Cloud as an Enabler of Media Transformation

By Jamshid Khazenie, CTO, USA Today Network / Gannett

Dramatic change in how news and media are delivered to audiences began with the advent of the Web around twenty years ago, and has not slowed down since!

As audiences moved from traditional media to the web, and later to mobile and social platforms, media companies have had varying levels of success in keeping pace with technology transformation, as well as continuous innovations in how audiences interact with content.

While many might see such changes as disruptive threats to their industry, we can choose to see them as opportunities to serve our readers and viewers in new and delightful ways, while delivering new value through services not previously possible. In other words embrace instead of defend.

An example of these new possibilities that falls squarely within the world of CIOs and CTOs is utilization of cloud infrastructure.

The rapid growth of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other public cloud offerings such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform have enabled technology leaders to variabalize their cost structure while bringing transparency and accountability to how their application portfolio consumes compute and storage.

We can now deploy capacity and respond to the needs of the business much more quickly, removing barriers to innovation and experimentation. News organizations can now scale to meet the ‘bursty’ demand of a major breaking news event without having to “build to 10X average daily traffic”.

Still, for large well-established media organizations, migration to the cloud is not a simple change that can be completed in a few weeks or even months.

At the USA TODAY NETWORK, which is comprised of USA Today plus 92 local digital/print publications reaching 100+ unique visitors each month, we began our cloud transformation in mid 2015 and are well on our way to optimize a hybrid public-private design that will power our business for many years to come.

The journey has brought up many interesting challenges and lessons which are likely to be common among similar media organizations and therefore worth sharing.

Take Inventory

Not the most fun part of the project, but a necessary one. Start by creating an inventory of your entire application portfolio. What platform do they run on, who are the business owners, what are their capacity requirements, and most importantly, what business value do they offer today?

This will help organize the migration plan as well as provide a unique house cleaning opportunity. Many applications are likely the result of “organic growth” and no longer delivering the value they once did. Which means they should be considered for sun setting or downsizing as part of the migration.

Build a Team

If your shop is anything like ours, everyone is heads-down busy with business as usual operations and projects. A serious transformation project will never get the attention it needs unless there is a team dedicated to its progress.

The team needs to contain not only the necessary skills around cloud infrastructure, but also the culture and mindset of doing things differently.

Needless to say this small team cannot accomplish the migration by itself. They are agents of change in a hub-and-spoke model, who become embedded within existing technology teams to drive the project forward.

Put things in order

It is important to categorize the applications in terms of size, complexity, fit for the cloud, and criticality to the business. Based on this a calendar can be developed as input into a project plan. This is an important tool for getting all teams both technology and business on the same page about what is coming up and what to prepare for.

Prepare your partners at Finance (and maybe Real Estate)

The cost structure of cloud infrastructure is obviously very different than owned and operated data centers. Large occasional capital expenditures (upgrades and refreshes) become ongoing operating expenses. Structure and size of internal teams will change. And if the project is done right it will allow the technology organization to completely decommission and vacate an entire data centers. If the company owns or leases any of these data centers, a conversation with the real estate management team needs to take place.

Security – a new design

While the core concepts of cyber and network security will remain the same, network design as well as roles and responsibilities around management of connectivity will change. Virtual Public Clouds and vendor-specific solutions such as CloudPassage offer increasingly robust solutions for securing applications in the cloud.

Not just IaaS any more

With the rapidly growing ecosystem of products and services around public cloud offerings, the “cloud way” of managing applications now means a lot more than simply the physical location of storage and compute. There is a host of opportunities to automate and bring efficiency to application management. They involve getting serious about DevOps, building true Application Teams, automating deployments and QA, as well as modernizing the approach to 24x7 monitoring, alerting, and application management.

Culture

Finally, the journey to the cloud not only requires, but provides an opening for a change in culture across technology and business teams.

Back in the late 19th century if you wanted to build a sizable manufacturing plant, it would require building your own power plant next to it. Later in the 20th century as public power grids became reality, it no longer made sense to build your own power plant. The realization of that change gave birth to a new era of industrial and technological development.

A similar sea change has been underway in information technology infrastructure management within the media industry. It is similarly exciting and transformational.

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