In its 123-year history, the General Electric Company (GE) has been behind some of the greatest technological innovations known to man. From the days of Edison to the conglomerate corporation it is today, the company is a trendsetter that helps define the global market. Now, ten years after the world started moving to the cloud, the big news is that GE is going ‘all in,’ making a big splash with a move to the cloud.
9,000 IT applications to Migrate
In all seriousness, the details of this move are significant, as GE will migrate some 9,000 IT applications to IaaS over the next three years. Because GE works in a variety of complex and regulated business fields, the challenges the company will take on are not solely centered on scale.
Along the way, their needs will evolve to require increases in the following:
- Deployment capabilities
- Operational necessities
- Data Tenancy
- Big Data
- Internet of Things
- …and much, much more.
The takeaway is that these legacy application migrations are most likely going to wind up in hybrid cloud technology, which is where GE is ostensibly going with these projects. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, GE wants to be a leader in the Internet of Things enabling its GE Appliances, and connecting even light bulbs. On this journey to the cloud, the company plans on stepping down from more than 30 data centers to have fewer than ten data centers standing at the very end.
Follow the Numbers
One can only hope that GE is making the right tactical calculations using the right numbers in their projections. Personally, based on my experience, I really don’t think so. As the company itself stated in a recent Network World article, the ‘cloud’ is not always less expensive, especially at scale and especially if the job isn’t done right. If that is the case, why in the world would you do it then? I have been at the forefront of this argument and my company has often illustrated the creeping costs of monopolistic public clouds like AWS. AWS is like a “roach motel” – you can get in but can never get out. The industry refers to this as “cloud vendor lock-in.” All too often, companies find the cloud journey to be troublesome, especially when the bills come in. They are locked in, unfortunately unable to escape. Just like the enthusiastic GE IT team’s, it all begins with big plans for savings, efficiencies that never come, and even worse – because of business needs – additional unforeseen costly services.
My recommendation for enterprise adoption has been the same since the technology became possible: hybrid, but also long term in Edge Computing, AKA “Fog Computing”. Hybrid provides the ideal architecture for legacy application migrations because of its dual nature of cloud along with bare metal resources. A legacy application in the right hybrid environment can then call on the power of the cloud while retaining the control, security, performance needs, and evolution of the legacy platform on the bare metal level. If those cloud resources are on-demand and easy to use, hybrid cloud technology becomes a business enabler. The focus then moves away from the minutia of moving pieces and can focus on the structure of the application itself, as well as the experience that the user gets from it.
“Edge Computing” is the right strategy for GE if the company really wants to leverage the Internet of Things correctly. GE devices are deployed in Fargo, N.D. as well as in Chicago. So processing that data needs to be closest to the source of the data, instead of shipping all over the country and enduring latency and costs.
‘Bot Armies’ and Other AWS Coping Strategies
GE has its eyes on hybrid cloud technology, along with introducing several other pieces into its ultimate plan. For example, they have built what is called the “Bot Army,” which is tasked with carrying out a number of environmental processes including auditing, quality assurance, reporting and so on. The company is also working towards cultivating a ‘cloud first’ mentality, which is necessary for such a widespread and radical change within an organization of this size.
Reading the tea leaves, you can clearly see the technical challenges that lie ahead for GE. One thing that may not be as clear to most is the price that comes with the utilization of AWS as a platform. There are several well-documented issues associated with AWS that may prove detrimental to GE’s ambitions:
- The legendary lack of support – This is why GE has had to develop so many ‘bots’. No amount of ‘bots’ compensates for lack of support. This is like the big lie in the last decade that had millions of support jobs outsourced to cheaper geographies around the world. Customers ended up getting terrible support, companies lost customers as result and ended up not saving any money.
- Proprietary platform – Once you’re locked into AWS’ platform, it is very difficult to separate from and at the very least, GE may find itself at the mercy of AWS’ technological whims.
- Expense – ‘Little’ enhancements (e.g. dedicated storage, reserved resources, extra elastic IP’s, etc.) add up quickly. In fact, the problem of AWS’ infrastructure creep is so significant that entire suites of products dedicated to reporting and optimizing AWS cost elements have sprung up. There is hardly a more convincing argument supporting the problem of cost creep than the existence of an emerging industry to deal with it.
- Talent resources – In order to make AWS work in the first place, and in some cases even to be able to navigate its billing/customer interface, to quote a customer, “you need an Amazonian degree just to survive.” Crank the dial up to the scale of GE’s legacy application environment and you can see how complicated AWS’ requirements will be. The market for specialists in AWS infrastructure is very thin already —‘going all in’ with this platform is pretty risky.
Time will tell but I won’t be surprised to read down the road that, faced with ongoing cloud costs, security concerns, and the need to control its own recipe, GE will bring their operations back in-house or partner with reputable hosting providers that understand what service means. We saw this with Target’s highly publicized departure from the AWS ecosystem, as well as Dropbox along many other large-scale companies.
Shifting operations is a significant task, which indicates an underlying fundamental problem. GE’s success will depend largely on:
- Embracing the right technology in hybrid cloud architecture
- Selecting a hosting partner that provides excellent support
- Finding easy-to-use technology and solutions for big business needs
- Using a platform that offers easy transition and control
Suffice it to say, if GE is indeed coming to the cloud and taking the ‘cloud first’ approach, the company has a lot of work to do, especially on its platform of choice. Nonetheless, this is big news for the industry and its success may help convince other enterprises to make similar transitions. The company appears to be doing it for the right reasons, but what GE may find is that the AWS cloud itself is not made of roses and they may be one generation behind what they really will need.
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