How GE is closing datacenters and moving to the public cloud

GE’s Chris Drumgoole caused quite a stir in cloud computing circles last year when he vowed that the industrial giant was going to move everything in its arsenal to the public cloud. While it’s definitely hard to turn a 123-year-old company with over 300,000 employees on a dime, GE is making more progress than you might expect.

“One hundred percent public cloud is still our goal,” Drumgoole said in an interview last week ahead of his upcoming appearance at Structure 2015 in November. “We’re on or slightly ahead of schedule with that march. It hasn’t been without pain, but almost none of the pain has been technical.”

structure conf chris drumgoole

As we discussed with Pinterest’s Raj Patel a few weeks back, even cloud-native companies have to build a culture around the use of cloud computing services. At GE, the engineers got on board (after a little grumbling), but getting legal to buy into the plan was much harder, especially given GE’s multinational customer base.

So how is GE pulling this off?

Drumgoole said the company is basically triaging its apps: new apps are being developed on and for cloud services exclusively. Old and outdated apps running on servers are simply being shut down, and older but still useful apps that run on servers are being evaluated for migration to cloud services.

“We really don’t see the value in reinvesting in infrastructure for applications that can be run in public multitenant clouds,” he said. The move away from servers has allowed GE to shut down around a dozen datacenters over the past two years, and while the company will still have to operate several datacenters for the foreseeable future, the trend is clear.

So where is Drumgoole running those workloads? He mentioned Amazon Web Services, Azure, and Verizon, but said that there are several other cloud providers in the mix. And he had an interesting point about the international market for cloud services, getting back to the global business (“Brazil is an established market for us”) that GE operates.

“The market is yearning for a big non-US based cloud provider of that scale,” Drumgoole said, referring to AWS and Azure. Apparently the unease over the U.S. surveillance programs brought to light by Edward Snowden in 2013 has not lifted, but no one has stepped up to fill that demand. That’s something to keep on the radar for 2016.

GE will be an interesting company to watch over the next few years, as it might force the multiple cloud providers it works with to get better at working together, something several cloud customers we’ve talked to over the past few months have mentioned on their wish lists. There are the obvious competitive reasons why companies shy away from interoperability, but there are technical reasons, too, Drumgoole said.

A lot of older apps weren’t designed to run across multiple clouds and in many cases, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to re-build those older, functioning apps just to split the workloads between AWS and Azure. However, the new apps GE is developing are being built with the public cloud — and the possibility of running across multiple public clouds — in mind.

Catch Drumgoole’s appearance at Structure 2015 on November 18th at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. You can find more information here, and you can buy your tickets here.