Private, hybrid clouds may only be temporary stepping stones to public cloud

GE, the world's sixth-largest company, reveals it plans to go public -- to the public cloud, that is.

GE lately has been getting very aggressive about digitizing its business, and has been pushing its "industrial internet" in a big way. Now, all indications are that this $146-billion-a-year company with 300,000-plus employees and hundreds of product lines is moving as much as it can to the cloud -- the public cloud at that. GE's COO of IT Chris Drumgoole recently unveiled GE's dramatically evolving cloud strategy in an interview with InfoWorld's Eric Knorr.

Clouds Crane over Hudson River  cropped June 2013 photo by Joe McKendrick
Photo: Joe McKendrick

For starters, Drumgoole said, his company views internal, private and even hybrid clouds as a "stopgap" or "temporary" solution.  It's all going to end up in the public cloud eventually, he says. The company already relies on cloud approaches for key applications. He noted that "north of 90 percent" of the company's new applications have been deployed within public cloud settings.

This is shifting the role of IT within GE's organization as well -- to that of a service provider to the rest of the business. Business units can go to IT to buy solutions, or they can directly to cloud environments.

At the core of GE's roadmap for the future -- and industrial internet -- is data. The company, which produces equipment as diverse as electrical turbines, jet engines, and sensors, now tracks data flowing in from all its products to spot real-time issues and improve performance. Last year, I had the opportunity to sit down with Philip Kim, who was the marketing operations leader for GE's Measurement and Control division. (Since the interview, Kim changed jobs.) While data analytics is baked deeply into GE's culture, big data analytics has been still relatively new for the company, as it is for most organizations. "Within the last couple of years, we’ve seen a sea change. We’re starting to understand just  how powerful what we are collecting we can use," Kim told me.

Data is also behind GE's cloud decisions. The company is even employing an analytics-driven approach to effectively managing its cloud environments, Drumgoole explained to Knorr. The company encourages the metering of cloud usage. By monitoring usage data, line of business managers can "click on the name of an app, and see exactly how much it costs, how much resources it was using."