Smashing the Cloud

By Siobhan Keogh

At Datacom we know that innovation means mixing the best ideas we can muster with new global thinking around technology, and then applying these solutions to real-life business problems.

Earlier this year, we held an event called Datacomp which encouraged our people to come up with creative ways of using motion control devices Leap Motion and Kinect. The ideas that came out of it were new and fantastic, with the winning team building an end-to-end solution with a real business case for retail.

In November, we held another internal ‘hackathon’ called #CloudSmash. This time around, developers and infrastructure workers from all over the business came together to work on innovative solutions, tailored to take advantage of the breadth and depth of the hyperscale cloud.

The event was definitely competitive – there were twelve teams, made up of staff from Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch, all competing to come up with the most creative and robust idea to take advantage of the hyperscale cloud’s flexibility. Half of the teams were working with Windows Azure, and the other half with Amazon Web Services.

While the teams’ ideas were important, they also had to be able to implement them well. Everyone was working for a fictional small-business customer – a role expertly played by Datacom’s Scott Bennett – to solve the same problem in a short time period.

Our staff thrive on events like #CloudSmash because it gives them a chance to challenge each other and try out their ideas and be rewarded, but it’s also good for the company.

“What we’re doing … will give us ideas that we can put back into our business that will deliver a lot of value for our customers,” said event organiser, and Datacom Auckland’s business manager of cloud services, Arthur Shih.

We spoke with two of Datacom’s cloud experts, cloud services director Rob Purdy and senior solutions advisor Stu Fox, to get their thoughts on what makes a cloud solution stand out. And while innovation was an important factor, Rob said #CloudSmash teams had better think about new ways of doing the basics first.

Security is also paramount – our people were working with a lot of their customer’s intellectual property that needed to be protected.

Stu said overarching all that was the need to be modern – our people needed to focus on new technologies and ideas, and using those technologies in interesting ways.

“You could rebuild a legacy infrastructure on this platform, but by doing that you aren’t taking full advantage of the power these platforms bring,” he said. “You should be trying to do things differently.”

Doing things differently means learning, regardless of how experienced you are. The cloud’s untapped potential, said Rob, is in its sheer scale. There are so many tools and possibilities that knowing what to do with the cloud is half the battle. The next step is tying in good service.

“We’ve got one group that signed up for a service and got a call five minutes later saying, ‘What do you need? We’ll help you set it up’,” he said.

“This is the next wave of IT – where people can go sign up for a service online, pay for what they need, and get instant service from the vendor.”

Unsurprisingly, the winners of CloudSmash were the team that embraced the capabilities of the hyperscale cloud to its fullest and worked hard to deliver extra value to the vendor. The team utilised the full Windows Azure stack to deliver an end-to-end application, website and collaboration platform. What set the winning team apart from the rest of the competition was not only the rich functionality of the production planning and ordering system, but also the deep automation and reporting of the operational aspects of the environment. With a globally decoupled design and outcomes-focused dashboards, they were able to demonstrate an environment that could scale based on the business needs of the customer, all while ensuring 100% uptime.

While only one team could win, the innovation was truly amazing. Great ideas included two-factor authentication with real time phone call back; native mobile apps for factory workers that updated as new orders came through; one-click operational patching and many others. All in all, it was a fantastic and innovative day that brought many great ideas that we look forward to sharing.