Cloudy, with a big chance of success
Andrew Fisher talks widely about using Cloud services to meet internal business needs as well as that of Citrus' clients.
Using cloud computing services for some of their business functions is enabling small companies to punch above their weight.
Cloud computing is helping small and medium-sized companies compete with larger rivals, make workers more mobile, and improve customer experiences. Whether scaling technology resources to deal with short-term demand for online services or sharing customer information with a dispersed sales team, it's a brave new world where imagination is the only real limitation.
Melbourne-based Citrus is a digital marketing agency with about 30 staff that provides a range of services including email marketing and web development. Its clients include Sportsgirl, CPA Australia and Victoria Racing Club (VRC).
Andrew Fisher, Citrus's general manager of technology says the firm first looked for cloud services three years ago when running a campaign for Borders. The bookstore chain invited consumers to vote for their favourite music and movies on its website. Fisher says he knew this would generate a lot of traffic but had no way of predicting exactly how much.
Citrus, which had its computing infrastructure hosted by Melbourne IT, signed up for Amazon EC2 and S3 services to provide "bursting" capacity to cope with extra demand. More than 40,000 visitors hit the Borders' website on the afternoon the campaign was launched. "People could go on and browse through covers before voting for their favourites," he recalls. "It was image-heavy, which delivered a big performance hit to the servers, and if we hadn't been using additional services we would have been in a world of trouble.”
Citrus has even bigger spikes to deal with every November during Melbourne's horse racing carnival when the thousands of people that visit the VRC's website on a typical day suddenly explodes into hundreds of thousands. Having instant access to additional infrastructure resources means punters are not frustrated by a poorly performing website and the VRC doesn't have to pay all year for expensive equipment it only needs for a few days of each year.
It's a similar story for Citrus's experience web traffic spikes retail customers, who typically in the Christmas sales rush.
"Being able to provision additional resourpes quickly for seasonal changes helps with a lot of our clients," Fisher says.
"My first reaction has always been to consider whether our infrastructure could handle it. If I thought it couldn't, we would scale back the idea, but now we can throw whatever we like at it.”
For other organisations considering cloud infrastructure services, Fisher says there are cost benefits associated with paying for services on demand. However, he warns that it is difficult to predict costs.
"There is a danger of bill shock during high usage periods so it is important to work out baseline traffic,' he says.
Sydney-based medical rescue and training services company Immediate Assistants has about 50 full-time employees paramedics, doctors, nurses, fire and rescue personnel security guards and administration staff. Much of its work – including international assignments across Africa, Asia and South America - is in remote and rural areas. Founder and chief executive Adrian Cohen says the firm ha s moved its management systems into the cloud to improve the sharing of information amongst its geographically dispersed workforce.
It uses Microsoft's Business Productivity Online service for messaging and collaboration as well as its Dynamics customer relationship management suite. Cohen says vital information can be accessed through a single Outlook window.
"Human nature being what it is, we have tried to make things as easy as possible for our people," he says. "This means they don't have to remember to open another program or go looking for stuff. "That helps our sales and marketing guys keep accurate records; it helps our operational people and information is accessible all the time."
Rathbone Wine Group operates the Yering Station and Mount Langi Ghiran wineries in Victoria; Parker Coonawarra Estate in South Australia; and Xanadu in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. It is based in Port Melbourne but has a distribution arm Four Seasons Fine Wine, which has offices across the country in Asia, the US and UK.
The company employs more than 300 staff last year, it moved its email service into the cloud “On the old system there were a lot of problems and trying to get a fault fixed was nearly impossible," Rathbone Wine ICT manager Paul Lenehan says.
Lenehan looked at a range of options but settled on Microsoft Outlook through Telstra's T.Suite. After successfully dipping its toe into the cloud, Rathbone Wine also moved virus scanning across late last year so that email is checked for malicious software before being delivered "Wilh so many people spread out and a lot of homeusers it was very hard to track virus scans and keep licences up to date,” Lenehan says.
“We've moved that to the cloud and it's working beautifully."
Rathbone Wine is now looking to move its backup to the cloud so the IT department no longer has to store extra copies of business information off-site to protect it against natural disasters or other emergencies.
Citrus has moved core business functions to the cloud through software-as-a-service offerings including Google's Gmail.
“We've had fantastic results,” Fisher says.