What you can learn from Nordstrom's use of the cloud

Retail giant Nordstrom provides a useful example for anyone struggling with how to adopt IaaS cloud computing services such as virtual machines, storage, and cloud-based application hosting.

As cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure have matured, more businesses are comfortable using these public cloud tools. But there's still a big question as to the best approach is to implement a cloud strategy within a business.

+MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: Q&A with Amazon CTO Vogels on competing with Microsoft in the hybrid cloud and how to keep partners and customers happy +

Use of cloud services at Nordstrom started how it does at many other organizations: in the shadows. Central IT eventually realized that developers were using AWS to spin up virtual machines and try out services. Instead of locking down the cloud use, Nordstrom officials decided to embrace it. They wanted a strategy that would allow Nordstrom developers to use the cloud, but do it securely and cost effectively.

Nordstrom brought in Keith Homewood to help. Homewood's official title is senior applied architect, but he's basically the leader of Team Cloud. Homewood's group is made up of a handful of cloud experts who work with all of the other teams at Nordstrom to help them use cloud services.

"We're trying to be a supportive team," Homewood says. "We could give everyone in the company access to Amazon, but that would be like leaving a pile of car keys in a parking garage, but not knowing if anyone knows how to drive. Instead, we ask people to come to our team, explain what they're trying to do, and then we work with them to define a path for using the cloud and start them down that journey."

So, for example, if the mobile apps team wanted to host its latest app in the cloud, the cloud team would work with them on which Amazon cloud services should be used and how they should be deployed. Similarly, if the database team wants to use the cloud to test a new NoSQL database, they would work with Homewood's team to do the pilot.

Homewood calls the cloud team a "center of excellence" focused on cloud use within the company. This approach has a number of advantages. It allows the mobile team, the database team, and any other team that wants to use the cloud to focus on what they know best. Meanwhile, members of the cloud team are experts at using the cloud.

Secondly, it allows Homewood's cloud team to be the single point of contact within the company for using cloud services. That means they can teach others best practices, including proper security protocols and architectural designs.

Homewood has experience doing this from his previous employer named 2nd Watch. That company is a premier AWS consultancy that can help organizations set up these "centers of excellence" within a company. Homewood hired Norwood to run this team at the retail company, but other organizations can hire a consultant, like 2nd Watch or one of the many other AWS premiere consulting partners, who can act as that team of cloud experts within a business. (Other AWS Premier Consulting Partners include Accenture, Capgemini, CSC and Datapipe, among others.)

This "center of excellence" approach is certainly not the only way organizations use cloud computing resources. Gartner promotes bi-modal IT, the idea that there are two IT teams within an organization: One is responsible for the day-to-day operations of IT making sure everything is working, planning the capacity, fixing issues and basically just keeping the lights on, as the phrase goes. There is a second team that is more agile, faster-paced and uses new technologies, like the cloud.

Whatever the strategy either the center of excellence like Nordstrom has done, or the bi-modal approach suggested by Gartner it's clear organizations are looking to use cloud services more and more. One of the biggest questions is how those services will actually be implemented within the organization.


Brandon Butler

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