By: Matt Kapko
Land O’Lakes CIO says no single cloud provider can meet all of the company’s requirements. Google and Microsoft are both in the mix, but the agricultural cooperative still isn’t ready for a full migration.
Land O’Lakes has inked its second major partnership with a cloud vendor in as many months. As the company moves its agriculture tech (or AgTech) into the cloud, it’s investing in a mix of public cloud providers including Google and, most recently, Microsoft.
Land O’Lakes this week tapped Microsoft Azure to run its WinField R7 application, which helps farmers analyze and pick the best seeds for their land to maximize yield and profit. The migration of R7 marks the company’s first major cloud partnership with Microsoft, but it comes on the heels of a larger agreement that began about 18 months ago with a wide-scale Office 365 rollout and Surface tablet deployments in the field, according to CIO Mike Macrie
“We’ve obviously worked with all the major cloud providers and we use all the major cloud providers in one way, shape or form,” he says. “But when it came to moving the bulk of our workloads we felt that Microsoft had the best offering that met our needs.” Macrie says Microsoft won this particular contract because of its flexibility and scalability and, perhaps most importantly, because of his staff’s familiarity with Microsoft technologies: “I don’t have to retrain my staff on a lot of the tools, technologies and techniques to make that migration happen.”
The right cloud for the job
The WinField R7 app helps Land O’Lakes’ growers analyze the productivity of their land based on that satellite imagery and a proprietary database of seed testing that makes recommendations on what to plant and where, inch by inch. R7 “requires a lot of data crunching in the cloud,” Macrie says. Land O’Lakes is one of the largest purchasers of satellite imagery in the world and that imagery needs to be processed and integrated with crop yield data before it can deliver insights in real time throughout the year, according to Macrie.
WinField R7 is the company’s flagship product in the cloud, according to Macrie, but he also describes the platform Land O’Lakes just launched with Google, WinField Data Silo, as “the glue that holds this whole AgTech industry together and enables farmers to translate data between clouds and between systems.” Land O’Lakes looks at all cloud vendors and tries to use the right tool for the right job, Macrie says.
“Google just has enormous capabilities in technology and mapping,” he says. “But Microsoft has great knowledge and capabilities in the ways the servers are built, the way they scale, their flexibility with different types of servers that I need to run such a massive solution across the globe, and the performance we need.”
Land O’Lakes AgTech platforms that have a more global focus and greater need for scalability will be migrated to Microsoft’s cloud, according to Macrie. “As we migrate more of our traditional Wintel platforms, we believe that Microsoft will be bigger for us in the future because of the different types of workloads that the Wintel platform can handle.”
Macrie says his team is working to migrate AgTech services to the Microsoft cloud as quickly as possible because Land O’Lakes ultimately wants to exit its data center. Migrating WinField R7 to the cloud is a major step in that journey, he says. The company has more than 40 years of satellite imagery that adds up to almost a petabyte, according to Macrie. “The magic behind it all is having it all in the cloud, prepped and ready to go… because we never know what field is going to be analyzed next.”
While Macrie is eager to shutter the company’s data center, he believes Land O’Lakes is very early in the cloud movement for good reasons. “Not all workloads are ready, not all tools are out there to enable” the company to migrate Wintel workloads to the cloud, he says. “You’ve got to kind of segment your servers, figure out which ones are the most amenable to moving and which ones might take longer.”