Shell shares tips for enterprise cloud adoption

Oil and gas giant Shell is as conventional an enterprise as one is likely to find. Heavily regulated and operating in hundreds of countries, the company cannot play fast and loose with its data.

Nevertheless, for the last two years the company has made ample use of cloud computing. Shell uses Amazon Web Services primarily for temporary infrastructure, such as testing and development systems for its programmers. On any given day, the company has up to 1,500 servers running on Amazon Web Services at a time.

So how has Shell fit cloud into its IT governance and management processes? According to Gavin Bain, service manager for cloud computing at Shell, there are three pillars of Shell's adoption of cloud that have helped it to maximise the business benefits while minimise the risk.

The first has been to devise and enforce cloud adoption policies. "We went to the senior policy group responsible for risk, and asked them what we are allowed to put in the cloud," Bain explained at the Amazon Web Services summit in London this morning.

"That was extremely useful," he said. "They didn't want or most confidential data in the cloud, or our most critical applications. And we have to ensure compliance."

To help Bain enforce these rules, the policy group appointed a governance board that approves any request to put a new application in the cloud.

As it happens, much of the governance work that the board does echoes standard IT governance processes. "One thing that we've recognised very early on is that best practice around IT management doesn't really change [with cloud computing", Bain said. "You have to look after the same thing."

The second pillar is protecting the benefits of cloud computing. "It is entirely within our ability to suck all the benefit out of cloud computing," Bain said. "So we needed a clear idea of why we're using cloud computing and how to protect that."

Explicitly recognising that agility and speed of deployment, for example, are key benefits of cloud computing has allowed Shell to focus on the threats to realising those benefits. It has therefore identified internal processes, such as the approval process required to provision a new IP address, that would get in the way.

"It has allowed us to remove the blocker to agility," Bain said.

Similarly, in order to ensure that Shell derives that maximum possible cost benefit from using cloud, it gives users real-time feedback on the cost of their cloud usage. "It was obvious right from the start that we need to give
real-time feedback to people using the services," said Bain. "And that's not just the person provisioning the server, but also the budget holder."

Third pillar of Shell's cloud adoption strategy is 'enabling the business'.

In part, this means ensuring the cloud is readily available to business unit wherever it is appropriate. "We've made AWS a standard option in our IT portfolio, and we're trying to get to using cloud as the first option."

It also means helping business unit make the most of cloud. "We've put a centre of excellence team in place that helps project teams figure out how to get on cloud.

This team, which is provided in part by Shell's outsourcing partner Wipro, provides the added benefit of providing a check point where the company can ensure that cloud adoption rules are being adhered to, Bain said.

The key lessons of Shell's use of cloud, Bain said, are the importance of knowing why you are adopting cloud and knowing how your organisation's data is classified.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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Cloud Adoption