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Cloud architect shakes up IT organization at Activision

Rick Parker has the daunting task of transforming a traditional IT department into a cloud-ready organization. Can he do it?

How does the new guy in IT win friends and influence people?

"Not by having 'cloud' in your title," said Rick Parker, cloud architect at Activision, makers of Call of Duty and Guitar Hero, among other video games.

Once they see the benefits, it gets easier to implement [the cloud].

Rick Parker, cloud architect, Activision

Parker is the first to have the role of cloud architect at Activision, a 4,000-person company headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif. He reports to an infrastructure manager under the VP of IT operations, who reports to the CTO.

He is two weeks into the job and has found that Activision's traditional IT organization with its separate server team, network team and storage team, is, like most IT departments, still coming to terms with cloud computing.

"The challenge is to convert this standard IT organization into a cloud organization," Parker said. Being the first person in the role comes with its challenges -- not least of which is educating internal staff on what cloud is all about.

The company's initial vision was to move as many applications as possible to public cloud services to save costs. The view amongst the internal IT staff was that public cloud was always going to be cheaper and that private cloud was a misnomer, according to Parker.

"They've heard so much bad marketing from vendors about private cloud systems and private cloud storage that aren't really cloud," he said. "Now they have bad connotations about the whole thing." A big piece of Parker's job is to inform the team on new technologies that do actually meet the criteria for cloud.

There is also a fear amongst the staff that cloud models will change their job or even replace their job. And in some respects they are right, Parker said. "If you can increase your admin efficiency with automation, you need a lot less admins … It's an understandable fear."

However, his goal is to keep every member of the team by training them to be cloud administrators. They will run an entire virtual data center instead of being responsible for one technology, he said. Parker plans to get away from command line-based routing and switch configuration and look for management tools that take care of this. He anticipates cross training people so that they are familiar with all disciplines and will create a cloud team that includes people from all IT departments.

Alongside this, Parker will evaluate which cloud options (public, private or hybrid) will be the most cost-effective for each workload -- he's evaluating tools for cost modeling that should help with this. Activision has about 60 to 100 applications, including Windows apps on different versions of Windows Server, depending on the office.

Add to this, 15 games studios each with its own data center and IT requirements as well as companies Activision has acquired along the way with different approaches to IT, and you have a real challenge on your hands. Parker's goal is standardize wherever possible and outsource basic IT functions. He's researching colocation and cloud options at SuperNAP, Switch Communications' massive data center in Las Vegas.

His strategy is to start with the easy stuff like Software as a Service apps for email collaboration and calendaring that will immediately improve productivity and lower costs. He's going to build proof of concepts to get the organization familiar with different aspects of cloud, like self-service provisioning. "Once they see the benefits, it gets easier to implement," he said.

"It's really a human issue more than a technology issue," Parker added. "It's going to take some courage on my part to evangelize the idea."

Jo Maitland is the Senior Executive Editor of Contact her at

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