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Cloud infrastructure enables DevOps at YPG

The Yellow Pages Group (YPG) in Canada grew out of traditional print publishing. Now, they’re a major player in internet directory services across Canada. The transition wasn’t easy. It took a little luck, a lot of hard work, and the right outlook on IT.

Alain Gaeremynck is the senior enterprise architect at YPG. He said when he first started, nearly 4 years ago, the software development process showed a lot of similarities to their old print roots. The company struggled to keep up with customer demands for new search features and rich user experience. IT was seen as a cost of doing business rather than an investment or a competitive advantage. But that was soon to change.

Gaeremynck quickly fell in with a small group of very internet savvy developers with experience in start-ups. “We started out by deploying one station on Amazon, just to try it out,” he said. That’s how the hybrid cloud infrastructure at YPG started. “We were one small rogue IT unit inside a big traditional IT organization.” But the value of the cloud infrastructure they were using quickly caught on.

The challenge, according to Gaermynck was getting the greater IT organization to understand “What we were getting out of the cloud that we couldn’t get out of huge servers that we own and manage.” Rather than trying to convince his CIO that cloud was the way to go through argument and presentation, Gaermynck just showed it with key successful projects.

The value his group really capitalized on was the ability to move fast in the early stages and then quickly scale up when projects were successful, or easily abandon them if they were not.

Rather than telling other developers they should be using cloud infrastructure, Gaermynck showed them what they were missing. They naturally asked to join in. Gaermynck said his early disruptive successes had other teams asking “‘How can they do that? What are we doing wrong?'”

“Traditional IT governance was definitely getting in the way,” Gaermynck said. Developers need to be able to create and configure their own development environments on the fly. Without that access they might wait weeks to start a project that will only take them days to code. In addition, configuration issues are common with traditional infrastructure. The developers might miscalculate what they’ll need. Server admins can make human errors in putting the configuration together. Either way, real development work is halted until the right configuration is found and set.

“The cloud makes those processes much easier,” according to Gaermynk, “By launching a virtual machine on AWS, the developers get root access.” That means that the developers define their configuration parameters directly in the environment with no need to wait on an admin. If the developer makes a miscalculation or enters a parameter wrong, he or she can correct it without waiting on another person. At the same time, server administrators can focus on optimization issues that provide real business value, rather than getting distracted by a backlog of run-of-the-mill issues.