Emerging Technologies

Lessons Learned

Meta7 shares three top tips for moving to the cloud.

By Jeff Erickson

July/August 2017

Meta7 knows firsthand how cloud computing is changing organizations and careers. Persistent requests from clients prompted the firm, an Oracle Platinum Partner, to purchase more than US$1.3 million worth of Oracle platform and infrastructure services to deepen its own expertise in helping customers procure and implement Oracle Cloud solutions.

All the deep-dive tuning and performance work, all the spinning up instances, the time it takes to understand how the new release handles things and explain how it’s different— that’s high-value, time-consuming work that DBAs don’t have to do when the database is in the cloud. ”–Paul Zajdel,
Vice President, Meta7

Since then, the company has migrated some of its own business processes to the cloud and built many models and demos based on scenarios at clients of various sizes. “We’ve worked to understand everything from how a third-party on-premises application leverages Oracle Database Cloud to what’s involved in a complete lift-and-shift of Oracle E-Business Suite to Oracle Cloud,” says Paul Zajdel, vice president at Meta7, a division of Forsythe Technology that is dedicated to the Oracle stack.

What the Meta7 team learned goes well beyond cloud service features and functions. Team members have stretched their skills with new technologies and have taken on new roles to accommodate cloud services in application architectures.

That kind of change is nothing new for Meta7 and Forsythe, which began in the early 1970s as a technology hardware leasing company. “We’ve reinvented ourselves several times throughout our 45-year existence,” says Zajdel. It started with leasing, then reselling, then adding services, then adding security, and now adding managed services. He adds, “We’re in an industry that shifts. Each time the industry shifts, we have to shift, too.”

Today, “many of our customers have a mandate from senior management to explore the cloud and move at least some operations there,” says Zajdel. Some clients “have been told to use the cloud to get out of the data center business altogether.”

But the move to the cloud is not just a switch of one technology for another. “We see skill sets, roles, governance, and scalability changing—all of those things are different in a cloud environment,” says Zajdel. And if you look at your cloud services through the same lens as your on-premises technology, “you’re going to get your toe stubbed or worse,” he adds.

Here are the top three things Zajdel and his team want you to know about moving operations to the cloud.

1. Discipline Pays Off. Achieving the touted benefits of the cloud takes discipline—in a couple of different ways, says Zajdel. First, communicate what you’ve bought—and what you haven’t—to people who work with your cloud services. “You need to have discipline, because all the services are right there, ready to use. You could just click a box and add additional capacity or a new feature, and now you’re paying for it,” Zajdel says.

Robert Dawson, a master consultant at Meta7, agrees that it’s easy to go overboard. He’s been guilty of it himself, adding extra database instances one day to test a governance issue and discovering he added more than Meta7 had contracted for. “Services are like Chiclets,” he says. “You just want to grab a handful.”

Skokie, Illinois
Industry: Technology consulting and implementation
Oracle products:
  • Oracle Cloud platform-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service applications

Next, says Dawson, you will also need discipline when setting up automated processes. “We’ve really enjoyed the automation that cloud deployments offer. You can build out consistent, tightly integrated application environments and then start them up and shut them down when you want,” he says.

But it works out only if you bring discipline early on. For example, Meta7 spent time developing a standardized specification for its Oracle Database Cloud environments. “For the next database we need, there’s no install. There’s no configuration. There’s no setting up anything,” says Dawson. “You just deploy it.”

2. Expect Resistance. With the change to the cloud, as with any change in technology, there will be resistance within the organization. Meta7 consultants quickly recognized the institutional resistance to cloud computing, because they’d seen it in their early implementations of Oracle Exadata Database Machine. “There were a lot of skill set gaps—a lot of the adoption fears,” says Dawson.

Like the cloud, Oracle Exadata was hard for customers to get their heads around, he says, “because it’s server and storage and networking and database.”

You need to have discipline, because all the services are right there, ready to use. You could just click a box and add additional capacity or a new feature, and now you’re paying for it. ”–Paul Zajdel,
Vice President, Meta7

Faced with a machine that included all those different IT functions, many customers resisted. The questions, Dawson recalls, were good ones: “Who’s responsible for it? Who upgrades it? Who monitors it? Who tells you when it’s down?” The cloud can engender many of the same questions.

When a company is working with on-premises and cloud technology, someone needs to understand the cloud environment, “but also things like networking, VPN [virtual private network] access, security, basic tenants of infrastructure, and database as well,” says Zajdel. He notes that in large enterprises, all the skill sets are usually available, “but they’re spread to the four corners of the earth,” he says.

The answer, in Meta7’s experience, is to define new roles and have existing people move into them.

3. Cloud Is an Opportunity to Grow Careers. As more organizations moved to Oracle Exadata, a new role emerged: engineered systems administrator. “It was somebody you could point to who understood all the parts and pieces, plus database,” says Dawson. “They could patch it, they could manage it, and they could manage change and govern change.” Many engineered systems administrators started as DBAs, he says, “and we think many cloud administrators will come out of that same discipline.”

DBAs are highly skilled people with fewer demands on their time as databases move to the cloud, adds Zajdel. “All the deep-dive tuning and performance work, all the spinning up instances, the time it takes to understand how a new release handles things and explain how it’s different—that’s high-value, time-consuming work that DBAs don’t have to do when the database is in the cloud,” he says.

What do you do with the “found” time? “You have to redefine yourself as a DBA,” he says.

Dawson agrees. “There’s a level of frustration because DBAs are used to being responsible for the most-complex stuff, such as installing Oracle Exadata, installing Oracle RAC [Oracle Real Application Clusters], or doing version upgrades,” he says. “Now they need to go back and grow their skills in new ways.” But as Zajdel and Dawson have seen in their own firm, the opportunities are boundless.

“You can explore open source tools like Docker or Ansible, and learn to use REST services,” says Dawson. “Now you’re growing again. You might have been doing the same thing for the last 10 years, and now you’re opening up an O’Reilly book and reading about infrastructure as code and automation in cloud environments. That’s empowering,” he says. “That’s career growth for DBAs.”

Next Steps

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Photography by Mike Wilson, Unsplash