Google Cloud Next Conference ‘19 Recap: Q&A with CTO Chanh Doan
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Cloud computing: technologists and analysts are calling it the most impactful technology of our time.
It encourages collaboration. It improves workflows for cross-functional teams. It’s less-costly for startups than the alternative of on-premise IT infrastructure. It’s also critical for digital transformation, providing more flexibility in an environment that demands it. Cloud computing’s benefits are endless, and companies of all shapes and sizes are beginning to buy-in.
Recently, our team at Advesa, led by our Chief Technology Officer Chanh Doan, made the crucial decision to migrate IT operations to the cloud. It’s a huge first step for Advesa in becoming a cloud-native firm.
In making the first move, he and our team of developers sought out the latest developments and best practices by attending the Google Cloud Next 2019 Conference in San Francisco — the cloud event of all cloud events.
Alongside 10,000 other attendees, they heard keynote speakers, engaged in workshops and absorbed solutions for 3 days that sparked our company’s first step in becoming a cloud-native firm.
This, in light of other major strategic moves, such as opening a second location in Hanoi, Vietnam, to address Asian markets and the rapid hiring for our Vancouver location, adopting the cloud continues to be a game changer for Advesa.
But growth and change don’t come without challenges. So, Advesa’s Terry Say and Thea Christie spoke with Chanh Doan to hear what adopting the cloud means for the company moving forward.
Have you attended a conference held by Google before this one? What were your expectations, and were they met?
Our expectations were not only met but exceeded. We pictured mainly tech-industry professionals, like engineers and developers, giving talks and workshops on very technically-inclined subjects. But instead, there were people from very different industries and roles, and the subject matter ranged from cloud computing to the release of Google’s FAA approval for drone delivery.
Also, the conference showcased thousands of companies utilizing cloud technology to stay relevant and competitive for years to come. There were live workshops and boot camps for more tech-specific subjects available, and informative talks with senior Google staff, followed by open-mic Q&A sessions.
…oh, and did I mention free food and alcohol?
What lessons did you and our developers take away from the conference?
We all took away different things since we attended separate talks and workshops. Regardless, one thing we can probably all agree on is that Google is definitely shaking up the cloud tech world. Google wasn’t the first cloud provider, but they’re definitely the top provider, in my opinion. The cloud technology stack they provide can be used to solve a wide range of problems encountered by companies in every industry, from genomics to logistics.
Anyone interested in the conference’s events can view the recordings in 4K resolution online.
What’s our current IT setup like and what drove you to turn Advesa into a cloud-native company?
As of now, Advesa is running it’s IT operations in a hybrid cloud model (cloud and client-server computing), as several servers are still hosted on-premise. Because of this, our developers and designers are still working in a mixed-bag of Mac, Windows and ChromeOS environments. Adobe applications, primarily, are running in a Windows/Mac environment as the cloud isn’t powerful enough yet to host the workflows needed for it.
This is only one step in the process of going completely, and we expect the transition to finish within 6-12 months. Before our migration to the cloud, our IT setup was very resource-intensive in both the human resource and cost realms. The cloud directly addressed some of our most significant IT issues, so it was a no brainer.
“Before our migration to the cloud, our IT setup was very resource-intensive in both the human resource and cost realms. The cloud directly addressed some of our most significant IT issues, so it was a no brainer.”
Can you talk more about the limitations of our IT setup before moving to the cloud?
Sure. Traditional on-premise setups are not easy to configure. It takes many years of learning with hands-on training to become a good IT manager. Doing so also requires costly licenses and hardware to run these configurations. Anything you want to do, from provisioning user accounts and passwords to setting up backup routines or deploying software to remote computers, requires major involvement. These processes are also complicated to teach novices.
Maintaining these configurations also takes much time and experience, which means it’s costly and expensive when things break and need to be fixed. Did I also mention that you need to be on-premise to do these repairs while having to schedule them off-hours? In other words, if I wanted to do this remotely, it’s going to take a lot of time to set up and lots of money.
How does migrating to the cloud address these issues?
With cloud-based solutions, all these issues are no longer a concern. I can teach new hires how to perform basic IT management for many of the things I mentioned in under a single day with the new cloud-based management flow.
Also, moving from using locally hosted Office software to G-Suite tools allows our organization to better collaborate and share data. Gone are the days of having to send your copy of a file and merge it with another person’s copy, or storing backup revisions of your working file. This is all done automatically now.
Our conferencing equipment is also completely set up with G Suite so team meetings can be arranged through Google Calendar. Just send an invite to your team members with a Hangouts link, and they can join the meeting from any device, browser, or conference room. If employees are out of the office and have internet access, they can dial-in with their phones and contribute through videos.
Are we only using Google to power our cloud operations?
We use both Google and Microsoft, but Google is our primary cloud provider. We chose Google because they’re the best in the industry when it comes to data analytics and machine learning. Their cloud platform is built in-house, and it allows us to better analyze marketing data for our marketing and software needs
We use Microsoft Azure as a backbone for providing virtualized windows working machines in the cloud. We chose Azure for this because it’s built by Microsoft and they offer the best features for managing cloud-based Windows machines. At the end of the day, all cloud providers have their strengths and weaknesses, and we decide to use the best tool for the job.
Google also launched a new platform called Anthos that allows other cloud platforms to be integrated into their own. It basically creates a bridge across clouds, so by choosing Google, we can also use other cloud platforms with ease if they offer a tool we find useful.
‘With our current workforce of 55 plus employees, using on-premise IT hardware would require hiring two more IT employees with salaries of roughly 85K per year. At this point, hiring IT staff isn’t needed with the cloud, so that’s 170k per year in savings alone.’
What did you find daunting about moving to the cloud, and what feedback have you received so far?
The first question I asked myself was: “How do I replicate or closely mimic the workflow of each department into the cloud world?”. Every department, from SEO to design to social media, uses its own unique set of tools daily. So the first step was to make sure that the necessary tools would be available on the cloud or an adequate alternative was available.
The migration has been going well so far, and luckily, there hasn’t been any significant disruption in workflows. One challenge, however, is finding alternative software for the design and graphics department, as the cloud platform is not entirely ready to host the tools they use.
What benefits do you expect the cloud to provide for Advesa?
There are many. Our data will be more secure and reliable because it will be encrypted and fully managed by Google’s internal security policies. Employees will be able to work offline. They will have access to their own data and applications anytime and anywhere in the office with simple sign-on, whether it’s a table, laptop or desktop. I’ll also be able to manage many users without on-premise hardware at a much more global scale.
These and more boil down to major cost savings. With our current workforce of 55 plus employees, using on-premise IT hardware would require hiring two more IT employees with salaries of roughly 85K per year. At this point, hiring IT staff isn’t needed with the cloud, so that’s 170k per year in savings alone. Don’t even get me started about other data storage and management cost savings.
Data storage and management cost savings? Please explain.
Where do I start? For on-premise, our firm holds about 25-30TB of data, which at this point costs $900 USD. Add another $900 for the cost of backing up this data onto another system, and then, other expenses like Windows server licenses for each machine, independent servers as well as electricity and cooling costs. When you include other factors that are needed to store and manage our own data, like cameras and software, the costs are thousands. Not to mention the cost of having fail-safe processes in the event of power outages and hardware failures.
Compare that to Google’s Cloud services, like unlimited cloud storage, unlimited file revisions, and secure access to files from anywhere without needing additional servers. And it’s all for $12 USD per user per month.
“The number of IT incidents has reduced drastically from 5-7 incidents to now 1-2 incidents per week.”
That’s a lot of cost savings…has the number of IT incidents also decreased?
The number of IT incidents has reduced drastically from 5-7 incidents to now 1-2 incidents per week. New incidents all revolve around printer and scanner issues that will be resolved as more cloud-ready printers and scanners become available. I should also note that these printer and driver-like issues were still a big issue even with a traditional on-premise setup.
One of the biggest concerns with having your data stored and managed by a service provider is security. Can you talk more about this?
Sure. As mentioned, securing data on-premise requires intense physical and digital security, along with fail-safe mechanisms. Endless amounts of passwords are needed, along with the investment of resources. With the cloud, employees can secure their data by merely ensuring their Google account password is strong and secure while enabling Two Factor Authentication. This means accounts can be set up where access is only granted if the user’s password and phone are on hand. Data is also automatically backed up into our company cloud storage account and is secured by Google’s internal data protection policies.
It’s great because you can easily share files with team members on specific projects, and when things are done, access can be easily revoked. For the most part, this transition is seamless, and many of Microsoft’s services used before are now replaced by the equivalent Google tool.
These benefits are great. But research shows that the full value of the cloud is realized when other changes are made. Has Advesa made any further changes?
A lot of significant changes that compliment cloud adoption was already made before our transition. Our workflow processes were already more standardized and automated, providing team members with roles that are more defined. This gave team members more time to collaborate and brainstorm about strategy as opposed to being caught in minute tasks, as you both know. Part of this was done by adopting a project management cloud-based tool for all of our workflows.
For most companies out there, on-site hardware and IT is on its way out. Companies need to focus their resources on solving problems that generate value rather than setting up, maintaining and troubleshooting traditional on-premise enterprise systems. On-site hardware is so expensive to set up and maintain and doesn’t offer the mobility and portability that today’s modern workforce needs.
‘Companies need to focus their resources on solving problems that generate value rather than setting up, maintaining and troubleshooting traditional on-premise enterprise systems.’
What advice would you give to other startups trying to switch to the cloud?
If you’re looking to transition your company into the cloud, follow these steps. Start by analyzing your workflow processes to see if the transition will be smooth. Analyzing your legacy systems, the tools and software your employees use is part of this. You also want to examine the internet speed and bandwidth your company currently uses so the cloud provider has the right data allowance. Performing research on data regulation laws is also crucial. There might be laws against where you can and can’t store your data.
When you’re ready to choose your provider, analyze the costs, the scalability of their platform, the documentation and the live support. Overall, make sure you select the best cloud platform suited for your company’s workflow. For instance, we chose Google because it suits our data-oriented strategy.
Anything you want to add about Advesa’s journey towards becoming a ‘cloud-native’ firm?
I’m very excited to see what the future holds and how cloud technologies will help us better streamline and manage our company. Real changes in how we can provide value and serve our clients await. If you’re thinking about transitioning to the cloud, I’d say, the sooner, the better. Familiarize yourself with cloud processes now. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon!