Moving to the Cloud: A 'Rational' Choice for McDonald's

McDonald's saw the cloud as a way to cut costs and enhance flexibility for its development teams, which standardized on the IBM Rational toolset.

When Scott Farnum of McDonald's saw the opportunity to move the fast-food chain's application-development tooling environment to the cloud, he did not hesitate.

Farnum, who is global infrastructure lab manager for McDonald's Corp. and is responsible for the company's application-development strategy, saw the cloud as a way to cut costs and enhance flexibility for his development teams, which have standardized on the IBM Rational toolset.

Like many other companies contemplating moving parts of their business to a cloud-computing environment, Farnum and his team weighed many factors, including the amount of downtime the company's developers have between projects.

The decision to move to the cloud made sense, considering the nature of application development with McDonald's IT department.

"There are several months where we do very little development, and then there are several months where things are very busy," Farnum said. "So the challenge for me is when I'm trying to provide an environment for my application teams to deliver a product and they need XYZ tooling, I have to buy enough tooling to cover everyone in that peak moment, which ends up being really costly.

"Then, outside that peak moment, we are not using those tools, and in some cases we will slow down development accordingly," he continued. "So we needed a model that was going to be flexible to any business condition and any development condition. Sometimes, we have big development years, and sometimes we have big deployment years. We needed this model to be flexible enough to handle that and go from there."

Once the decision to move McDonald's application-development needs to the cloud was set, the company tapped IBM partner CloudOne.

CloudOne specializes in taking IBM's Rational toolset to the cloud, and that is all the company does, said CloudOne CEO John McDonald, who spoke to eWEEK during IBM Innovate 2011, IBM's annual conference for Rational users.

CloudOne's Rational expertise is critical for Farnum since McDonald's uses Rational legacy tools, including ClearCase, ClearQuest and RequisitePro. The company is also evaluating Rational's newer tools, such as Rational Software Architect, Rational Application Developer and Rational Asset Manager.

More importantly, with the CloudOne solution, McDonald's can pay only for what it needs when it needs it.

Farnum chose Rational because McDonald's required tools that cover the entire software-development lifecycle and have a particular focus on application-lifecycle management. He also said an independent study by McDonald's found that the Rational toolset was "best of breed" and had the best opportunity to go "end-to-end"-from requirements to deployment to maintenance.

"Flexibility and elasticity are the key words here," said David Locke, director of worldwide marketing strategy for the cloud at IBM Rational.

However, being best-in-class comes with a price. The Rational toolset is not inexpensive, which made the cloud option even more attractive.

"McDonald's is a hamburger company; we don't want to be in the IT business," Farnum said. "We want to focus on what we do best. And we are always on the lookout for firms to come in and provide consulting services on their respective technologies to help us do what we need to do from a business perspective."

CloudOne was in a unique position in that it had begun providing consulting services to McDonald's in a different capacity. CloudOne then offered a cloud-computing solution to McDonald's, and Farnum jumped at the opportunity.

"At the time, we could not find another supplier that provided this and was able to also provide the SAAS [software as a service] model that we needed," he said.

From an implementation perspective, to prepare for the cloud, Farnum said IT managers need to be in the most flexible mode prior to going to the cloud, such as having primarily Web-based systems. "So, in our environment, we are leveraging CCRC [ClearCase Remote Client] as much as possible," he said.

Since moving to the cloud, McDonald's has seen "huge benefits," Farnum said.

For instance, the company has gotten a 50 percent improvement in the performance of the products.

"When we went to CloudOne, it became easier for them to support the products if they siloed each one onto its own server set," he said.

"That sped all those applications up, and made them easier to support," Farnum added. "And we could do things like upgrade that one product for Windows 7 if we needed to and leave the others alone. Other benefits are easier pilots. I'm not dependent on internal infrastructure folks to spin up a box and grant me administrative rights.

"I don't have to worry about all these aspects that go into a pilot or proof-of-concept. And, frankly, if we wanted to do a six-month pilot instead of a 30-day pilot, we have that flexibility. We can even do a pay-as-you-go pilot if we need to, because it's that flexible," Farnum explains.

Meanwhile, CloudOne's McDonald said the capital cost of getting into the Rational tools is prohibitive for many companies. The infrastructure to run the toolset and the people to set it up, monitor it and maintain it is beyond the reach of many companies.

An example of this is a customer that has a project requiring 20 people on it, but the company only owns 10 licenses. At this point, a company's options are limited.

The IT department and development teams either have to pony up the money for the extra licenses, cut costs in other areas, or change tools and maybe go with an open-source technology that is less expensive from an up-front cost level. But with CloudOne, they have another option that lets them use what they want but only pay for what they use, McDonald said.

"What we do at CloudOne is we offer up a way they can literally get into this with no money down," McDonald said. "We lower the transom of entry to zero, and it allows people who may not otherwise be able to use Rational tools or use as many Rational tools as they want to to be able to do that."