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For Disney, cloud computing is another IT wave to ride

Disney's CIOs are already talking cloud, but hesitancy over potential service provider failures and lock-in has pushed the company toward a more long-term view.

New research indicates that the cloud computing trend for enterprises is growing fast. For many firms, it's a redux of past IT shifts, like moving from mainframes and terminals to client-server, outsourcing and virtualization.

[Cloud computing] now looks like it can give us the ability to try things out in ways that might have taken longer or been harder in the past.

Joseph Solimando, senior vice president and CIO of Disney's consumer products division

A new Forrester report says that 24% of 1,200 IT pros surveyed considered building a private cloud to be of high importance. Many of those said they were using virtualization and cloud models to claw back data center investments and keep operations safely under control, rather than moving to public cloud environments. Utilities and telecoms were most likely to be interested in the cloud, with big media companies the next to adopt the cloud model.

"We like to be on the leading edge, and maybe in a few areas on the bleeding edge, but we try not to be. We want to use tried and true things," said Joseph Solimando, senior vice president and CIO of The Walt Disney Company's consumer products division. Solimando's job is to help turn the Disney brand into retail cash; his operation oversees a witch's brew of outlets and products both online and in stores.

Solimando said that Disney is the largest licenser of media products in the world; it maintains an intricate web of licensing, manufacturing and distribution, to say nothing of the online games, shows and creative property development. That drives some sophistication and complexity in his IT setup, but Solimando is quick to point out that Disney is not interested in moving computer science forward. That influences his views on cloud services.

Disney's plan to cherry pick the cloud
Overall, cloud computing is a redux of past technology shifts for Solimando; he's going to let others do the R&D and suffer the bumps, although he does expect cloud to be a significant part of his arsenal long term. Solimando said that he's not dogmatic, either -- if he sees a new service he likes, he'll pick it apart and see if he can do it himself, in-house -- but he recognizes cloud's ability to push infrastructure out of the enterprise and lower costs.

"We scan the market and say, 'Is this really so unique or is this something we can produce in-house, is it something we can buy, is it some combination of a service or an offering that we could buy and integrate?'" he said.

Solimando said that while he and Disney would take cloud at a measured pace, the most striking shifts he saw were the challenges to his governance and oversight processes. Because cloud computing models like Software as a Service (SaaS) are predicated on self-service and letting users run the show, Solimando found himself becoming more of a facilitator and less of a straight technology enabler.

"With cloud-based services, you have to do a better job of thinking ahead. How well will it be adopted, can I keep a handle on it?" he said. Other cloud concerns Disney wants to avoid include making big bets with service providers that fail or getting locked down to a technology platform or toolset. Solimando noted that external cloud services will clearly be a major factor in several years, so he has to be careful buying iron now.

Solimando said that interest in cloud computing comes from all directions in his firm, which is a little startling but validates the trend long term. Cloud computing was gradually taking over by taking the path of least resistance, he said, including making things easier for users and enterprise CIOs like him.

"What's intriguing as a CIO," he said, "is [cloud computing] now looks like it can give us the ability to try things out in ways that might have taken much longer or been harder in the past."

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for Contact him at

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