Motorola Solutions and the Cloud: An Interview with Leo Wang

Leo Wang is Senior Director, Head of Cloud Computing at Motorola Solutions. Read on to learn how a large organization makes the move from on-premises resources to the cloud – and the types of technical roles needed to make it happen.

Non-technical qualities are equally, if not more, important than technical skills in a successful IT career.

Leo Wang manages Motorola Solutions’ 50M compute budget and oversees its on-premises compute and cloud strategy with an entire portfolio of cloud computing services. He formerly managed the Global Data Services division for Mediaocean.
Leo provides technical and professional leadership to his team. He is one a the very few Oracle Certified Masters and holds an M.S. in computer science from Loyola University.

You have wide experience in the IT industry. What drew you to cloud computing?

I have experience in almost all IT infrastructure and support areas. This experience gives me comprehensive knowledge about IT in general. Cloud computing grabbed my attention when I worked at Mediaocean. As the company expanded its business to include a global footprint, it made more sense to leverage a public cloud infrastructure. We wanted a global presence, and the public cloud seemed the best way of achieving this. I, and others, were initially skeptical about the feasibility of having the AWS cloud run our critical application suite. However, I started a pilot project to use EC2 and built database and application compute environments.

The experience was quite successful.  As I dig into cloud computing, the benefits become clearer to me. When Motorola Solutions offered me an opportunity to lead the compute team, focusing on cloud computing, I became excited about the direction for the organization and for my career.

What are your top cloud priorities at Motorola Solutions?

Motorola Solutions is transforming its business from a product focus to the SaaS model. Cloud computing is enabling that transformation by providing the cost, agility and flexibility needs for the SaaS model. Here are my top three priorities: 

1. Data center consolidation and cloud migration project.

Motorola Solutions is relocating its headquarters from Schaumburg to downtown Chicago. As part of that effort, we are consolidating our data center footprint in Schaumburg. Instead of moving workloads to other COLO data centers, we leverage the project fund to migrate cloud compatible workloads to the AWS cloud. We actually just finished vacating two data center rooms at the Schaumburg campus on time, and migrated around $2M of compute spend to the AWS cloud. Considering the fact that we started the project in February, our accomplishment is fascinating. In the second half of the year, we are going to move similar data center footprints for our engineering systems.  All cloud compatible workloads will be part of our cloud migration.

2. Global site strategy and global cloud infrastructure.

MSI have more than 200 sites and a handful of major data centers globally. I am analyzing our global compute footprint, and building a new comprehensive global compute landscape. Our target is to optimize compute spending and provide quick and flexible compute needs for MSI.

3. Cloud First strategy.

Cloud First is becoming a companywide initiative that all new applications should adopt cloud computing whenever possible. Cloud computing is a relatively new area for most MSI departments. My organization is leading the effort and provides the architecture, engineering, and training support for IT cloud applications. We work closely with AWS to promote the cloud technology and set up seminars and workshops for MSI employee. We are partnering with our business groups and provide cloud infrastructure related support.  As part of that, I am expanding cloud architecture and engineering resources to meet the increasing cloud demand needs.

Some large organizations have issues with legacy technology and systems. How did you tackle this challenge?

Legacy technology is very common for enterprise companies that have existed for a long time. Lots of Motorola Solutions applications were built more than 10 years ago, and quite a few of those are running on non-cloud friendly platforms like Solaris, AIX, and HPUX. Additionally, some legacy applications utilize technology that is not popular in the latest cloud environment. We take a phased approach for cloud migration.

  • Lift and shift. Filter out applications that only run on Windows and Linux platforms because some legacy application may use old operating systems. As we found, data replication supports some old versions of windows and Linux OS. This approach is relatively easy and helps us build the experience, confidence, and momentum for the following efforts.
  • Application upgrade. It’s recommended to do refresh installation if it is possible. It’s much less stressful and good to build the experience. The extra benefit is we can utilize the latest EC2 type instead of sticking to an old one due to a very old OS version. Some of the legacy apps may need to be totally rewritten so that part of application ecosystems can be moved to the cloud.
  • Address legacy technology early.  In AWS cloud, it does not have many legacy infrastructure related services, such as NIS, NAS, RAC and etc.  It takes time to research, design, and test workarounds for those in cloud environments. So fully understanding the application architecture components and cloud capabilities are critical to identifying and address those areas.
  • Decommission. It’s critical to understand the true usage of the legacy app and whether it is really being used. As part of the cloud migration journey, big chunks of in-scope application end up being decommissioned. Traditionally, due to the separation of duties, people loose the complete picture of the application’s usage and business purpose over time.
  • Retain. After all these efforts, there still may be leftover non-working applications due to technical reasons. For those, we will work closely with app owners and have a long-term roadmap for upgrading or decommissioning them. The footprint for those should be dramatically smaller.

Can you think of the single most challenging issue you had to solve, and how you did it?

Of all the challenging issues I faced during the cloud efforts, the most challenging one is getting people onboard with cloud efforts, or, in other words, culture change for cloud computing.

Cloud computing changes lots of traditional IT roles and duties.

There are a few reasons for this. Cloud computing changes lots of traditional IT roles and duties.  The roles in cloud computing world is more solution based instead of technology based. Because it’s not clear what the new roles will be, many groups try to stop or delay the effort to show the usefulness of Cloud migration.

The cloud effort is driven by the cloud team. But everybody has their own priorities and this year MSI IT has a few high profile projects. You can bet that lots of people were skeptical about the project. In order to change that, I purposely put converge posts for each of our cloud success story which will show appreciation, build cloud team capabilities confidence, and encourage people’s participation. I leverage the company’s communication writers to formally announce cloud efforts and ask other senior leaders for support. I build show-back reports for IT senior leader to share the cloud migration responsibilities.  With these efforts, I have seen rapidly growing active participation and smoother migration.

Readers would love to learn what qualities you want in a candidate for your teams. Can you address this?

Supporting cloud computing is quite different than traditional resources that support data centers. We need more solution type of resources that understand all or most aspects of IT infrastructure technology. These resources should be able to effectively leverage cloud services. Since cloud technology is new and innovating fast, we want candidates who have passion for cloud technology. Hands-on, ability to work alone, self-motivated and cooperative are a few other critical qualities I like to find in candidates. 

Since cloud technology is new and innovating fast, we want candidates who have passion for cloud technology.

 

Did you select AWS out of the possible cloud providers? If so, what sealed the deal for you?

Before MSI decide to choose AWS, there were debates about AWS vs Azure. MSI choose AWS due to following reasons.

  1. AWS is the market leader in this cloud space. The market share for AWS is much higher than Azure.
  2. AWS is a more open platform than other cloud providers.  Most other cloud vendors have a tendency for platform bias. 
  3. AWS has more enterprise features and a much greater enterprise customer bases.
  4. AWS maintains good customer relationship. They are working closely with MSI to get certifications and a new AZ build-out. I was not involved in the original decision. But I fully support this decision for the above reasons.

Are there any cloud tools you discovered that everyone should know about?

Docker is very popular. It fits with our microservice cloud architecture pretty well. Quite a few MSI next generation products are using that tool. We also use Jenkins to automate builds and cloud jobs.

No one really knows what is next for the cloud and I still want to ask you what your predictions for the industry are?

Both IaaS and PaaS for public cloud continue growing at break-neck speed. The growth rate for PaaS probably will pick up faster and faster. The adoption is tough. Once over that stage,  it could erupt like a volcano.

For AWS lambda, RDS and many other services, our dev engineers really like them once they are familiar with them. AWS will continue to lead big in this market in next 5 years. More Enterprise customers like MSI are moving to the public cloud in a more meaningful way.

I see you have a number of advanced certifications, including Oracle Certified Master. What are your thoughts on training and certification? Is it important for getting a job, keeping a job, or staying competitive in a role?

I got those certifications during my early career. To get certifications, people need to focus on learning in specific areas and understand critical details. When you don’t have much experience, certifications do help provide candidates have the right skills to land the interview in the first place. I believe highly competitive certifications will help you to stand out. At the end of the day, a candidate’s IT career is a result of technical skills and non-technical qualities.

When you don’t have much experience, certifications do help provide candidates have the right skills to land the interview in the first place.

If you could go back in time and offer advice to a younger version of yourself, what would it be?

Non-technical qualities are equally, if not more, important than technical skills in a successful IT career.

Great communication and cooperation skills are career boosters. Lots of IT people are too embedded in technical areas that may not see the bigger picture of why we are doing “the work”in the first place.


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Paul Carlstroem

Paul loves narrative. He enjoys the satisfaction of telling simple, compelling stories about complex topics. He has worked for McGraw-Hill Education, Springer Business and Media, and other STM organization. He has enjoyed navigating the exciting changes in the computer, technical and educational publishing industry during periods of great disruption. It is Paul’s strong belief that solving a problem is only part of the story.

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