Monsanto Sees 50% App Dev Lifecycle Improvement with Cloud Foundry

July 2, 2014 Adam Bloom

featured-monsanto-cloud“Based on what we’ve seen in our assessment, various activities in the application development lifecycle can be increased or improve by 50% or more.”

This quote was from a keynote presentation by Mark Seidenstricker of Monsanto at the recent Cloud Foundry Summit where he covered their journey to date with Cloud Foundry PaaS and Pivotal CF along with their future plans. Seidenstricker’s talk was titled, Enabling Cloud Capabilities Through an Enterprise PaaS, and he further elaborated on the key benefit of PaaS:

“We don’t think that the 50% efficiency gain is just limited to a subset of people.

If you are like Monsanto, you probably have multiple delivery teams and multiple operations teams. There are lots of people involved in release management. Then, of course, there are the developers.

So, this 50% improvement can really be spread across all those groups. If you can spread it across all those people, it really makes the benefit and the value of Cloud Foundry that much more.”

— Mark Seidenstricker, Infrastructure Architect, Monsanto

Why Does Monsanto Care About PaaS?

Monsanto was founded in 1901 and started with food additives, like sweeteners and aspirin, eventually going into plastics. Today, the company is a multi-national agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company with 20,000 employees and $14B in net sales for 2013.

Software and information is at the heart of the ability to deliver on this mission and is where Seidenstricker fits as an infrastructure architect. One of Seidenstricker’s top corporate goals is partnering with different business units to drive revenue through disruptive innovation. In his domain, this means agile development on cloud platforms, and Cloud Foundry is enabling their development team to deliver disruptive innovation.

Monsanto sees today’s world population at 7 billion, and predicts that 9 billion people will need food, fuel, and clothing by 2050. The company is committed to sustainable agriculture models that will help meet the needs of our growing population while preserving this rock we call Earth. To do this, Monsanto has a mission to achieve three things—increase the yield of crops (with a goal doubling yield by 2030), conserve more natural resources, and improve the lives of farmers and people around the world.

What were the Barriers to Cloud Adoption for Monsanto?

Like most enterprises, Seidenstricker explained that most enterprise stacks are not cloud friendly, a core issue. Because existing infrastructure and platform components are “old school,” it means they don’t operate in an agile manner—development teams cannot be agile without an agile infrastructure. Instead of taking weeks to deploy code, they need to be able to deploy daily or even hourly.

He also explained the cultural barriers—the existing organizations are full of competent people who are great at supporting enterprise apps and instituting standardization. However, this approach is not what cloud development is all about. Cloud development is about using a variety of open source components to bring together the best solution in the least amount of time without repeating yourself. Open source software development is agile in motion—it leads with change and innovation—far from a standardized model of packaged enterprise software.

Lastly, Monsanto saw a need to start private and evolve to public and hybrid clouds. Their plan initiated an internal cloud with an intention to learn a lot. Starting this way allowed them to understand how to effectively bridge into a public or hybrid cloud model. The approach of “internal cloud first” was not about telling a bunch of developers to start developing on AWS. They fundamentally knew that the public cloud PaaS model requires different operations—security, data classification, operational, and financial management practices all have to change. As well, continuous deployment and release cycles must be mature to take advantage of cloud platforms. They saw how running on to AWS without an overarching cloud strategy could lead to the same vendor lock-in paradigm as before—the one they wanted to change.

Planning phases has allowed them to provide guidelines on decoupling apps and making them portable across clouds. Starting with an internal cloud allowed them to keep costs low while providing developer agility and productivity through capabilities like automated self-service. The approach is yielding results.

What Benefits have been Achieved to Date with Monsanto and Cloud Foundry?

In adopting Cloud Foundry, the “big aha” included the forecasted 50% reduction of effort and increased efficiency within the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Seidenstricker gave an example of this where one new developer ran into an issue during deployment, and it took a week for him to open support tickets, engage the right people for troubleshooting, and begin to figure out the problem. With a pending deadline, he reached out to the team working with Cloud Foundry, and they were able to get an environment up and running for him in minutes. With the new environment available, the team quickly realized there was a component compatibility issue with their Weblogic server. On the Cloud Foundry PaaS, the solution could be tested and deployed in minutes.

This experience and others convinced Seidenstricker of three big development benefits from Cloud Foundry:

  • Developers could easily do more trouble shooting on their own with a Cloud Foundry environment.
  • Finger pointing between development and operations would go down drastically—reducing the arguments around “the code isn’t the problem, it’s the server” and vice versa.
  • Cloud Foundry could run multiple runtimes and versions simultaneously without an issue.

In addition:

  • They assessed both Cloud Foundry and BOSH to find them both stable. With many big companies as adopters, including IBM, Verizon, CenturyLink, HP, and GE, they knew there was support. As well, Cloud Foundry had been around since 2009 even though the version number was relatively low.
  • They also saw areas for improvement. Compared to mature, enterprise apps, the admin and support capabilities were not as far along as most; however, Cloud Foundry did provide robust APIs. The team concluded that the current Cloud Foundry wasn’t every single thing an enterprise might want, but it was very extensible. To help, they turned to Pivotal’s turn-key solution, Pivotal CF, which includes a GUI, installers, and support, particularly for vSphere.
  • There were also important financial considerations. Monsanto had made a historically large investment in vSphere, and their internal teams were very familiar with cost effectively supporting vSphere on internal environments. Cloud Foundry had this capability.

Lastly, Seidenstricker explained how the 2014 Cloud Foundry roadmap releases compared to their original enterprise-ready PaaS requirements from December. He showed how Cloud Foundry 1.1 and 1.2 have provided backup and restore, logging with Splunk, multiple AZs in AWS, single click install for VMware, user authentication directly with Active Directory, S3 compatible object stores as a service, and encryption of application data. He explained the clear momentum around this open source project and how it will deliver more of their requirements over the remainder of 2014.

Monsanto’s Go-Forward PaaS Strategy

In the end, Seidenstricker shared how Monsanto’s learnings and insights were folding into a PaaS strategy with three core elements. One, they were continuing to build out their internal cloud based on Cloud Foundry, and they would continue to use it as a proving ground. This meant it would help them refine and iterate on improving processes like devops, cost management, security, and data classification. Two, they were targeting new apps to run on Cloud Foundry for meaningful business processes and would gather metrics to truly understand TCO. Three, they would continue to assess the progress and impact of any requirement gaps, mitigating any issues.

In concluding, Seidenstricker explained that senior management is completely committed to the cloud and just needs to feel comfortable that the organization knows how to effectively manage it and achieve the expected business outcomes.

To Learn More:

About the Author

Biography

More Content by Adam Bloom
Previous
World's Smallest IaaS, Part 4: Hello World
World's Smallest IaaS, Part 4: Hello World

In this blog post we deploy a simple “hello world” app to our Cloud Foundry installation. [2014-10-19 this ...

Next
UIAlertController in iOS 8
UIAlertController in iOS 8

Sayonara UIAlertView and UIActionSheet, and say hello to UIAlertController. In iOS 8 Apple introduced UIAle...

How do you measure digital transformation?

Take the Benchmark