Thomas Publishing Co., a 118-year-old company once known for its big, green manufacturing guidebooks, finds itself at the center of an emerging movement in corporate computing: the great cloud migration.
Thomas published its trove of data online in 2006 after publishing the last edition of its iconic Thomas Register of American Manufacturers. Now, it’s transporting that data from its own computer servers to data centers run by Amazon.com Inc. “We want to be out of the business of running data centers,” said Thomas chief technical officer Hans Wald. The cloud is maturing as an operational center for large businesses. Startups were the first to take advantage of computing on demand in the so-called public cloud. Large companies initially were concerned about security breaches and maintaining control of their data. Now they’re becoming accustomed to the idea and moving their operations online, including massive databases. Cloud computing vendors are scrambling to ease the way. Very soon, Amazon will launch the AWS Database Migration Service, the technology Thomas used to shift its data to Amazon Web Services.
Recently, Microsoft Corp. said the next version of its database program, SQL Server 2016, would include technology intended to ease the transfer of data from customer-owned servers to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service. Amazon, which pioneered the business of selling metered access to online processing power and storage, is the leader in moving corporate databases to the cloud. She called Microsoft “an increasingly sticky vendor” because its SQL database works smoothly with popular Microsoft applications such as its Excel spreadsheet. Businesses are accumulating ever more data, from customer interactions to measurements from sensors in jet engines. Analyzing that ocean of information requires massive computing power of the kind that cloud computing makes increasingly affordable.
But shifting databases to the cloud can be an ordeal. Immense files can hog so much network bandwidth that companies often copy databases to massive storage devices to be shipped physically to cloud data centers. Often, companies must rewrite the software that analyzes their data to work with a cloud service. Then they need to test that work before rolling it out. Companies with $100 million or more in annual revenue may need as long as two years to complete a database migration, according to Ms. Leong of Gartner. Amazon aims to simplify the process. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,000 databases from “many hundreds” of companies, including Thomas, have used an early version of its migration service, said AWS vice president Adam Selipsky.