How Ford Is Revolutionizing The Auto Industry With Pivotal And Microsoft

July 25, 2016 Adam Bloom


sfeatured-36227-CFSummit-FordWhile hardware and software have been embedded in cars for decades, automobile historians and futurists are marking this period as a truly transformative era. First, car manufacturers are facing competitive threats from new market entrants like Google, Uber, Tesla, and dozens of startups. In addition, a new ecosystem of finance, insurance, energy, infotainment, and maintenance services is rising up from the data-driven, app economy—all driven by cloud native platforms and digital customer experiences.

Based on the opportunities and risks presented, Ford Motor Company recently established an entirely new business unit—Ford Smart Mobility, LLC. This organization is designed to operate like a software startup, investing in and developing services for emerging opportunities in the $5.4 trillion dollar transportation services market. To help turn this new venture’s vision into reality, Ford has partnered with Microsoft and Pivotal.

Mohsin Ahmed, Senior Systems Engineer Cloud Engineering at Ford, explained Ford Smart Mobility at a recent Cloud Foundry Summit presentation. He said, “Transforming Ford’s customer experience is core to our strategy. And, the launch of FordPass is part of our Smart Mobility initiative and the beginning of Ford’s transition into an auto AND mobility company. Ford teamed up with Pivotal to deliver FordPass, that we launched earlier this month on Cloud Foundry and [Microsoft] Azure Public Cloud.” In addition, Ford invested $182M USD in Pivotal.

Trends And Trajectories For Auto AND All Vehicle Manufacturers

Ford is making a big bet on how technology will help them compete and grow over the next 10-20 years. Unlike a pure start-up scenario, there is more at risk here than losing investments—the Ford team explained this pointedly, “Failure at an automotive company can mean bankruptcy.”

To emphasize the strategic importance of software in the automotive and related industries, McKinsey recently highlighted the most disruptive trends:

  • By 2030, sharing economy business models, software applications, and data will provide another $1.5 trillion in revenue (30% more than today) for vehicle manufacturers.
  • As well, 10% percent of all new cars sold will be shared, 15% will be autonomous, and somewhere between 10-50% will be electric by 2030.

McKinsey went on to say, “Software competence is increasingly becoming one of the most important differentiating factors for the industry, for various domain areas, including ADAS/active safety, connectivity, and infotainment. Further on, as cars are increasingly integrated into the connected world, automakers will have no choice but to participate in the new mobility ecosystems that emerge as a result of technological and consumer trends.”

Driving Mobile Experience With Cloud Native Application Platforms

With the help of Pivotal Labs, Ford has designed a world class customer experience. And, with the help of Pivotal Cloud Foundry and Microsoft Azure, they have delivered a world-class platform.

Functionality Within The Customer Experience

The first move for Ford Smart Mobility is an application called FordPass. As explained in their CEO’s press conference, it includes four main components—FordPass Marketplace, FordPass Perks, FordGuides, and FordHubs. Marketplace allows members to buy, sell, and share mobility solutions. The app offers smart parking, maintenance scheduling, unlocking, starting, fuel check, payments, and much more. Guides offer concierge support and roadside assistance. There is also a built-loyalty program, roadside assistance, and brand new retail experiences.

Cloud Native Application Platforms And Infrastructure

The Ford, Pivotal and Microsoft teams outlined the architecture in the recently held the Cloud Foundry Summit. The team deployed an extensive set of services on Pivotal Cloud Foundry. This included RabbitMQ, MySQL, Spring Cloud Services (Netflix OSS), Pivotal GemFire, and Ops Metrics (JMX). Azure Load Balancer was used with BOSH-controlled HAProxy servers and Cloud Foundry’s Go-based application routers for incoming traffic. The deployment was an Active-Active model, and it was designed with two “foundations,” one for US West and one for US East data centers. Since two active application platforms often deal with data synchronization issues, Pivotal GemFire’s WAN replication was used. When one of our engineers began explaining Pivotal GemFire’s use case as in-memory middleware to Ford, they said, “We have to have this.”

Changes to Cultures, Teams, and Processes

One of the most notable parts of the Ford team’s discussion was about what they called the Clash of Cultures, citing, “This is much different than how we traditionally do it.” A cloud native mindset is quite different than the development and operations models of the past.

From a developer perspective, they wanted to deploy within minutes instead of months. They wanted development teams to roll changes from dev to QA to prod without engaging operations teams. The wanted a “fail fast” (but safely) versus a “fail never” mindset. So, infrastructure support processes shifted from a “constrain to developer self-service.” This is really what drove the need for Agile and DevOps methods to be used.

From an operations perspective, “They had to break their normal operations.” Their monitoring, outages, change control, and maintenance windows all fundamentally changed. In the end, most system updates and deployments stopped needing a lot of red tape for change approval. They transformed into more of a notification process, which is a almost the opposite of traditional behaviors and beliefs about how things should work. The result was an ability to release code in days instead of months.

Ford’s investment in their software delivery capabilities is proving strategic for the company in just a short period of time as it delivers state of the art software solutions. We look forward to hearing more from them.

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