It’s been a year since we first spoke to Revlon at the VMworld Conference in 2011. We heard then about their world-class private cloud, and how as an early adopter Revlon gained many benefits from aggressively embracing the cloud.
So we decided to go back and see how things have progressed at Revlon, how their comprehensive cloud has matured, and how the benefits from aggressively embracing the cloud have evolved into positive consequences for their data architecture.
This special BriefingsDirect podcast then comes to you from the recent 2012 VMworld Conference in San Francisco, part of a series on cloud computing and software-defined datacenter infrastructure developments.
To fill us in on Revlon’s latest IT developments, we’re joined by David Giambruno, Senior Vice President and CIO of Revlon. The interview is conducted by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Now that you’ve been doing private cloud as an early adopter and at an advanced state, what has it been doing for you?
Giambruno: We have a couple of fronts. The biggest, which you alluded to, was the unintended consequences, and we’ve had a couple of them. When you think of Revlon, we’re global and we have a huge application portfolio. As we put everything on our cloud and are using our cloud, we realized that all of our data sits in one place now.
So when you think of big-data management, we’ve been able to solve the problem by classifying all the unstructured data in Revlon and we did that efficiently. We still joke that it’s like chewing glass. You’ve got to go through this huge process.
But, we have the ability to look at all of our data, a couple of petabytes, in the same place. Because the cloud lets us look at it all, we can bring up all of Revlon in our disaster recovery (DR) test environments and have our developers work with it at no cost. We have disconnected that cost and effort.
Once we realized we had this opportunity to start working on our big data, the other unintended consequences was our master data model. On top of our big data, we were able to able to efficiently and effectively build a global master data model.
At Revlon, one of our chief directives from the executive team is to globalize. So we’re collapsing 21 enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems into one. The synergies of having this big-data structure and having this master data model is changing how to deploy a global ERP. Loading that data is now just a few clicks of a button. It’s highly automated. We’re not ETLing data and facing all the old challenges. We’re not copying environments. Everything is available to us and it’s constantly updating.
At Revlon, we replicate all of our cloud activity every 15 minutes. You’ve seen on VMware, where we had disasters and we were able to recover a country quickly and effectively. That replication process and constantly updating allows us to update all these instances at no cost and with little effort.
You have to build the structure and you have to go through that process, but once it’s done, it’s now automated and you march that out. It’s the ability to quickly and effectively manage all your big data coming in. For us, it’s point of sale — roughly 600 million-plus attributes.
For us to provide information to the business teams, to build good products, to sell good products, is a key differentiator in helping them.
Gardner: Why did you do the data the way you did that’s now led to this cloud architecture benefit?
Giambruno: We started the cloud architecture, and I always joke it’s like having a Ferrari that you can take out for a spin. When we were building it, we didn’t realize all the things we can do.
So it’s really that je ne sais quoi, the little thing that, as you see it, you realize all these things you can do. You are always planning to do those things for the business, because that’s what we do, but it’s how you do them.
I’ve always said the cloud is what the local area network (LAN) was 15 or 20 years ago. The LAN changed the way people dealt with information and applications, and the cloud is doing the same thing. Actually, it’s on a bigger geometry, because it really eliminates geography and provides the ability to move data and information around.
We live in the information age, and to me, the most important thing is delivering information to the business teams. That’s what we see as one of the big next evolutions in our cloud — making information out of all this data and delivering that on whatever device they want to be on, wherever they are, securely and effectively, in a context that they can understand. Not in a way that we can understand, but in a way that they can consume.
Gardner: Understanding a bit about how you did this chronologically, for those that are still in the process of getting there with private cloud, did you focus on the data issues first and then application and workloads? Did you do them simultaneously? Is there some lesson to learn about how you did it in an orderly sense that others could benefit from?
First things first
Giambruno: I live in this simple world of crawl, walk, run. Whenever I say that my team starts cringing, because they think, “Oh, there he goes again.” But it was literally fix the infrastructure first and then, from an application and data perspective, the low-hanging fruit, the file servers.
It’s this progressive capability of learning how to do things — low risk to high risk. What you end up doing is figuring out how to effectively do those things, because not only do you manage the technology, but you have to manage the people and the process changes, and all those things that have to happen.
But all ships have to rise at the same time. So it’s the ability to run these concurrent streams. From a management perspective, it’s how not to get overwhelmed and how to take advantage of the technology, the automation, and the capabilities that come along with that to free up work that you used to do and put it towards making the change.
I’m a big believer in not doing big bang. So it’s not like, tomorrow we’re going to have a private cloud. Throw the switch. It’s the small incremental changes that help organizations adapt. It’s a little bit every day. You look back, and at the end of six months or a year, you realize how much we’ve done.
It’s been the same in Revlon. I constantly take my team and sit them down and say, “Look what we’ve done. You’re in the forest. You’re in the trees. It’s time to look at the forest. Step back and look what you guys have done.” Because it’s a little bit every day, and you don’t realize the magnitude or the mass, when you have a team of people doing something every day and going forward.
Gardner: For those of our listeners who may not be that familiar with Revlon, at least your IT operations, give us a sense of the scale — the number of applications, size of data, just so we better appreciate the task that you’ve accomplished.
Giambruno: I usually quantify it by our cloud, because those are the simple metrics and we seem to be pretty steady, so the metrics are holding. Our cloud makes about 14,000 transactions a second. Our applications move around Revlon 15,000 times a month with no human intervention. Our change rate of data is between 17 and 30 terabytes a week.
We have roughly, depending on the ups and downs, between 97 and 98 of our total compute on our internal cloud, we have some AS/400s and I think one UNIX box left. But that’s really the scale of what we do.
All of our geographies are around the world. We sit in all the continents except for Antarctica. We have a global manufacturing facility in Oxford, North Carolina, that produces 72 percent of everything we sell in the world. We have some other factors around the world. And we are delivering north of six nines uptime.
Gardner: An unintended consequence was a benefit for how data can be accessed and consumed, but a lot of people are hoping for consequences around cost. Is there something going on now a year later vis-à-vis your total cost, or maybe even the cost of data? Maybe you have been able to reduce the footprint of data, even while you have accessed more and more quickly. What’s the cost equation?
Cost avoidance and savings
Giambruno: There is a history there, as we talked about. We have given back north of $70 million in cost avoidance and cost savings, and we’re continuously figuring out how to use everything. My team is highly technical, so I call it turning screws. We are always turning screws on how to more effectively manage everything.
We’re always looking at how to not spend money. It’s simple. The more money we don’t spend, the more that R&D, marketing, and advertising have to grow our company. That’s the key to us.
We leverage capability, so one of the big things this year also was our mobile business intelligence (BI) capability. We’ve disconnected most of the costs for things in Revlon around IT. We only manage at a top line.
But if someone wants to try a new application, generally by the time the business team gets in a meeting with us, it’s no cost. We have servers set up. We have the environment. We have the access control set up for the vendor to come in and set everything up. So that’s still ongoing.
We have got this huge mobile BI initiative, which is delivering information to business teams and contacts. That’s the new thing where we have disconnected the cost. We’re not laying out money for it, and we’re just now executing around that.
For me, the cost equation is more and more around cost avoidance and keeping on extending the capability of that cloud.
Gardner: And it seems as if those costs are more of an operational ongoing nature, predictable, recurring, easy to budget, rather than those big-bang types of cost?
Giambruno: Very, very predictable. For the past three years, we have had the same line items. While data keeps growing, we’re still figuring out how to manage things better and better in the background, because the cloud generates lot of data, which we want it to do. Data, information, and how we use that is the competitive weapon.
This cost avoidance, or cost containment, while extending capability, is the little magical thing that happens, that we do for the business. We’re very level in our spend, but we keep delivering more and more and more.
Gardner: Because we are here at VMworld in San Francisco, tell me a little bit about the VMware impact for the cloud. How do you view the VMware suite and portfolio vis-à-vis the impact it has had on your maturation and benefits?
Giambruno: I want to use technology as a competitive weapon. My team masters it. We own it intellectually.
For us, it’s where VMware is going. We’re always pushing VMware. “What have you got next? What have you got next?” It’s up to us to take capability and extend it. I don’t mean to be flip or narcissistic or anything like that, but we’ve got that piece under control. It’s about how do you do it better.
Every time there’s an upgrade, what features and functionalities can we then take advantage and translate that into a business use? When I say business use, we tell the business teams, “Here’s a new capability. You can do this and keep changing the structure of operating.”
The new version of vSphere 5.1 came out, and we’re in the process of exposing our internal cloud to our vendors and suppliers. We’re eliminating all these virtual private networks (VPNs). It’s about how we change and how IT operates, changing the model. For me, that’s a competitive advantage, and it’s the opportunity to reduce structural cost and take people away from managing firewalls.
We did that. We got that. Now we’re going to do this a different way. We’re going to expose to our vendors securely the information that they need, that they can interact with as easily and effectively.
There’s even the idea of taking a portion of our apps and presenting those to our suppliers on their iPads and their iPhones so they can update our data and our systems much more cleanly and effectively. We can get the synergies and effectiveness and have our partners like to work with us and make it easy on them as well. It’s always a quid pro quo, “It’s Revlon. They’re good to deal with. Let’s help them.”
It’s how you create those partnerships and effectiveness to get business done better. It makes it easier on the business teams, contracts go better, and it’s cascading. I call it the spiral up effect, changing the way you operate to spiral up and take advantage of capabilities.
Gardner: Is that something we could classify as another unintended consequence — a benefit that you have been able to enjoy these efficiencies around cloud internally for your enterprise, but now you are taking it to an extended enterprise benefit?
Giambruno: Absolutely. Look at the security complexity around VPNs and managing that and the audits. That’s so much fun. Changing the model is really the opportunity, making it easier for the auditors to audit and making it easier for your supply chain, for all of those people to interact with you in a much more effective manner.
It’s about enabling procurement to process their information and work with the vendors, because everything is about change. It’s about speed of change. If we get a demand signal that changes and we need to buy more raw materials or whatever for our factories, we have the ability for not only our procurement teams, but our vendors to interact with us easily to make those changes. It ensures that we can deliver the right products, to the right stores, to the right peoples, so at the end the consumers are happy. It’s about how do you change the model of delivering that.
VMware has done that for us, and we keep taking advantage of all the stuff. I joke that I’m like a technology enabler: “What have you got for me? What have you got for me?” So I can give it out to the business and my teams, because it keeps people interested. We can say, “We saw you guys, and it was hard for you. Now, you can do this.” And it’s done.
“What do you mean it’s done?” “It’s done. Just use it. It’s okay. Let us know what you think, if you want us to change something.” But it’s always being on the front of the bow, saying, “Here’s what we can do. Here’s how we can help.”
That’s the culture of IT in Revlon. I’m merciless about how we’re just here to help. We run the technology and own the technology intellectually, so we can help. That’s my only concern.
In the future, in my internal cloud, I should be able to take a vertical instance of functionality and push that. To me, that’s next. If the vendors can figure out how to do that and have my internal cloud manage those transactions back, but push the pieces of functionality wherever it needs to be, so it sits in those Mini Me data centers and let it be close to people, so I don’t have to deal with latency and then manage those transactions back, that’s the next big evolution.
Then there’s mobile computing. What I mean by mobile computing is viewing applications, so data never leaves my data center.
I know a device. I know the person. When they hit the edge of my network, essentially hit my data center, we know their device. We know who they are, and they only get access to information they are supposed to have and they only view it.
I could encrypt my entire data center, and at a hypervisor level, encrypt everything, because if you encrypt the VBK file, the job is done. The compliance and security impact is huge. No more data leakage, audits become easier, all of those things.
Again, it’s a completely different way to operate and think about things, but we need to slice applications up, move them out, and then view the applications. That’s a whole new geometry of operating IT in a much more efficient manner.
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