Nordstrom's central cloud team: Five takeaways

Nordstrom has a central cloud on-boarding team for its various groups. The general idea worth emulating: Learn best practices once then pass it on.

About two years ago, retailer Nordstrom decided that it needed a central on-boarding team to bring its operations--customer facing as well as behind-the-scenes applications--to the cloud.

The team started small and eventually built up from there, but the focus was on cloud best practices, quick on-boarding and passing along knowledge so divisions didn't have to learn the same thing over and over.

Nordstrom's model, one of many in enterprises as they increasingly mix and match on premise and cloud technologies, is worth considering for companies looking to put some method to what could become sprawl madness.

We recently caught up with Keith Homewood, Nordstrom's cloud product owner. Like most companies, Nordstrom stuck a toe in the cloud waters and then built from there. Homewood's team started as a band of four supporting 40 teams within Nordstrom. Now the central cloud unit has about 60 employees.

Amazon Web Services is the primary cloud provider for Nordstrom; Homewood's job is to ensure that the business leaders can get to production quickly and utilize the AWS portfolio to meet goals. "We're the supportive glue between AWS and the rest of Nordstrom technology," said Homewood.

Here are the takeaways from Homewood's team of cloud specialists:

  • No knowledge left behind. "As teams go cloud they're not starting at zero," said Homewood. "They have to be successful right away. Our job is to not get in your way, load your toolbox and choose how to use it."
  • Your infrastructure is code. As Nordstrom units deploy in the cloud there's an "a-ha" moment when executives realize they're not restrained by infrastructure. Being freed from having to build infrastructure means the company can focus on technologies that help customers.
  • Production is faster. Code changes can be deployed and tried several times a day. That fact allows Nordstrom to tweak its recommendation engine on the fly without infrastructure.
  • Anyone can create a 30-day instance in AWS. Nordstrom enables any employee with an idea to try it during his or her unstructured time. "If you think the shoe department should have a capability, spin up and instance, write some code and show people," said Homewood. "Sometimes it goes production."
  • Watch your spending. When it comes to AWS, Homewood uses a trust but verify approach to costs. Nordstrom has developed a cost optimization and analytics tool in-house to watch spending. One primary area to monitor is how many instances are reserved and not being used. For instance, development instances can be turned off at night. Since Nordstrom built its budget and forecasting tools AWS has added them.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on Monday Morning Opener: