In the rapidly evolving utility industry, it is vital to provide opportunities for innovation and idea sharing on a protected, efficient platform. Cloud services have created opportunities for the industry to harness an entirely new platform of information storage and sharing.
Today, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) no longer ask if they should use the cloud, but rather how they can best take advantage of cloud services. Cloud computing is becoming more prevalent across all industries, and according to Cisco, more than 90 percent of workloads will be processed by cloud data centers by 2020. Utilities’ needs are evolving and consumers are now demanding new services and offerings at a low cost. This transition to faster high-quality innovation at lower cost requires a new way of thinking.
Enter cloud services: Combining on-demand computing and standardized tools, cloud services make it simple for utilities to run their operations without having to devote resources toward building and maintaining IT hardware and software. The cloud is the key to utility efficiency. It accelerates the time to innovate, increases reliability, and lowers costs.
Accelerated Time to Innovation
The speed of innovation with cloud computing puts traditional software development at a serious competitive disadvantage. Software applications can be developed more quickly and reliably in a cloud environment. For utilities, this means getting the software features they need and meeting their customers’ demand in months instead of years.
By providing an immediate and essentially unlimited number of servers, storage, and other required infrastructure, cloud services enable software development with a platform as-a-service (PaaS) model. Mainstream cloud providers also offer developers a tremendous amount of “micro-services” that are pre-developed and pre-integrated. This eliminates the need to build these services individually, improves quality, and enables agile software development.
This user-friendly environment creates a true DevOps approach to the software lifecycle, bringing together technology developers, testers, support personnel, and operations staff to enable continuous development, integration, deployment, and feedback.
A public cloud platform is essential for enabling this process of rapid innovation and improvement.
The cloud provides highly available, scalable and durable storage in addition to backup and recovery capabilities. It is globally accessible from the office or in the field and supports a virtually unlimited number of concurrent users of different personas in multiple organizations across the utility.
Cloud service providers maintain infrastructure and perform routine maintenance, patching, load balancing, and health monitoring for continuous availability. Cloud providers also bring their massive economies of scale in the areas of technology procurement and IT security. This allows utilities to focus on running their operations rather than managing and maintaining an IT infrastructure.
According to Vivek Kundra, former CIO of the United States, “Cloud computing is often far more secure than traditional computing because companies like Google and Amazon can attract and retain cybersecurity personnel of a higher quality than many governmental agencies.”
Financial services and government organizations, that have long resisted the public cloud, have moved past their concerns and are now using it to improve productivity and speed to market. The fact is, the cloud is more reliable than on-premise systems.
The standardized environment in the cloud supports strict security software and standards that can be implemented and enforced across the entire system. Security updates can be rapidly pushed in a cloud environment for continuous deployment of the latest security patches and fixes.
With cloud computing, utilities can pay for what they need, when they need it. CPU, memory, and storage resources can be instantly increased or decreased without any downtime. A public cloud infrastructure eliminates the purchase and provisioning of additional hardware and software when resolving scalability issues or upgrading due to new business or technical requirements.
Moving to the Cloud
Cloud computing is the next logical step in the IT evolution. It enables utilities to quickly adapt to better serve their customers. The transition is seamless – in fact, earlier this year, Itron migrated 26 gas and water utility customers using Itron Analytics to Microsoft’s cloud and it was virtually undetectable.
To facilitate this transition, Microsoft assigned dedicated resources to help the Itron team. They provided repeatable methods and thorough documentation to help with the process. It took less than three months of development and collaboration to successfully and seamlessly migrate these utilities from Itron’s private cloud to Microsoft Azure.
Now that the Itron team is familiar with how to build in the Azure environment and understands the automation process, they are able to build software faster and more efficiently.
The business benefits of cloud computing utilizing Microsoft Azure are significant. Data centers are replaced with software-defined infrastructure with business continuity and disaster recovery built in. Processes are standardized and repeatable. Testing is automated, and with continuous delivery, new features and functionality are built and deployed quickly.
Cloud computing with Microsoft Azure allows Itron to securely, cost effectively, and reliably drive innovation and utilities to quickly bring innovative solutions to their customers.