Why FedEx’s CIO Has His Head In The Cloud

by drjim on May 9, 2012

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Why would a package delivery company care about cloud computing?

Why would a package delivery company care about cloud computing?

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, who are you going to call? Probably FedEx, the package shipping company. What you might not know is that FedEx has an enormous IT infrastructure that they use to move all of those packages around. Why would they be thinking about messing with success and moving this mission critical support system into the cloud?

Building A Package Shipping Private Cloud

The situation that FedEx’s CIO Rob Carter found himself in will probably sound familiar to most of us. FedEx’s IT infrastructure was a collection of various technologies that had come and gone over the years. This included everything from mainframes to client server systems. This presented two problems: they were expensive to maintain and each system could only be used by a small set of applications that had been designed for it.

Along comes this cloud thing and all of a sudden Rob gets excited. Forget the hype, he sees this IT innovation for what it is: the arrival of general purpose computing (we may need to update the definition of information technology). In Rob’s own words, all of a sudden the company’s IT infrastructure has the ability to become “workload agnostic”.

If every computer that the IT department has looks like every other computer, then all of a sudden you can move applications around as needed and the machines that you do have will start to get used as efficiently as possible.

What FedEx is in the process of doing is building a private cloud. This new IT infrastructure is going to consist of a virtualized computing environment that’s not going to look anything like what came before it in today’s IT sector.

In FedEx’s case what they’ve done is to build a completely new data center to house new standardized hardware. They’ve also been able to go back and retrofit an existing data center and transform it into another standardized data center. What makes this story so compelling is that this was all done with a very nice return-on-investment (ROI).

Turns Out That It’s All About The Applications

Having standardized hardware is a great start when you are transforming your company’s IT infrastructure into a private cloud. However, it’s not enough. The benefit of any cloud, public or private, is that you can run your company’s applications on any box anywhere. In order to do this, there is some more work that is going to be required.

The applications that your company are running today are going to have to be rewritten. The way that you probably have things now is that you’ve got applications that are written in multiple languages, run on multiple types of processors, and use different types of databases. That’s going to be way too expensive to keep supporting as you move forward.

The goal of this kind of application re-write is do what FedEx is doing: make your applications portable. Once they use a services-based approach and use a common data source along with a common messaging infrastructure then you can run them anywhere.

CIOs need to look at the opportunity to transform their IT operations from the chaos that it is today into a uniform private cloud as being a once-in-a-career event. You’ll have a chance to actually consolidate your infrastructure. The end result should be that your limited IT budget dollars should be able to go much farther.

What All Of This Means For You

If Rob Carter the CIO at FedEx is getting excited about the arrival of cloud computing technology, then shouldn’t you? Cloud computing is a trendy buzz word and so we need to be careful that we’re not getting caught up in the hype.

What we can learn from Rob is why he’s interested in cloud computing. The ability to use this technology transition as an excuse to build a private cloud that consists of standardized components that has a great ROI is key. FedEx has also realized that their applications need to be rebuilt to work with the new private cloud.

Clearly the era of cloud computing has arrived and it looks like it’s going to boost the importance of information technology. Rob Carter is showing all of us the way. We need to take the time to listen to him and understand what he sees in this new approach to technology. Maybe we have all found a way to transform our company’s IT infrastructure overnight!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Rob is on to something or has he gotten wrapped up in the hype of cloud computing?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

You wouldn’t think that a CIO who just got fired from his job at HP would have a lot to teach us about IT strategy, but that’s where you’d be wrong. Randy Mott is a CIO who has been around the block a few times. He’s worked for Wal-Mart, Dell, and he was CIO at HP. When HP’s CEO, Mark Hurd, got fired Randy had to go because he was too close to Mark. However, that all doesn’t mean that we can’t learn a thing or two from how Randy runs an IT department when he’s in charge…

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Gentle May 23, 2012 at 9:29 am

“If Rob Carter the CIO at FedEx is getting excited about the arrival of cloud computing technology, then shouldn’t you?”

Well, I don’t know. Unless I have some very sector-specific, competitive-differentiator type apps that are absolutely business-critical, then yes, maybe I will go and spend tons of money building a private cloud and then rewriting my legacy apps to run on them.

But since there are only so many Fed-Ex’s out there, that is probably the last thing I’d do. Instead I might look at improving my current legacy environment and/or see what I can get onto a public cloud.

The article rightly says that “Cloud computing is a trendy buzz word and so we need to be careful that we’re not getting caught up in the hype” – but that’s exactly what such articles end up doing, by taking something specific like FedEx and generalizing it to your everyday IT department.

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Dr. Jim Anderson May 24, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Michael: hmm, hopefully you didn’t miss the main point of the article — it’s not that FedEx just got caught up in the cloud hype, but rather they had real business reasons for making the move. Building your own private cloud is not the answer for everyone, but I would argue that continuing to invest in a complex and disjointed IT infrastructure is also not the right way to go…!

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Rob June 10, 2012 at 4:03 am

The cloud is for everyone, just not for every application.

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Dr. Jim Anderson June 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Rob: You are correct. In fact a new term has just been invented called “the personal cloud” that refers to our collection of iCloud, Dropbox, etc. files and applications that we now seem to use almost every day…

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