Every day we use the cloud in some form, often without even realising; for instance, when we read our e-mails, watch a streamed film or listen to a song or podcast and when we store photos on the Internet rather than on our smartphones.
The underlying concept is simple – using IT services that are not installed on our computers but on servers belonging to specialist providers whose on-demand services are taking the place of conventional ownership. We live in a pay-per-use age in which it makes more sense to pay for a service when we need it rather than buying devices that will be under-used.
The cloud is now an efficient operational model that can manage entire multinational companies. This shift, in fact, is what Enel began implementing in 2015, moving all its IT services over onto the cloud. With the closure of the last data centre in aPRIL 2019 Enel became “full cloud”, the world’s first large utility company to achieve this.
The cloud means flexibility, speed and security
The immediate benefits are material, eliminating the need to purchase and install bulky machines and provide for their maintenance. In this context the cloud model complements another current trend, that of dematerialisation.
In economic terms the cloud generates clear financial savings. If a certain process involves the work of 50 servers for a week, in the old model these would have had to be purchased specially, only to be left unused for much of the time, or spare servers would have had to be kept, which would have also remained largely unused. With the flexibility of the cloud we only pay for the services we use – overall savings of 30% are achieved on data storage costs and 83% on computing capacity.
The most striking advantage, however, is speed. In Colombia, for example, upgrading Enel’s breakdown notification service, a process that used to take weeks, was achieved in a couple of hours. Speed is a positive element for clients. If we want to launch a new app, we can use the databases in the cloud and make them available to clients in just a few days without having to go through the long, arduous process of acquiring a server.
Then there is a prejudice to debunk – many feel more secure managing their data on their own computers, but the reality is the exact opposite. Providers ensure higher standards because cybersecurity is their core business. They are always up to speed on the latest security threats, ready with effective countermeasures and always well prepared to deal with physical risks like power outages or natural disasters.
The advantages in terms of sustainability
The same applies to environmental sustainability. When using a server, auxiliary requirements like cooling mean that a company must consume almost twice the amount of energy needed for normal power levels. However, cloud service providers achieve far superior efficiency, using only 1.2 or 1.3 times the energy. These figures are difficult to achieve for a non-specialised company, no matter how advanced its IT facilities are. In short, energy consumption is decreased, meaning lower CO2 emissions.
Cloud providers also offer huge opportunities in terms of managed volumes. Enel has around 20,000 servers. This high number demands significant storage capacity, but is an almost negligible amount for a cloud provider. The cloud also means scalability – volumes have also increased in terms of computing (+112%) and storage (+126%) capacity. It should be emphasised that this computing capacity has developed in line with our requirements, managing data volumes we could never have processed using traditional data centres.
The Enel Group is active in over 30 countries and in many energy sectors. The cloud has been a crucial facilitator in adopting IT platforms that have enabled us to streamline the application map, thanks to the use of a few key technologies used in all the countries where the Group operates. The platform model also encourages the establishment of new global standards to be configured at a local level, enhancing the level of services provided and cutting times and costs.
Towards the multicloud
The move towards the full cloud scenario has been a natural part of our digitalisation process. It is an important step for our Group, but should not be seen as an end in itself but rather as an enabling factor for further digital development. It could be said that the cloud is to a digital utility what a smart meter is for a smart grid: new generation electricity meters provide real-time information on prices and consumption, thus enabling the smart grid. At the same time, the cloud offers companies the computing speed needed to make the most of digitalisation.
Enel has been at the cutting edge in this field, too, but the general trend can be seen throughout the industrial world. Among the new horizons opening up, one of the most interesting is the multicloud, a model based on a number of different cloud providers rather than a single one, and determined by three variables – cost, performance and the portfolio of services on offer. This portability is made possible by microservices, an approach to software architecture where applications are broken down into independent atomic elements. Microservices are one of Enel’s priorities in 2019.
The multicloud means freedom. In a future scenario we could, for example, optimise costs by moving smoothly from one provider to another, like switching phone companies, a prospect that until recently would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Looking back, we’ve made dizzying progress in the space of only a few years. And we have no intention of stopping here.