How Aon, Lincoln Financial, Devon Energy and Smithfield Foods Do Digital

4 lessons learned from becoming a digital business

It’s always inspiring to hear about a company’s digital successes. But it can be especially enlightening when you dig into the hard-won lessons that fueled those transformation triumphs.

That’s exactly what happened at last month’s Gartner Catalyst Conference in San Diego where our Chief Marketing Officer, Sara Baack, sat down with IT executives from Equinix customers Aon, Lincoln Financial, Devon Energy and Smithfield Foods to discuss their bold moves to accelerate digital business transformation through Interconnection and what they’ve learned along the way.

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Each company’s transformation began with its own unique set of digital goals:

  • Rakesh Inamdar is the Director of Global Network Services at Aon, a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions in over 120 countries. For Aon, digital transformation means bringing products and services to market faster by using the power of data and analytics to streamline its lines of business.
  • Joe Brannan is the Vice President of Data Center, Network and Storage Services at Lincoln Financial Group, a leading provider of life insurance, annuities and retirement plan services. For Lincoln Financial, digital is all about providing a customer experience equivalent to “born digital companies” such as Amazon, Google or Uber.
  • Matt Harper is the Director of Information Security and Infrastructure at Devon Energy, a leading North American independent oil and natural gas exploration and production company. His company’s digital transformation is aimed at getting the right data to the right people to make them “super-efficient.”
  • Matt Douglas, is the Director of Cloud Solutions Architecture for Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer and a pharmaceutical and bio-science company. With more than 40 manufacturing and processing plants, data centers and a new bioscience arm across the U.S. and Europe, Smithfield’s digital strategy is focused at driving down IT costs and empowering more seamless collaboration across facilities.

While these companies all have different digital transformation drivers, they’ve learned a number of common lessons on the road to digital business.

Lesson #1: Digital Transformation Happens Cloud First

All four companies had the cloud at the core of their digital transformation strategy, and in most cases, required a hybrid or multicloud infrastructure to meet their business and customer needs. Smithfield Foods took a cloud-first approach and immediately moved 50% of its IT infrastructure into the public cloud as a first step to reducing IT costs worldwide. But before they could do that, they needed to find a vendor-neutral, colocation and interconnection platform that gave them the fastest access to the greatest number of cloud providers.

According to Matt Douglas, “It was pretty simple. When you go out and you look at all the cloud providers, Azure, AWS, Google, you look at who you can connect to easily. …And we looked at these providers (and saw) Equinix is the center and has all the connection locations we needed. There was no, ‘Coming soon.’ They had the largest reach in the cloud footprint and it was an easy choice.”

For Matt Harper at Devon Energy, moving to the cloud meant having the choice to interconnect via multiple routes to get there: “You start looking at this, and you realize you’re not going to be building one route to one cloud provider, you’re going to be building many routes. And so what’s the fastest, most efficient way to do that?” A multicloud strategy is enabling Devon to gain access to the data and analytics it requires to more quickly and efficiently deliver its products and services to customers.

Companies that are migrating multiple applications to the cloud not only require a choice of cloud providers to leverage the best services, they also require proximity to clouds to deliver the best quality of service for the lowest cost.

Joe Brannan of Lincoln Financial determined that it was essential to the success of his SaaS strategy to streamline his company’s network topology within Equinix and move its data and compute workloads “far more adjacent to the cloud” to achieve the best quality of experience (QoE) for its customers.

Aon built its entire interconnection strategy to improve the user experience, get proximity to data and analytics, and increase its security posture. “Even our traditional data centers are proximate to Equinix,” said Rakesh Inamdar. “Equinix came up with products like the Equinix Cloud Exchange, so that allowed us to really connect to Azure and Amazon in a matter of minutes.”

By gaining proximate, direct interconnection to a rich ecosystem of cloud service providers within Equinix, these four enterprises took a giant step toward their digital transformation goals.

Lesson #2:  Strategic Peers Decrease Cost, Improve Performance and Drive Scalability

The panelists agreed that pursuing their digital transformations within a vendor-neutral colocation and interconnection platform, with dense network and internet service provider (ISP) ecosystems and peering, enabled them to leverage lower unit costs and ultimately reduce total cost of ownership for these services. In many cases, their investments in Equinix interconnection solutions became “self-funding.”

According to Joe Brannan, “It’s a big deal for us because it’s like saying to you: ‘How could you lower cost per kilowatt per hour at your house?’ If every new kilowatt per hour, you could reduce it by 10 and 100 and 1000-fold, wouldn’t that add value to you?”

Rakesh Inamdar added, “We saw close to 40% reduction in our transport costs and 20x to 30x increase in bandwidth. …You will be surprised the amount of savings that you can squeeze out of having this interconnection strategy.”

The combination of greater performance at lower costs is compelling digital businesses to look at how they can leverage direct, proximate interconnection to network and ISP ecosystems. And the benefits don’t stop at reducing costs or getting faster access to these services. Leveraging peering partners to gain greater scalability is also a critical consideration.

Matt Harper said it is not just network, internet or cloud providers you should consider as peering partners. He recommends data partners as well:

“…when you’re scanning the list of people you can peer with, start looking for your big data partners that your core business is using,” Harper said. “You might be surprised who’s in there and you might be able to peer with them at the point where their data rests, and analyze, use and consume that data locally… that quick connect, speed to value, and then the scalability, is another great option.”

Lesson #3: It’s All About Location at the Edge

Digital transformation is all about de-centralizing your IT and placing it at the digital edge, where commerce, population centers and digital ecosystems meet. This is what our customers are doing today by leveraging an Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) strategy. An IOA framework deployed on Platform Equinix™ allows them to put their IT infrastructures closer to people, locations, clouds and data.

The panelists revealed the catalysts that fueled their Equinix data center location strategies. For Smithfield, it was to provide an application high availability and failover infrastructure at Smithfield’s digital edge: “We use Equinix as our edge,” Matt Douglas said.

Smithfield was able to build a software-defined WAN in two Equinix data centers in the eastern and western U.S. and focus its security model around those two central points, as well as enable application failover between its data centers for business continuity.

Matt Harper noted that Interconnection is a critical tool for making an IT architectural change to how you move data: “It’s never too early to think about this being a new tool in the toolbox… if your business is really transforming, you have a new opportunity to have a seat at the table as a back-office infrastructure leader to talk about a way to enhance that capability.”

Lesson 4: Seek Out a Proven Security Infrastructure

Security is a major concern for digital businesses, both on-premises and in the cloud. Many enterprises don’t have the resources or expertise to replicate the physical security infrastructure of a global, multitenant data center platform such as Equinix. Joe Brannan sums it up this way: “Are the Equinix facilities a better secured facility than we could ever afford to build? The answer is: Of course!”

Learn more about how your company can accelerate its digital transformation through greater interconnection by reading the “Global Interconnection Index.”

 

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