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Hearst’s Multi-Cloud Strategy Taps AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud

'I tell people all the time if cloud is expensive for you compared to on-prem, then you're not doing it right,’ says Jimmy Shaffer, Hearst’s executive director of cloud and DevOps. 'With cloud, we have huge advantages to be able to tailor the workloads to the environment and be highly cost-effective by doing that.'

The Hearst Corp. is betting on a multi-cloud strategy and the trifecta of top cloud providers for its digital transformation.

The New York-based media, information and services company -- which has more than 360 businesses -- is using Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud to give its developers and divisions the best opportunity to be competitive in the market, according to Jimmy Shaffer, Hearst’s executive director of cloud and DevOps.

“We have about 80 percent of our IT (information technology) footprint in the cloud, and we're really doing it around agility and innovation,” Shaffer said. “And the cost savings come by...being able to use the cloud efficiently.

Hearst started using the cloud in 2012 to give it an advantage over its competition by being able to move faster and bring products to market more quickly.

“It's really the speed that we can move in a cloud provider that took us to AWS, Azure and Google,” Shaffer said.

Hearst’s diversified holdings include cable television networks A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime, ESPN and others, 34 television stations, newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and 300-plus magazines, from Cosmopolitan and ELLE to Men’s Health and Car and Driver. Hearst also owns financial information services company Fitch Group, the Hearst Health network, and transportation companies including CAMP Systems International, a software-as-a-service solutions provider for managing the maintenance of jets and helicopters.

The company chose AWS to begin its cloud journey because it was the major cloud player at the time, and added Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud around 2016.

“Each of the providers now have matured to a point where they're all fairly equal,” Shaffer said. “Each one has strengths in certain areas, so now we're putting the right workload in the right environment based on need.”

Hearst began building applications natively in the cloud and using a partner for lift-and-shift migrations.

“Then we slowly transformed those applications that were lifted and shifted into the cloud to be more modernized and refactored them into native technologies.” Shaffer said. “We're a cloud-first company, so all of our new development is being done in the cloud space. Whether they're websites, whether their content management sites, whatever it is, they're being developed in the cloud first.”

Cloud Services Leveraged By Hearst

Hearst’s embrace of new technologies includes managed Kubernetes with both AWS and Azure, which Shaffer said is a “huge advantage” over running its own Kubernetes clusters.

“In Azure, we're utilizing Azure DevOps and Azure Automation,” he said. “Those products allow us to be more nimble and have platforms to run pipelines and automation jobs, respectively. On the AWS side, we heavily use serverless architectures and Lambda functions, just to name a few. In Google, we're using mostly their analytics engine for big data.”

Hearst plans to move more and more to serverless architectures and platform as a service.

“There's less overhead to maintain,” Shaffer said. “With the server, you have to patch, you have to update, you have to install. If you can run your code directly in a container or a serverless architecture, then you don't need the server. You don't need all the overhead, the cost or the complexity. The days of having virtual servers -- whether it's (Amazon) EC2 or VMs (virtual machines) -- are shrinking by the day.”

Hearst And 2nd Watch

Hearst is using Seattle-based 2nd Watch, a consulting and managed service provider for infrastructure as a service, as its primary partner for migration and transformation projects using AWS and Azure.

“They brought a lot of expertise to the table around governance, architecture and really understanding how to do transformational work, as opposed to just being a technology provider,” Shaffer said. “That really was apparent to us. We did like them because they were a multi-cloud vendor.”

Jeff Aden is founder and executive vice president of marketing and business development at 2nd Watch, an AWS Premier Consulting Partner, AWS Partner Network Managed Service Provider and Microsoft Gold Partner.

“We started working with Hearst over a year ago…helping them optimize their services, not just with financial RIs (reserved instances), but also with transforming some of their applications and policies and procedures and operating protocols, etc.,” Aden said. “And then gradually we started doing more and more with them.”

2nd Watch helped modernize Hearst’s Comics Kingdom, an application that distributes comics for digital and print media use, using Azure AppService with Azure MySQL database to make it more reliable for customers and eliminate the need for provisioning, patching or retiring virtual machines.

“Rather than just migrating over an application, they're using cloud-native services to reduce the overall management of that,” Aden said. “That takes individuals out of day-to-day management of those and allows them to focus on transforming the next application or being more strategic.”

Hearst’s multi-cloud strategy is working well, according to Aden.

“They're looking at it from a transformational standpoint of where's the best landing zone and what are the best tools and services based on the skill set of employees in different divisions, but also of what runs better with enterprise or what fits their needs,” he said.

Hearst is pretty advanced in terms of its multi-cloud adoption and digital transformation than many 2nd Watch clients, according to Aden.

“They have a pretty seasoned and experienced staff for public cloud from not only Hearst but other companies,” he said. “They have a lot of experience and trust in the public cloud. They are able to react, able to leverage new technologies much faster with that experience.”

Cloud Costs

The move to the cloud has proved very cost-effective for Hearst and much cheaper than using on-premises infrastructure, according to Shaffer.

“I tell people all the time if cloud is expensive for you compared to on-prem, then you're not doing it right,” he said. “With cloud, we have huge advantages to be able to tailor the workloads to the environment and be highly cost-effective by doing that. When you're on-prem, you buy a piece of equipment, and you have to depreciate that equipment and…it's never 100 percent utilized. But in the cloud, you can be very good about utilization, and you can work specifically in a way that allows you to get the optimal workload at a lower cost. It's significantly reduced our cost and infrastructure.”

Hearst has very little still on-prem.

“We have places where we have printing presses, and that requires some equipment on-prem to run those presses,” Shaffer said. “We're talking about very specific workloads. On-prem is not the norm.”

Hearst and CloudHealth

Hearst uses the software platform of Boston-based CloudHealth by VMware to manage its cloud costs and compliance.

“We use CloudHealth to look at our data and analyze it and make good decisions about where we're spending money and getting the value out of our cloud providers,” Shaffer said. “CloudHealth is able to stretch across all of our providers and give us a nice overview as to where our costs are going and ways to optimize.”

The costs of AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud are “pretty competitive,” according to Shaffer.

“Obviously, there's negotiation that goes on, but at the end of the day, they're fairly competitive,” he said. “It's not a competition where AWS is more and Azure is less, or Azure is more and AWS is less. It's more about the region you need your workload in and the resources you need, and then you kind of compare it to the other provider.”

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