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‘Signify’s cloud journey has no final destination’

Signify, formerly Philips Lighting, provides products and services in the field of lighting for businesses and consumers. The past few years have been characterised by a transition from conventional lighting to LED, increasingly supported by intelligent platforms. The company is thus in the midst of a digital transformation. This digitalisation would not really be possible without a corresponding cloud transformation. CIO Kurt De Ruwe explained Signify’s multi-cloud strategy in the fifth session of the Leading Lights Boardroom programme, enabled by CIO Magazine and BT Global.

Colin Bannon, CTO of BT Global, explains how large organisations are migrating to the cloud even faster than they expected: “The internet is now the network, the cloud is the data centre, and every device is a device to work on. In addition, identity is the new perimeter, a development accelerated by working from home during the pandemic. However, when it comes to networking, even the most modern SD-WAN is not specifically designed for the cloud, and is hence unable to provide the desired user experience.”

Rehost, replatform, rebuild
The CTO sees three movements in organisations moving to the cloud: rehost – optimising the infrastructure and eliminating shadow IT; replatform – moving legacy applications to containers; and rebuild – rebuilding applications as microservices. VMs are being moved to colocation, or even migrated to the native cloud, and network and security facilities are moving to carrier-neutral environments.

“We are seeing the emergence of regional networks, which provide hubs to carrier-neutral facilities for SD-WAN and remote users. This bypasses the security controls in the data centre. Secure Access Service Edge, or SASE, is a concept that meets this need. It will be expanded to include CAS, web-based single sign-on for web applications,” says Bannon.

Kurt De Ruwe, CIO of Signify, takes over and outlines how the former Philips came to realise that the various business units would do better in the market separately. This led to the group’s division in 2014 and the birth of – at the time – Philips Lighting. Kurt De Ruwe: “The IT environment at the time was characterised by more functionality than required, and therefore higher costs.”

Signify, as Philips Lighting is now called, proceeded with application rationalisation, reduction of the number of data centres, and opted for systematic use of the cloud as a platform for hosting and development. Signify is in every way focused on the cloud. For example, it has no WAN, but chooses the internet. It also opts for standard solutions wherever possible and works on the principle of ‘configuring instead of developing’. In terms of cybersecurity, emphasis lies on protecting data and applications and no longer on the increasingly porous perimeter.

De Ruwe adds: “We in this case opt for a multi-cloud strategy. Once you start using specific capabilities of a particular cloud, it’s hard to get out of it. We therefore remain at a ‘higher’ level, which allows us to move applications between AWS and Azure quite easily.”

In the case of business IT, like the Signify platforms Interact and Hue, the CIO indicates it would be much more difficult to switch, if only in view of the enormous amount of data that would then have to be moved: “Here we are looking more towards joint innovation to get more value out of the platform. We also look at the volumes we have there, on the basis of which we then negotiate a new price.” Incidentally, he nuances the importance of price: “Cloud is not always the cheapest platform for everything.”

Transformation does not stop
The IT transformation does not stop there though. “We recently decided to adopt DevOps throughout the entire IT organisation,” says Kurt De Ruwe. “Together with BT, we are switching to SD-WAN – and then also to SASE.” How fast things are moving is evident from the number of projects in the digital sphere, which is now three times higher than last year.

Returning to the multi-cloud theme, Kurt De Ruwe advises those present: “Determine what you want to use the cloud for: for development or as a platform for running applications. Then take a good look at the architecture and data flows. After all, you don’t want any unnecessary data flows from one cloud to another, or from a data centre to a cloud in another country. Furthermore, cybersecurity is essential.” The CIO emphasises that Signify’s cloud journey has no final destination: “Every month we try new things and make adjustments.”

Joris van Oers closes the boardroom session with the observation that the corona era has led to a greater focus on digital transformation and an acceleration of cloud adoption in almost all sectors. “Signify is a fine example of this!”

Encryption and science fiction
De Ruwe puts a question to the CIOs present in the Leading Lights Boardroom: “End-to-end encryption in the entire network does not yet exist. This would be the next step in protecting our data and applications. This is a great challenge for BT Global, too!”

BT CTO Colin Bannon responds, “This is indeed a challenge, not just from an encryption perspective. It’s also a challenge in terms of guaranteeing data flows to various clouds – and therefore the user experience. After all, those data streams are to some extent shielded from the network devices by the encryption.”

He continues: “We are also looking at the emergence of quantum computers and the need to ‘quantum-proof’ encryption. We are working with Toshiba on providing quantum data streams, whereby thanks to the principles of quantum mechanics we can always see when data streams have been viewed on the move. It’s almost science fiction.”