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6 big multicloud questions: How GE uses AWS and Azure

75 percent of enterprises will use more than one cloud by 2023. Multicloud is here to stay, but how do you avoid cloud chaos? GE tells all.

Jun 08, 2023 • 8 Minute Read

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  • Cloud
  • AWS
  • Business
  • azure

Updated on: 6 March 2023

Multicloud is here to stay. Three out of four enterprises expect to use more than one cloud provider in production within the next 1–3 years, per ACG’s State of Cloud Learning report.

Organizations able to leverage best-of-breed services from multiple cloud providers may be poised to innovate faster and integrate better. But only 56% of businesses have an actionable plan to skill up their workforce in preparation for this shift.

For many leaders, multicloud remains a question mark. What’s your answer?

Download the "Road to multicloud" white paper for more info on multicloud strategies

How GE gets the maximum benefits from its multicloud strategy

Here are some multicloud questions answered by Jack Laing, Senior Staff Software Engineer at GE. In our webinar, Running AWS + Azure in Production at GE, Jack talks with us about how GE gets the most out of running AWS and Azure in production and how to structure a central cloud team to ensure your success in the cloud.

Jack Laing

1. Why did GE embrace multicloud?

Jack Laing is part of GE’s CoreTech Cloud Hosting team, a corporate IT organization that services hundreds of thousands of GE employees around the globe.

He said the company’s decision to embrace multicloud (specifically AWS and Azure) was a strategic decision due to a combination of factors, including early adoption of AWS GovCloud and the ever-looming possibility of mergers and acquisitions.

As other companies are rolled into GE, the company needs to be able to work with their cloud implementations. Or be ready to help with their cloud migration efforts to get them out of the data center.

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2. How do you hire prepare your workforce for multicloud?

Jack said GE formed its central cloud team about a decade ago. As a company of companies, GE needed an IT organization that could balance the needs of and solve the cloud-centric challenges facing employees around the globe.

This team includes 34 DevOps engineers, many of whom are certified across both AWS and Azure and have common skills, like the ability to write Python code and know Terraform inside and out.

But how do you hire people who understand AWS and Azure?

You usually don’t. (It’s hard enough to find experts in one cloud in today’s competitive cloud market!) The people who will make your cloud transformation happen are already working for you. Leaders and learning teams just have to empower them with a new set of skills.

For GE, part of that is about letting people focus on the areas they’re passionate about.

“Some of it is very self-selecting,” Jack said. “We have AWS superfans and Microsoft superfans. They love their Xbox and come in with a Microsoft hat on — or they have an AWS hoodie on. We don’t have to push them hard.” 

For the other cloud outside their area of cloud fandom, it’s just building that minimal level of understanding needed for cloud fluency.

Other members of GE’s central cloud team include 11 operations engineers who build dev tools and two technical product managers who have foundational cloud certifications.

Foundational certs, like the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner (CCP) and the Microsoft Azure AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals certification, are also encouraged up the ladder across sales, finance, and for executives to build out organization-wide cloud fluency.

“We don’t want to stop anyone from having the next billion-dollar idea.”

Jack Laing, Senior Staff Software Engineer at GE, on the importance of investing in cloud education

3. How did GE build a team to carry out a multicloud strategy?

GE's central cloud org of 50 people is broken into subsets — what Amazon might call “two-pizza teams.” These teams are responsible for when orders are placed for cloud, whether it's connectivity to the data center, AWS, or Azure.

To consume cloud, customers (i.e., GE employees) go to an internal site where they can place an order for a product, service, or education. The cloud engineering team keeps this site running and secure.

The central cloud org sells three different basic types of products:

  • Managed cloud
    These take the most management and involvement. They are typically for application teams with a comprehensive suite of security controls, deployment tools, pre-integrated cloud services, and platform management services to accelerate their application deployment.

    “They will need that white-glove treatment to move into the cloud, because in industries like aviation and healthcare they can basically never take an outage,” Jack said. “It takes lots of long-term planning and runway, and we’re there every step of the way to ensure their success.”
  • Guardrails cloud
    These products are for application or infrastructure teams with experience in cloud and are then more or less restricted on whether or not they need a private connection to GE or if they have any special compliance or regulatory restrictions or restricted country requirements.

    These products look as close to AWS or Azure as you’d see on the street. Customers log into the cloud provider and the whole wide world of cloud is open to them — with some guardrails in place to keep people from doing anything dangerous or costly.
  • Cloud services
    These services supplement the above. These are the things needed to do to support managed and guardrails products. These often turn into valuable solutions that other teams consume or that the central cloud org uses.

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4. How do you manage your multicloud costs?

Jack and his team have built a sophisticated system to handle billing all the companies and customers they serve.

“It’s a bit multidimensional, but we have one master account to rule them all for AWS and one EA tenant in Azure to rule them all,” he said. “We are, in Microsoft or Amazon’s eyes, one company. We pay them one big bill. The onus is on us to chargeback, since we’re not setting up all these centralized payers with various clouds by business unit.”

Through that master payer and EA tenant, massive amounts of data come in. Jack's team has an application that layers in metadata, does processing, and then lets the team issue invoices. These invoices let teams know how much they’re spending and can be as granular as one through AWS or Azure — but with all of GE’s metadata layered in (e.g., the industry and people on the team).

Some big spend decisions are handled at the corporate level. Since businesses can be in different cycles across the greater organization, corporate can make decisions to smooth things out. (For example, if one business needs thousands of VMs and another business is powering down, they can shift things around and work with vendors to optimize spend.)

5. How do you manage requests that aren't a top priority?

Jack’s cloud central organization operates as a business inside a business, giving them the ability to get smart and selective about the projects they take on or pass on.

“We’re not the traditional corporate organization where the business tells you to do something and you do it with no questions asked and just figure out where to hide the body later. We can push back,” he said.

6. How do you get multiple teams across an organization on the same page about cloud?

For GE, education is available to all employees, including access to A Cloud Guru. Anyone in the company can learn cloud, either to reskill, change jobs, or just out of a desire to learn something new.

Getting even non-technical roles to speak cloud helps GE stay focused on innovation.

“They can be anyone. If you’re in an airplane factory and you have an idea for making the process better, we don’t want to stop you,” Jack said. “We don’t want to stop anyone from having the next billion-dollar idea.”

Does your organization need a multicloud solution?

There are several factors to consider in deciding whether a multicloud strategy is right for your organization. Paul Eldridge, Cloud Engineering Program Leader at Salesforce, points out that understanding your own customers and industries is important.

“What if Walmart is one of your customers and says, ‘I’m not going to use your service if it’s giving money to our competitor [Amazon],’” he said. “Understanding your own customers and their business requirements and needs — and their potential preferences, if there may be some strong ones — that may be part of your decision.”

Multicloud is a question. ACG is the answer.

A Cloud Guru's comprehensive cloud learning library uses full-time training architects, not freelancers, who obsess over the latest updates to cloud technology. Plus, we prepare weekly updates on key AWS, Azure, and DevOps news, so you can get an executive summary at a glance.