CTO Colin Bodell wants to move Time out of its five data centers and onto the Amazon cloud. The technical and cultural shift is well underway.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

April 22, 2015

6 Min Read
<p align="left">Time Inc. CTO Colin Bodell</p>

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Colin Bodell, the CTO of Time Inc., has been in the job for a little over a year, and he's accelerating the media company's move from legacy data centers into the cloud. Time is starting with basic compute, networking, and storage, but Bodell expects to use Amazon Web Services' more advanced services as it moves deeper into the digital age of publishing.

Print advertising revenues have declined industrywide, and Time is no exception. One piece of good news is that the number of unique online visitors to Time's publications has moved ahead of its 120 million print magazine subscriptions. Time has moved the hosting of its Drupal content management system from Aquia.com to Amazon, and Bodell says that has reduced a $70,000 monthly expense at Time's UK sites to $17,000.

"That 76% drop is money that I can apply to improved digital systems and content management," he said in an interview this month in San Francisco, during an Amazon Summit.

Bodell's goal is to have 80% of operations based on AWS by October. "By 2016 we will have gotten rid of two data centers and scaled back a third" of five data centers, he said. The process will continue through 2016.  

Bodell knows about moving legacy infrastructure to the cloud, because he was inside Amazon.com when it moved its retail infrastructure off its legacy data center servers onto AWS's new cloud infrastructure.

AWS's cloud business is often cast as Amazon renting out surplus retail data center infrastructure. In fact, the demands of a constantly expanding, human-run retail business convinced Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels, Chris Pinkham, and others that there could be a better way to design a self-provisioning, software-governing infrastructure that could be accessed through APIs.

In 2005, Pinkham, Willem von Biljon, and others designed new, extensible infrastructure run by software that would become Amazon's future platform. The online retail operation switched onto it in November 2010.

"Our customers [retail operations inside Amazon.com] never knew we had moved onto Amazon Web Services," Bodell recalls, because the move went so smoothly.

Bringing Digital Content And Tech Together

In January 2014, Bodell was recruited by Time Inc. to do something similar for its five data centers -- manage a seamless transition into the cloud. Time, the storied publishing company founded in 1923, was about to be spun out of Time Warner as its own publicly traded company. Time Warner would concentrate on its initiatives in television and film. Time Inc., which includes Fortune, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, Food & Wine, and other titles, would focus on becoming a thriving modern media publisher. Time Inc. became a publicly traded company June 9, 2014.

[Want to learn more about Amazon Machine Learning as a new service? See Amazon Launches Machine Learning As A Service.]

Now Bodell, as executive VP and CTO, works to bring the content side of the house close together with the technology side. The content group is headed by veteran Time editor in chief Norman Pearlstine, now chief content officer for all magazines, and Bodell leads the technology side, and has leaders for information security and infrastructure reporting to him.

In his last year at Amazon, Bodell was in charge of the Kindle, Kindle Fire, and other digital store contents.

The operation Bodell inherited at Time in early 2014 included five data centers, one of them on the 21st floor of the 48-story Time-Life building on the Avenues of the Americas in New York -- using "some of the most expensive real estate in the world" for what should be a commodity service, Bodell said. He concluded Time shouldn't be in the data center business.

Bodell also found the company used 11 different content management systems before deciding to standardize on Drupal. It also brought in Salesforce SaaS applications to replace 15- to 20-year-old customer relationship applications.

Time is well down the path of having its customer-facing Web content systems and customer interaction and transaction systems on AWS. All of it is slated to be there by the end of the year. By the end of the first quarter of 2016 most enterprise applications will also be on AWS

Before Bodell started moving Time to the Amazon cloud, the company had begun moving from the Time Life building to a new Time Inc. location in lower Manhattan, near One World Trade Center. Time will still operate its three IBM Z Series mainframes in Florida, though at some point Bodell expects to move them onto mainframes services in the IBM cloud. Some mainframe jobs will be re-engineered and moved onto Amazon, but not all of them.

Asked how close he can get to zero data centers instead of five, Bodell responds: Time will run a bare minimum of legacy systems in one or two centers. "I can still ride around in my Model T. It's a lot of fun," but he won't depend on it to carry the business into the future. The next generation of applications at Time "will be written for the cloud," he said.

Some newcomers to Amazon's cloud services complain about the lack of customer service, but Bodell said Amazon is a company that understands customer service and will provide good service to a company like Time. "Amazon is coming out of the retail space. They know if you treat customers with respect, they'll come back to you. Jeff Bezos deeply understands that," he said.

The change amounts to a big technology shift that requires a big cultural shift as well. Bodell said there isn't a surplus of people trained in operating enterprise applications on AWS, but he has found "big chunks of the IT organization are already there" in terms of accepting the change. The transition in part involves convincing some individuals "whose main job has been to maintain an application to be an agent of change" and help produce new, frequently extensible applications, he said.

AWS helps the process by repeatedly adding new services, giving IT staffers "multiple services they can go off and play with and use for prototyping," said Bodell. Asked if Time will one day use the AWS Aurora database service or Amazon Machine Learning, Bodell said it's highly likely.

"When Amazon brings out a new service, it talks very efficiently to the other services," he said. "You don't have to perform the integration. … Each new service you use enhances the value of the other services."

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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