Hybrid cloud adds fizz for Coke

How a hybrid cloud strategy is the answer for the Asia Pacific region's biggest soft drinks bottler.
Written by Drew Turney, Contributor

With more customers and users than most entire industries, Coca Cola Amatil delivers mobile data to staff in hugely varied local network conditions, and needs the power of the cloud to manage it.

Warwick Hutton, CIO Australia at Coca-Cola Amatil

Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) is one of the largest non-alcoholic beverage bottlers in the Asia-Pacific region and one of the world's top five Coca-Cola bottlers. The company, which operates in six countries and has 14,900 employees, 700,000 active customers and 270 million end consumers, was using what CIO Australia, Warwick Hutton, describes as 'an ageing Lotus Notes system'. It was obvious that cloud computing -- particularly a hybrid environment -- was the answer.

Spearheaded by group CIO Barry Simpson in 2010, CCA was an early adopter of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) cloud-based email platform. It was the company's first experience with shared public cloud applications on a broad scale, and Hutton and his team were very happy with the results, which prompted many other projects leveraging public, private and hybrid cloud platforms.

The migration to cloud-based email in the early days was handled extremely well by employees, he says. The most telling factor in the project's success was the ability for people to communicate from any device and at any time. "It fundamentally changed how people worked and really opened our eyes to the possibilities of cloud platforms and what it could offer," Hutton says. "We've now migrated to the latest Office 365 service and are leveraging more of the cloud than ever before."

Moving out

Today CCA has a mobile-first approach in everything it does, and cloud technology delivers new capability faster and more cost-effectively to where it delivers the most business benefit. It's the endpoint in a longstanding program that began with the decision to outsource data centres.

"We didn't want to be in the business of maintaining infrastructure ourselves," Hutton says. "We centralised much of our processing and used virtualisation to get economies of scale in those environments." He says the IT operations team is pretty lean at CCA, which means traditional hosting models are too expensive and cumbersome. The company strategy is now to leverage cloud platforms as much as possible to lower cost and provide flexibility.

While 'old world' concerns like security and data integrity are still important to operations, IT staff recognise they can't keep everything locked behind corporate firewalls if they want to provide innovative solutions.

"Regardless of whether it's public, private or hybrid, the access to the system should be simple and available from any device. The security and authentication requirements needed to make them available are hidden as much as possible."
-- Warwick Hutton, CIO Australia, Coca Cola Amatil

"This is where we see hybrid cloud models working for us," Hutton says. "Where workloads are very standardised, have widespread use, and need to be mobile -- like email, office productivity, and software as a service (SaaS) systems -- it makes sense to leverage the scale and economies of public cloud. Where applications are niche, need a lot of customisation or we need testing and development environments, we generally use private cloud."

In most cases for widespread or mobile use, CCA systems use a combination of both public and private cloud to deliver an end-to-end application, and Hutton says the key to making it work is to hide the complexities of where the system lives from the end user. "Regardless of whether it's public, private or hybrid, the access to the system should be simple and available from any device. The security and authentication requirements needed to make them available are hidden as much as possible."

What's more, the application determines the components of the IT infrastructure stack and whether it's more suited to a private or public environment, or both. "Components that are unique to our business and get no advantage running in a shared environment would be kept in private cloud," Hutton says.

In a business as large as CCA there are a huge number of systems running, all of them arising from and servicing different departments and carrying out different tasks. Many of them have similar use cases or operational parameters, and when the cost equation will be similar for hosting in either private or public clouds, it's not often clear which option is best from a cost perspective.

But Hutton says factors other than just cost can often influence the decision. "In general, if a large portion of the organisation accesses an application and it needs to be available on a shared platform, we'd prefer the option to simplify access from outside the corporate network."

Shared language

The very terms 'public' and 'private' can trick us into thinking each one is a fortified cyber-world of iron walls, particularly when it comes to discussions about data security and the performance issues that can arise form co-location.

But one of the lynchpins of cloud computing is for systems to connect across networks to deliver value faster. CCA is just one company that realizes hybrid cloud doesn't just mean having some workloads on-premise and some in public environments.

Hutton's team takes a more application-based rather than an infrastructure-based view. In particular, bursting capability on demand should be available in all cloud environments. "The key to making that a reality is to get to the point where all your infrastructure costs are subscription based and have capacity on demand, albeit at different rates dependent on the level of services associated with them."

When it comes to the integration challenges across a hybrid cloud strategy, Hutton says a consistent and federated single sign-on has been the biggest challenge, although he's seen improvements lately in standard federated security offerings.

Latency can also be an issue, and it dictates the applications you'd plan to deliver in each environment. Hybrid cloud models have allowed CCA to bring functionality closer to the mobile user leveraging the internet and public cloud, while maintaining a secure consistent back-end architecture in the private cloud.

In fact, authentication and standardised access across all cloud environments is CCA's idea of true security. And for a company that operates across the region covering Australia, New Zealand and parts of Southeast Asia -- all with very different telecommunications industries -- consistent access is tricky.

But Hutton says it's getting easier. There are still fixed-line challenges in places like Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Indonesia, but the rise of mobile data networks and the internet means the public network is often more reliable and cheaper than the traditional corporate network. "Using public cloud infrastructure for applications like email and office productivity has actually freed staff up from often unreliable and overloaded corporate networks," he says.

The future

Coca Cola Amatil: heading into the cloud via a hybrid approach. Image: Shutterstock

In late 2013, CCA decided to optimise the use of the Office 365 architecture to provide productivity tools via a browser or native applications on any device. The first half of 2014 saw the company move personal and team documents, the company intranet, social networking platform, and customized applications specific to CCA to SharePoint Online and Azure. It also recently signed a five-year deal with IBM to move its mission-critical SAP infrastructure into a cloud environment hosted in IBM's Sydney data centre.

CCA aims to have a large portion of the business using web browser and mobile applications by the end of 2014, and it's something that a hybrid cloud approach is driving towards completion.

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