Sysco Looks to Multi-Cloud for Digital Transformation

The food logistics company has ambitions beyond just 'moving things around at a very low cost.'

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

August 30, 2017

5 Min Read
Sysco Looks to Multi-Cloud for Digital Transformation

LAS VEGAS -- VMworld 2017 -- Sysco wants to do more than just "moving heavy things around at a very low cost."

Sysco is looking to multi-cloud for digital transformation, moving beyond its meat-and-potatoes business of food logistics for restaurants, healthcare, education, hotels and other food service and hospitality businesses.

For future growth, Sysco is looking to do more to help its customers succeed. "Historically, we've been good at moving heavy things around at a very low cost," Matt Nikolaiev, Sysco senior director and head of cloud infrastructure, said at a session at VMworld here Tuesday. "How can we do better at adding value for our customer?"

He added, "We want our customers to do well because if they do well they buy from us."

As part of that transformation, Sysco is looking to become a technology provider for restaurants, starting with point-of-sale systems. "Even something as silly as the little pucks you get from the counter at a restaurant -- what if we could build an app for that instead," Nikolaiev said. Each little puck costs $50, and eliminating those could save restaurants significant costs.

Figure 1: Photo by Xnatedawgx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons Photo by Xnatedawgx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sysco is working with restaurants on improving their menus. "If you sell something called cheesecake, you sell it for $4.99, but if you put a drizzle of strawberry and a sprig of mint on it, and put a picture of it on the menu, our research shows you can charge $7.99." And the improvements don't add significantly to the cost.

Sysco helps its customers find opportunities to raise prices, position the most profitable items on the menu, and track supplies through the PoS sales system to know when to reorder.

Sysco is also looking into improving food safety, tracking supplies from the farm supplier to the customer using Internet of Things and blockchain to track such measurements as the temperature history throughout the supply chain. (See IBM, Partners Using Blockchain to Protect Food Supply.)

Sysco is moving to multi-cloud to provide the infrastructure it needs to run -- and transform -- its business. The company is 25% in public cloud today, primarily Amazon Web Services, with 1,500 servers on that platform, growing at a rate of 50-100 per month.

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In its private cloud, Sysco has 4,500 to 5,000 servers, across four major data centers.

Additionally, Sysco has 200 operating companies, each of which has a small two-node highly available cluster to run processes local to the site, such as robotics requiring microsecond latency to the controller, Nikolaiev said.

Sysco was an early access user of VMware Cloud on AWS, which VMware announced this week. That service allows cloud operators to run VMware workloads on either private clouds or on AWS cloud. (See VMware Launches Amazon Cloud Support.)

A primary use of VMware Cloud for AWS is "cloudbursting," moving workloads from the private cloud to the public cloud when traffic requirements demand it. That kind of thing isn't magic -- it requires solving network, latency and storage issues. Data centers need to be located strategically to bridge public and private clouds, Nikolaiev said.

Hybrid apps present technical challenges. Adding modern components to legacy systems can be difficult -- for example, extending monolithic legacy applications using microservices. And it can also be difficult to provide cloud platform to a legacy application requiring a deep infrastructure stack, such as a Windows app requiring clustered servers and traditional block storage. That is kind of hard to manage on a public cloud, as is managing network and storage across multiple clouds, Nikolaiev said.

Other difficulties arise from cost management and storage, Nikolaiev said. "We've done decently at [cost management] but it's a lot of manual work."

Sysco's cloud wishlist includes managing and troubleshooting network and security across multiple clouds more easily; providing a holistic view and management of workloads and costs; and one-stop shopping for internal customers to request multi-cloud services, Nikolaiev said.

Sysco's challenges managing a multi-cloud environment are similar to issues that will be faced by most organizations. Some 70% of enterprises are operating in a multi-cloud world, and that will increase to 91% in 24 months, according to IDC, said Sajai Krishnan, VMware vice president of product marketing for cloud management, who introduced Nikolaiev at his session.

By 2020, slightly more than half of enterprises will have more than five infrastructure and platform clouds -- and that's not including cloud applications such as Salesforce. Some 26% of organizations will have more than ten clouds, Krishnan said.

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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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