We hope you’ll join our live broadcast on Thursday, February 12th at 9AM Pacific, you can join us here in our viewing room on Crowdchat and if you visit the page you can add the session to your calendar. – and if that’s too long to wait, we hope you’ll catch up with Episodes 1 and 2 of The Hybrid IT Files on our CenturyLink Business YouTube channel. See you then!

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Journey to the Cloud: Rethinking the IT & LOB Relationship

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A series on CenturyLink’s Information Technology team’s move into the cloud

It’s not often that you get to rethink your most basic mission as an IT department. But, that’s the opportunity we got when CenturyLink IT made a commitment to transition certain internal IT systems to the cloud last year. We saw this as a catalyst for a big picture change. While cloud migration tends to focus on pure technology and IT-centric organizational issues, our team’s journey to the cloud is also leading to a rethinking of the relationship between the IT department and our line of business (LOB) partners.

Evolutions in business technology inevitably lead to changes in the way that businesses operate. The advent of personal computers disrupted the centralized mainframe culture. The web and mobility brought consumers into closer contact with brands. The cloud is a similar, but more intense case. By placing our IT infrastructure in the cloud and having the flexibility to spin virtual machines up and down in minutes – a process whose on-premise equivalent took weeks to months – our IT staff is able to operationalize the business’s problems in a whole new way.

These changes are becoming visible in way we do the work. Our relationship with LOB partners has always been driven by being an enabler to their success and supporting them in achieving their business objectives. Now, we have the opportunity to architect solutions that allow us to reduce time to market, shorten feedback cycles and increase flexibility. As a result of this transformation, we are evolving our relationships from being an arm’s length service provider scenario into a more interactive partnership.

The speed and flexibility of the cloud allows us to be a more agile and responsive to business needs in real-time. With an idea-to-code cycle that can be measured in days, not months, we can essentially reinvent the way we drive business outcomes. As part of this shift, our project managers are changing the way they approach delivering solutions to their LOB partners. There is an increased emphasis on external, rather than internal IT accountability. Today, we want to know how the end product is working and what needs to be different. How quickly can we make the changes? We are able to be more transparent to the LOB, prioritizing work, and getting it done right, achieving predefined success metrics – all within a clearly thought-out cost structure.

This is a big change for our company. By design in a waterfall development methodology, the LOB partners allocate three or four weeks’ worth of their time, dumped all of their requirements, and went away for a few months while we developed software. At the end they would reengage to make sure we developed what they needed. If they were satisfied, we tested it and put it into production. Sometimes, it wasn’t quite what they asked for, or their needs had evolved during the long development cycle.. When this happens, it tends to result in quality issues or painful de-scoping activities. This is the behavior a traditional serial process creates.

With the cloud and the accompanying transformation to agile development, LOB partners can be engaged with us in the creation of business technology on a day-by-day basis. We’re together throughout the entire lifecycle as we go forward. It’s a truly great opportunity to change the development parameters and redefine partnership. We can work together as if we were a “lean startup,” exploring new ideas and scrumming out application builds to test what we’ve developed. This iterative approach allows us to react to changes faster and course correct when needed. We believe that this transformation is imperative to success and are working to broadly shift to this model as quickly as possible.

Doing agile development means looking at your problems and breaking them into smaller components. You can’t solve all the world’s troubles in one day. You really have to take one step at a time. For example, we had several projects where we didn’t really know what problem we were trying to solve. Conversations with LOB teams only revealed symptoms of the issue. We invested time and watched how they performed their jobs then we started solving key symptoms. That allowed us to better understand the underlying root cause without throw away investment or excess costs. We got to a really good product at the end because we worked jointly with the LOB in smaller increments and course corrected when our definition of success shifted. With this kind of real time feedback, our whole development rhythm got better.

The cloud is a key enabler in the transformation to agile methodologies and subsequently these improvements in the IT-LOB relationship. You will be partnering more closely with them than ever before, ideally with better end results. Everyone will feel a new level of engagement in the process and more ownership in the final product. If you’re early in cloud adoption, the main takeaway is that the relationship and its dynamic will change – but it’s for the better. It’s going to happen, whether you’re ready for it or not. My recommendation is to be prepared to open your mind to thinking about your LOB partners in a whole new way.

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Overcoming Perceived Challenges in Migrating to the Cloud

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A series on CenturyLink’s Information Technology team’s move into the cloud

Let’s talk about molehills. As we transform CenturyLink from a traditional telecom to a network and cloud provider, our IT department has embarked on a parallel journey to cloud computing. We’re moving up the stack and becoming more of an internal solution provider and less of an operations-only unit. It’s exciting, but also a little daunting. Each time we see a potential problem, we wonder, “Are we making a mountain out of a molehill?” Often, we are.

My advice to other IT teams moving to the cloud is to watch out for those molehills. Moles either dig helpful holes that aerate the soil or they eat your precious crops. Some problems are real. Others just look bad. Some present opportunities to do things better. All of these challenges involve people, processes and technology. So it is with perceived challenges that involve people, processes, and technology that we migrate to the cloud.

People are a key factor in moving to the cloud. For example, development operations responsibilities are often segregated between IT operations and the development team. With the cloud, those responsibilities get blurred. The whole dev-test-deploy model gets twisted around – in a good way. If you work with your people on how cloud transforms development and operations, you’ll be able to get to a point where you can actually develop, test, and get projects in front of the customer more quickly, and, frankly, create a partnership. This is quite different from the traditional approach of development where you go get the requirements, go off for several months and then come back with a product that’s may not be not what the users expect or need months on.

In terms of process, moving into the cloud forces you to rethink many traditional decisions. For instance, the cloud makes you think differently about standardization. When you’re running your own hardware, you pay a lot of attention to standardizing servers, operating systems, databases, and so forth because variation is costly to support. When you’re in the cloud, many of these issues become less relevant. You’re not touching the machines. Operating systems are running on virtual machines with automated configuration. Variation is a lot simpler to manage. We can get out of “everything must be standardized” autopilot mode – which often enables us to provide more choice and flexibility to the business.

The cloud also forces a different perspective on end of life process issues. It makes you ask, “Do I really want to own all these resources in a data center that carries high overhead? Do I want to spend a lot of my time and energy focused on facilities as opposed to the business that I’m actually trying to run?” One of the best things about the cloud environment is it allows you to make end of service life lower on the priority list than business initiatives because the process becomes part of the DNA on your environment.

Perceived technological challenges arise over matters such as disaster recovery (DR). The cloud should make you re-asses what you’re doing with DR. The cloud makes it easier and harder at the same time. Traditionally, we thought about DR in terms of recovery time objectives, offsite tape backup data storage, hot sites vs. warm sites – basically how will we triage the business systems if we have an outage? With the cloud, the barriers to creating a “hot site” are much lower – you can run mirrored environments with an ease that would have been hard to imagine a few years ago. However, that said, you still have to put together a coherent DR plan that fits the new parameters.

Or, consider security. Some perceive security as a show stopper for the cloud, but it really shouldn’t be. Nobody wants their company to be shown on CNN suffering from a security breach. And, of course, some data simply cannot go off premises, but most can. The cloud made us review our security policies and update them for the cloud. For example, in the cloud, system components might be spread around a different security perimeter. The pace of application development and iterations of code integration can be so much faster in the cloud that the traditional security audit process probably isn’t going to work. Add to that the openness of the new APIs that can connect your apps to pretty much anything in the universe, and you’ve got a new reality in security. These issues can be addressed, but they must be identified first.

Then, think about your applications. Not all of them are ready for the cloud, whether it’s a technical issue or licensing limitation. This is okay. Not everything is headed to the cloud, anyway. In our bi-modal IT strategy, we are placing certain legacy applications into what we call our “cap” category. We’re capping our investments in these systems because we do not think they have a future in the cloud with us. For those applications that we want to take to the cloud, we are working with our software partners to make sure that that they’re embracing this journey to the cloud as we are.

IT departments can move to the cloud successfully, CenturyLink is just one example. It is possible to overcome perceived challenges to the cloud if we focus on people, process, and technology. For each, the cloud forces a reassessment of what we’ve been doing. The cloud pushes us to rethink our assumptions about how people, process, and technology in IT support the business. There are plenty of molehills along the way. The trick is to figure out if they’re the kind that help or hurt – and fill them in so they don’t grow into mountainous obstacles on the way to the cloud.

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A New Platform for Hybrid IT: Platform CenturyLink

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IT people are doers, they make things happen. It’s just in their nature. So, when thought leaders talk about dramatic changes in technology affecting business and new digital business models, most IT people are already thinking, “What should we do about that?” They are ready for the business advantage that comes from a simpler, faster IT consumption process – one that also gives lines of businesses what they need at the speed they need it.

At CenturyLink, we are also doers. We are doing something tangible to support customers in the Gigabit economy. We are helping IT professionals bring about the digital transformation that everyone is talking about. We’re building a new platform for hybrid IT, a single point of control for virtually all IT assets and functions – a platform that enables IT managers to be agile. It’s called Platform CenturyLink.

Platform CenturyLink will make it possible to bring up environments and provide capabilities to end users, or to meet their needs very quickly, in different ways around different applications required by the business. Our goal with Platform CenturyLink is to place everything we offer to enterprise IT in a single management interface. The Platform will give IT efficient control over the network, public cloud assets, private cloud environments, legacy infrastructure, and applications a single UI to order network services and spin up machines automatically – basically do all sorts of tasks that used to require help tickets, phone calls and manual processes.

The insight that led to Platform CenturyLink was a realization that Hybrid IT is a promising reality, not a burden. Yes, you are going to be running everything you’ve got and adding cloud capabilities to the mix. While there is a lot of cloud migration going on, the truth is that most serious businesses are going to be continuing with all sorts of legacy systems for the foreseeable future. There is an opportunity to make it all work well together. We want to make it efficient to deal with this challenge. For this reason, Platform CenturyLink will combine network, cloud, hosting, and Colocation management into a highly scalable, API-driven toolset. It enables agility by unifying of all of our infrastructure, software, and network assets.

Looking at the Platform’s architecture from the data center, you start with a hybrid cloud infrastructure. Our goal is to enable you to create the right environment for a particular application. We’ll do this with an application marketplace that includes both business software applications as well as network function virtualization applications. What’s unique is our vision for near instant ability to instantiate isolated or public cloud or deploy a full range of solutions like managed Hadoop, Spark, SAP, Cloud Foundry or Docker.

The Platform will encompass our vision for a Software-Defined Network (SDN) controller through RESTful APIs to our network capability. In terms of the control of the network, we use traditional next generation standards like NetConf and OpenFlow, but we also have made a big investment in systems capabilities to interface with legacy network elements and their underlying element management system. And of course, our MPLS network will be the foundation gateway to business agility, connecting with a broad ecosystem of external services and all of our platform services.

With Platform CenturyLink we’re creating an environment where it’s easy for our customers to quickly take advantage of the latest technology to accelerate their businesses and outdistance their competition. A single, automated point of control makes for agile, efficient IT management. We’re putting it all together for you. With Platform CenturyLink, it is time to rethink CenturyLink.

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The Truth about Hybrid Cloud

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Last month we kicked off the “Hybrid IT Files” hangout with our inaugural episode on Data Gravity.   Next up is Hybrid Cloud and I have asked two of the industry’s top experts, Jesse Proudman, CTO from Blue box and Rob Smoot, Senior Director, Cloud Management from VMWare, to dig into the topic to uncover the truth with me. Here’s what we’ll probe… Computing hybrids are a common hybrid out in the industry today and the term gets used in a variety of scenarios. The “textbook” (PDF) definition refers to a mixed deployment model that ensures data portability. So we’ll dig into this and the reality of Hybrid Cloud Computing in the marketplace. Plus, we’ll tackle questions, such as:

  • What are the common deployment methods for Hybrid Cloud computing?  Are virtualization technologies kept constant?  Is one technology suite used, or do enterprise architects use diverse vendors?
  • What are the real and practical workloads that work in this model, and what benefits does the enterprise receive?
  • Are there extreme examples of Hybrid Cloud in practice?  Or does usage follow fairly common practices?

To be missed? No way! It’s going to be a good discussion, so join me live next Thursday, January 29th at 9:00 a.m. PST watch and join the conversation on Crowdchat and following our tweets leading up to the show at #HybridITFiles.

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