Hybrid cloud keeps human capital management firm nimble

Ceridian isn't shy about embracing technologies including hybrid cloud, microsegmentation and network automation to fuel its IT transformation.

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Ceridian is betting on hybrid cloud, network virtualization and automation as it aims to improve IT service delivery, weed out inefficiencies and bolster security.

The human capital management (HCM) company recently completed its transition to a cloud architecture, shuttering its on-premises data centers and migrating its applications and back-office systems to multiple clouds. "We are a true consumer of hybrid cloud technology," says CIO Warren Perlman. "We have operations in both [VMware Cloud on AWS] as well as native AWS, and also native Azure."

"In our private cloud operations, which is in partnership with a third party, we run the VMware suite," Perlman says. That includes VMware tools such as NSX-T software-defined networking and security platform; VMware Cloud on AWS, a jointly engineered service that runs the VMware software-defined data center stack in the AWS public cloud; vRealize multi-cloud management technology; and AppDefense, an endpoint security product that protects applications running in virtualized environments.

The cloud is also integral to Ceridian's product development strategy; the company's flagship Dayforce HCM platform, which combines human resources, payroll, benefits and workforce management capabilities, was built entirely in the cloud. "It's been in the cloud since day one in a private cloud environment," Perlman says.

Ceridian's future cloud plans are both pragmatic and forward-looking: "Continue to take advantage of the newest, latest, and greatest technologies," Perlman says.

That includes cloud capabilities such as autoscalability with redundancy and failover that's built in natively, including the ability to migrate between cloud providers to ensure optimal availability, which translates into 99.999% uptime. "You have an Azure-AWS active-type scenario where you can failover from one mega-cloud provider to the other so that you really, truly get to a five-nines architecture," Perlman says.

Network virtualization and hyperconvergence

As its cloud plans advance, Ceridian is prioritizing network virtualization, which the company views as a critical component in its long-term business strategy. "We actually rolled out a virtualized SD-WAN a number of years ago, so we've been sort of leading the charge down the path to make sure that we had redundancy across our networks—campus-to-campus, campus-to-data center, and campus-to-cloud—all in the virtual-network space," Perlman says.

Network virtualization has also greatly improved Ceridian's security landscape, Perlman says. "Above and beyond your typical layered security approach, [network virtualization] puts you in a much better position to protect the data that you're charged with securing on behalf of your customers," he says.

"There are several main advantages that we're looking to take advantage of in network virtualization," says Kevin Young, principal engineer for Ceridian's Dayforce. First and foremost is security and microsegmentation."

Ceridian is using VMware's NSX-T to enable microsegmentation, which offers more granular security controls for greater attack resistance. It's a rigorous approach, and it requires time-consuming analysis and planning to get it right. "We start with a zero trust approach in the very beginning," Young explains. "This forces us to understand our application well, and also forces us to properly document and open only the holes required for the application, security being first and foremost."

To be fully committed to security means being willing to commit to the hard work. "What I have traditionally heard from most people is, 'We want to do it and not be disruptive'," Young says. "Those two things just don't go hand in hand as you implement tight security. We've had the luxury of having executives...who believe in security first."

Hyperconvergence—combining storage, computing, and networking on a single hardware system—also plays an important role in Ceridian's long-term strategy. "We have a footprint in [hyperconvergence] with what we call our bureau landscape," Young says. Hyperconvergence technology promises to help Ceridian unify its private, public, and distributed clouds, allowing the company to scale operations, simplify deployments, increase reliability, and lower costs, among other benefits.

Automation keeps focus on strategy

Automation is a key driver in Ceridian's overall cloud vision and strategy. "It's truly the foundation and the fundamental step that's required as an entry for us to be able to prove out our concept," says Alan Segal, Ceridian's senior vice president of business technology. "It's significant in the sense that we're driving toward push-button solutioning."

Automation allows teams to focus on meaningful jobs instead of on routine, repetitive tasks. While getting team members onboard with automation requires some time and convincing, Segal says he has encountered little opposition to the technology. "Getting teams to really accept and understand the value and the benefit...hasn't been a significant challenge," he says.

Automation helped Ceridian cope with changes that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to its operations, for example. "The ability to manage your entire operation remotely from wherever you are, because you don't have to worry about your campus, is a very important step," Perlman says. Thanks to its automation tools, Ceridian was able to transition, virtually immediately, to 100% remote operation. "There was no downtime, and no impact to our customers because we prepared," he says.

In the big picture, training and education have been important throughout Ceridian's IT transformation.

"We've encouraged our teams to focus on a cloud-first mentality," Segal says. "We've worked on educating, training and also giving [teams] the flexibility, the playground, to learn, consume, and understand how to adopt and support the cloud environment as we continue the journey."

The company has streamlined its internal development processes to achieve greater speed and productivity and root out inefficiencies. "We've continued to build models that scale, that become rinse-and-repeat," Segal says. "This is key, since it's allowed us to continue to evaluate new cloud technologies."

Endlessly observing and studying promising technologies won't get it done. "Sitting back and waiting for something new or something epic to happen, or using the ‘we're too busy' excuse, just makes it more difficult the longer you wait," Perlman says. "Take deliberate action and focus on your actions to get where you need to go," he advises.

Segal suggests intense collaboration with internal teams, focusing them on goals, offering encouragement and sharing the organization's long-term vision. "Be communicative," he says. "Make sure everybody understands the why, the how and the when."

Embracing promising new technologies is actually much easier than most leaders think, Segal says. "It's really about building a solid foundation as you deal with your teams in creating a plan that's repeatable and addresses all the business reasons and benefits that you're looking to achieve," he explains. "With that, organizations grasp the benefit and value very quickly."

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