Lonely Planet puts infrastructure on cloud to focus on core business

Travel guide publisher Lonely Planet has embraced IaaS (Infrastucture-as-a-Service) to free up time for core projects that can be developed in house, the Cloud World Forum heard yesterday.


Travel guide publisher Lonely Planet has embraced IaaS (Infrastucture-as-a-Service) to free up time for core projects that can be developed in house, the Cloud World Forum heard yesterday.

Lonely Planet was faced not only with the similar technological disruptions as all enterprises, but were contending with an entire business model transformation following the recession and collapsing print market.

Online platform manager Darragh Kennedy said: “We were a four-tier company in the publishing industry that had been massively disrupted. We went from competition with other travel publications to dealing with Google and Tripadvisor.”

To counteract this, the Lonely Planet’s infrastructure team developed an agile model and worked “aggressively” to embody new technologies and keep itself ahead in the premature digital market.

Kennedy said the team had previously been working in a linear fashion with its datacentres. It decided the most efficient option, both time and cost-wise, was to use IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) and SaaS (Software-as-a-Service).

He said: “When you consume IaaS you no longer have restraints. We could break work down into small pieces and deliver value immediately.

“So we set about creating a team of developers, systems engineers, database people and testers and we set about building our first environment. We treated it like a software project, inbuilt infrastructure as code, checked that code into repository. We built tests for it and we [reused code so that we could] share that knowledge across the team. The first environment took a long time to build however we were able to reuse that code and accelerate it across multiple environments.”

Kennedy said that Lonely Planet transferred all its computing to IaaS over a year ago. He said: “We can leverage the economies of scale with the temporary provider to do this in a cost-effective manner. We went from using two physical datacentres in Australia to running compute, like Lonelyplanet.com in the US and our shared publishing platform in Australia - nearest to our content”.

Although sceptical at first, Lonely Planet recognised the need for agile, leaner business processes and aligned that with its technology strategy. The IT team embraced cloud and SaaS. Now Dropbox For Teams, Google Drive, Panzura Egnyte and Twinstrata are crucial to its digital platforms and it will continue to outsource to ensure it can spend in-house efforts on its main product, the Lonely Planet brand.

“Servers, storage and networks are consumed as a service so we can focus our effort on core products like our Let’s Talk application for consumers, social networking and lonelyplanet.com,” Kennedy said.

Last pieces of the enterprise puzzle

Lonely Planet is currently migrating to NetSuite ERP, “the final piece of our enterprise software” and will plug in different SaaS on top, Kennedy said. It previously used SAP and Oracle ERPs. A crucial aspect of rolling out Netsuite is that the team are not entirely dependent on it. “We can’t depend on heavily customising in all of our different regions.”

For example, Kennedy told the conference, in the Australian Lonely Planet team, HR and payroll is processed through NetSuite’s Infinetcloud solutions and the Australian recruitment software Subscribe HR. The travel guide uses a product called OneLogin to integrate both tools so that employees only need one password to log in to one account through a browser and the two separate processes appear seamless.

“We didn’t want users setting up multiple accounts or using multiple passwords, we wanted it to be really easy for users, and very simplistic”.

However collaborating on projects and keeping all the SaaS assets in check can be difficult for an international company, Kennedy admitted. The company uses the team communication tool Slack to communicate between the staff based in the US, Europe and Australia.

“But sometimes, you just need to get people on a plane.”

NetSuite announced in May that it is overhauling its cloud ERP software's user interface, hoping to keep pace at a time when consumer-like experiences are increasingly becoming the norm in enterprise applications.

Photo: Flickr, Felix M

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