Avnet on the ground at NetApp Insight, Berlin

Evan Unrue, EMEA Converged Infrastructure Technical Lead, Avnet Technology Solutions

WHAT PROBLEMS IS FLEXPOD™ SOLVING?

Avnet ships pre-engineered Flexpod systems all over the world for NetApp; call it Trade Show Flexpod as a Service. Our primary purpose in this endeavour is to maintain, ship and deploy these Flexpod units into the various trade shows NetApp attends for demonstration  and display purposes, and then to educate whoever wants to understand the nuances, architecture, features and benefits of Flexpod. This year, however, was slightly different.

That’s because a solid proportion of people approaching the Flexpod were customers who had deployed Flexpod recently – or not so recently in some cases. This gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions:

  1. Why did they buy Flexpod?
  2. Did it deliver what they expected?
  3. What were they expecting it to deliver?
  4. How does Flexpod factor into their technology roadmap?
  5. What pain did it ease, if any?

One recurring theme was that many were so inwardly focused on what they were looking for when they bought the Flexpod, that this fixed reference point shaped how they leveraged the platform. As a result, they hadn’t fully explored the possibilities of what they can now do, with Flexpod on the ground.

What problems does Avnet solve?

Many of these reference points were re-enforced simply by “how they had always done it”. When I walked through the full extent of what they had invested in with Flexpod – things it can do, ways it can be deployed, managed, automated and the strong complimentary technologies from Cisco and NetApp that tie into Flexpod – some really interesting conversations developed around what customers could do next.

For context, the types of organisations I was speaking with were as follows:

  • A large media and publishing group with multiple divisions
  • A global mining company
  • A few service providers
  • A company that provides vertically-aligned managed IT to pharma and a few other verticals.
  • A number of typical commercial SME outfits (averaging a few hundred to a few thousand users).

CHALLENGES WHICH DROVE THESE COMPANIES TO LOOK AT FLEXPOD™

Why did these organisations buy Flexpod in the first place?  The reasons ranged from being fed up of managing failing infrastructure and easing management pain to delivering on a more strategic IT roadmap.

Below are some of the reasons Flexpod customers I spoke with came to explore Flexpod™ as a solution:

Managing an “Accidental Architecture”

Dealing with increasingly unmanageable infrastructure born through sweating assets for too long, tactically replacing failing kit, plugging resource gaps, and in some cases through acquisition of other businesses where they have new infrastructure which has to be stitched into an existing platform.

This cocktail of diversely-branded old and new kit in many cases results in a seemingly endless struggle to keep critical applications up in the face of failing hardware or a constant flow of troubleshooting tasks, as the thin veneer of interoperability grows ever thinner. For the customers I spoke to, the resulting “accidental architecture” consumed so much time to maintain, innovation seemed to be off the table.

Supporting/deploying platforms and applications in the field

One thing was clear. A lack of standardisation was causing real issues around time-to-resolution of support issues, and time-to-deployment of applications and infrastructure. These customers had many platforms out in the field which weren’t necessarily poorly constructed, but the lack of standardisation in configuration, vendor technology and even the way the infrastructure was racked, patched and managed made it hard to apply a procedural approach to conducting a root cause analysis of issues and resolving them in good time.

A few of the companies I spoke with likened deployment of any significant applications to playing Jenga, in that stacking new workloads on creaking and overly-agnostic infrastructure was compounding the “accidental architecture” issue. They had to stitch resources together in increasingly creative ways and tactically deploy infrastructure on the fly. This process is not a quick one and the time it takes to prep everything for these new applications often takes weeks or months.

The IT vs Business Expanse

As NetApp Insight is primarily a technical conference, it was of course mainly attended by engineers, IT Managers, IT Directors and CTOs rather than customer CEOs and CFOs, so admittedly I only heard one side of the story here. However, this side made for an interesting story. A lot of these guys had become accustomed to feeling like “the help”: they were rarely invited to discuss the topics which influenced the demands being pushed onto the IT business; they weren’t asked what IT could do for the business; and the topic of making IT a profit centre rather than a cost centre was completely alien. The business attitude around old and hard to maintain kit is often to let to sweat because “it works, it’s fine and nothing has broken yet” – this divide forces IT into reactive mode.

The Battle with Shadow IT

The group IT Director of one company was faced with a situation where there were three distinct parts of the business, and each had aligned themselves to deploying applications with a different cloud provider for dev and non-critical/non-core applications. This was a struggle for IT as they were losing visibility of the business’ application landscape, competing with external IT providers and at real risk of breaching certain regulations if data was being dealt with on cloud platforms outside their sphere of control.

Flexpod Services by Avnet

DID FLEXPOD™ FIX THESE ISSUES?

Flexpod isn’t a magic box with the answer to all companies’ IT struggles, but it does give customers a platform they can leverage to address their issues. There has to be an appetite for business to address the people and process aspects around IT, and most importantly the business attitude towards IT, before any technology is going to offer a long-lasting solution. To put it bluntly, you can buy a new car, but if you’re a bad driver, a new car isn’t going to stop you having car crashes. Much like the relationship between driver and automobile, the driver needs to know where he or she is going, have full control of the vehicle and listen to the engine to know when it’s going wrong. These same rules apply for the relationship between the business and IT.

Starting from the bottom and working up, one thing Flexpod gives many of these organisations is control. Standardisation of hardware and software makes lifecycle management of IT simpler and less painful. Less diversity in the infrastructure means they can manage firmware levels across platforms with decreased risk, hardware interoperability is a non-issue as the components are all certified to work together, no questions asked. Adding new resource aligns to the set standardisation around Flexpod, meaning infrastructure deployments and application roll outs are massively accelerated.

Flexpod converged infrastructure

Another by-product of Flexpod’s standardisation is that with everything being a known commodity within the datacentre or across sites, companies can start to apply more efficient root cause analysis procedures with less guesswork around how they troubleshoot issues within their infrastructure.  This benefit is compounded further when you consider Flexpod is supported as a single platform, meaning you’re not spending half the day trying to get one vendor to take ownership of the issue as they point fingers amongst themselves.

Ultimately gaining control over your infrastructure means less downtime, less time troubleshooting alerts, and less of your time wasted. This allows more time to deploy people on tasks that actually improve, and don’t just “fix” things.

When the IT organisation moves out of a purely reactive state and has time to be pro-active, they can start to look at how to align closer to the business. In reality, this works both ways – they have to be met in the middle. But without the need to be purely reactive, there is at least time and breathing space to have the important conversations and start to make changes.

Something that one of the organisations I spoke with was looking to deal with was their shadow IT issue. Their roadmap involved leveraging Flexpod to regain some control around their core IT, and over time implement automation elements, such as UCS Director, prime service catalogue and a few others, to start developing a service-oriented and policy-driven approach to how they deliver internal services. Then over time, they could standardise on a set of cloud providers and leverage these same policy-driven approaches to manage how and where things go into the cloud. This would allow the business to consume from their own IT in much the same way they had in the cloud, but IT regains control of the application landscape and ensures they remain compliant where needed.

In summary, Flexpod offers a mechanism to help IT get control of a business’ infrastructure and free up time and money to do things better. Getting to the hub of it, doing things better means delivering services more quickly and seeing faster returns, or rationalising how you do things today and easing operating expenses both in time and man hours. The business is certainly responsible for implementing fundamental changes, but Flexpod is helping many customers execute faster, with less risk and with less pain.

 

If you’re a partner looking for more information on our Flexpod solution, visit our website: http://avnet.me/fsa

Posted under Converged infrastructure, IT infrastructure, Storage

Now is the time to consolidate corporate data

Miriam Murphy, senior vice president, enterprise business group at Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Miriam Murphy, senior vice president, enterprise business group at Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Now is the time to consolidate corporate data says Miriam Murphy, senior vice president, enterprise business group at Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA.

As data volumes surge, Miriam believes organisations need to implement a centralised data management system to handle the information economy.

Today’s C-level executives are working hard to deal with the challenges of new trends such as BYOD, Mobile Device Management (MDM) and cloud computing causing an explosion of data. According to IDC, the big data market will reach €11.8bn ($16.1bn) this year. To harness the power of big data, I believe companies need to consider enterprise-wide consolidation to address business demands, including cost efficiency, increasing productivity, security and flexibility. These market needs will lead to the transformation of the data centre which is something partners and resellers need to be aware of so they don’t miss out on growth opportunities.

The consumerisation of IT, increasing numbers of users, more devices and increased mobility are affecting the way companies approach their data centre strategies, with the increasing volume of corporate data pushing the storage environment to a new level. During Q3 2013 the storage market generated 101% more storage capacity than the same quarter in 2012. This ever-increasing capacity of corporate data amount of data needs to be backed up and securely stored, so that it is easily accessible to employees. Because of these trends, companies are searching for storage solutions to meet real life business demands – it’s not simply “one size fits all”. According to Gartner, the importance, role and functionality of the data centre is set to change over the next five years. The questions we as a global value added distributor are asking are: which storage solution will be able to cope with both current and future storage demands? As data volume is only going to grow, which solution can most effectively solve key business demands?

Today, IT departments are being asked to do more with less, increasing availability and responsiveness while cutting costs. However, according to recent research from KPMG, 42% of executives admit that integrating data technology into existing systems and/or business models is their greatest challenge. On speaking with our partners and end customers, it seems that by consolidating data into one centralised database, you are assured a holistic view of global information, which is manageable from a single location. In addition, with so much information being accessed from numerous geographies, it’s ineffectual for data to be shared and duplicated across multiple databases. With one, centralised system, no redundancy is allowed; there is one place to add, update and remove data, maintaining data integrity and assuring simplified data administration.

By centralising corporate data, productivity can be improved and training is a much quicker and simpler practice. With all processes in the same place and format, users have just one system to understand, which saves time on training and improves efficiency in retrieving data. There’s also no time wasted waiting for synchronisation across different geographies and instant changes can be made to information which lowers occurrences of data duplication and inaccuracies.

Indeed, the data centre is the central point of an IT infrastructure, the place where all sensitive, confidential information is gathered. Therefore, it’s a place where security solutions need to be extremely efficient. By approaching data management with a single corporate database, not only are updates synced but so are all security measures, from one central location. By employing a preventive approach and only giving certain staff authorised access to update security measures, businesses can reduce the chance of successful hacking attacks.

Market and industry trends are changing the world of work, driving companies to not just improve but to transform their approach to business processes and data centre management. I believe that by implementing a centralised data system, companies will be able to address the need to store increasingly large volumes of corporate data, while meeting business needs such as increased productivity and reduced costs. Partners and resellers need to start educating end users about preparing now for the continuous surge in data volumes by putting an effective, reliable and flexible management strategy in place.

Posted under IT infrastructure

Top tips for selling SaaS

Director Cloud Practice (EMEA)

Kevin Collins, Director Cloud Practice (EMEA)

In my last blog I covered the key challenges and benefits of implementing the SaaS model. In part two of the SaaS series, I’d like to offer some top tips for selling SaaS.

 

What’s the right SaaS model for you?

So you have decided to build your own application and it is now time to take it to market; but where do you start and what is the right model for you? Well first of all you have to decide if you are going to just licence your software and have a third party support it or you are going to stand up the software yourself and deliver it out as SaaS. While the first option may seem appealing due to the fact you are only selling software and licences it does come with a number of drawbacks:

  • You may have a service provider licence programme but essentially you will look like any other software vendor and that’s a competitive market place
  • You will have to manage all software updates for the partners or customers you have, whereas if you stand up a SaaS you have centralised control
  • You will have to train the partner or customer to set up and maintain the solution. With SaaS they just have to understand the user interface
  • Badly implemented solutions are likely to reflect badly on your software, even if it’s not your software that’s at fault
  • Ultimately you lose control of your intellectual property.

Delivering as a SaaS does mean that you will have to manage the infrastructure but the service providers are more mature now and can take much of the headache away, leaving you to get on and deliver a great software service to your customers. This is where you have to make your next decision: who is going to host your service?

 

Hosting and SLAs

Different service providers offer different packaged services; from basic infrastructure, where they offer an SLA only around the resource you consume and you manage everything else, to fully managed PaaS services, which not only include the platform but could also include backup, DR and even a managed database service. The choice is down to a balance between the level of control you want and the cost of management. The next point to consider when picking your service provider is ‘will your customers have data residency issues?’ in which case does your service provider have a DC in the countries you want to trade in? Last but not least, what sort of SLA are your customers going to demand and how are you going deliver it? It’s much easier to deliver an SLA if your underlying SP has the same SLA, i.e. you want 9999 up time and your SP offers 9999 up time.  Otherwise, you have to build the extra resilience into the software, which can add considerable complexity to your solution.

 

Pricing models

So you have decided to stand up the solution and offer out SaaS and you have picked you service provider; now how do you price this service so you can make money and yet be competitive?

Let’s start with granularity under the pay as you go model. Customers only want to pay for what they use, therefore the more granular the pricing the more comfortable the customer will be. Charging for concurrent connected users is a popular model as you only pay for the software when the system is running. The final charging model will depend on the type of service you are offering. For example, if you are data mining then you are likely to have only a few connected users but consume large amounts of resource, so concurrent connected users probably won’t be profitable. The other factor that can affect granularity relates to third party software you may be using in your service. If that is priced in three-month increments then that is likely to be the limiting factor.

Next, you have to decide what to charge; you could just divide the cost by 365 days in the year, but that is not exactly ground-breaking and is unlikely to succeed in the new world of SaaS. You have to be flexible and offer innovative price plans to your customers. Here we can learn a lot from the telecom providers. If you think about it the technology is essentially the same across all the big providers and the differentiation comes with how those services are packaged to meet the different customer usage requirements. This should be the same for SaaS, as in my opinion, success in this market will rely on innovative pricing plans.

 

Access and extensibility

Unlike on-premise software solutions, you can’t offload security as someone else’s problem; you have to ensure your solution is robust enough to be exposed on a public network and meets all the industry standards required for a multi-tenant service. Remember your reputation is only as good as your first breach.

With the increased popularity of BYOD within the industry, the most successful SaaS providers offer services that are compatible across all software platforms. These not only include Mac and Windows desktops but also smart devices running on iOS and Android.

Extensibility will become key as SaaS matures. Your product is unlikely to run in isolation within a customer’s enterprise and so how you pass data in and out of your system could be the deciding factor in whether you service succeeds over the competition. As stated in my last blog, other partners will be looking to integrate your service into a cohesive business solution for their customers, so the more support you can give them, with full featured APIs and pre-packaged connectors, the greater your success will be.

 

Where is ‘value add’ going to be delivered?

With traditional solution sales, the end user often has a direct relationship with the vendor for support e.g. if a piece of EMC kit goes wrong, an EMC engineer comes out to fix it.  In an XaaS model, however, the sale is to the next link in the chain.

This is for good reason and is demonstrated in the following example. An IaaS supplier sells resource to the SaaS provider, the SaaS provider then sits their software on top of it and the integrator packages it up with other services for an end customer. As a result, when problems occur they must be traced back through the layers of service to the point of origin within the supply chain, with each provider signing off to say the issue is not within their part of the service. That being said, it’s essential to know your supply chain well and document where your responsibility starts and ends.

 

In our third blog in the SaaS series we will explore the role of the SaaS integrator. 

 

Posted under Cloud Computing

Managing the IT estate has never been so important

IT Estate Management expert specialist

Simon Ellis, Director Estate Management Solutions and Services EMEA

Following Avnet Technology Solutions acquisition of Mattelli during the summer, we caught up with Simon Ellis to understand the Estate Management solutions that form a cornerstone of Avnet’s comprehensive services portfolio.

Today’s CIO is under attack. Business demands new offerings and improved service levels but all within a reduced budget. Now, more than ever, organisations have to maximise the value of existing IT investments. When new investment is called for, a clear understanding of the entire IT landscape and return on investment (ROI) is an absolute requirement. Add to that, the question of compliance and regulation and it’s no wonder the CIO and IT managers are under so much pressure.

Understanding how to ‘sweat the assets’ is increasingly difficult to do in a mixed hardware and software estate. Various commercial agreements and deployment measures, different replacement lifecycles and a variety of deployment and commercial opportunities add to the complexity.

At Avnet we believe in complete lifecycle estate management, supporting our channels partners and end customers from ‘cradle to grave’ with their IT estates. Avnet’s solution allows IT managers to begin with today’s pain points whether that’s coming from a commercial or a deployment focal point.

Estate Management services offer Avnet’s channel new incremental opportunities and revenue streams by building closer and deeper relationships with their existing customer base while also offering new services to the market to gain new clients.

So, what is Estate Management?

Estate Management allows IT and business managers to manage all aspects of their IT estate: from contracts, renewals, compliance, deployment and staff through to future purchasing. Making critical data readily available in this way means IT managers can easily spot potential opportunities for savings, consolidation and optimisation. More importantly, end of life products and those ‘out of support’ are identified and therefore more easily actioned. Not having good visibility of IT hardware and software that’s no longer supported by the vendor can be a substantial risk to the business.

Overall, effective estate management solutions puts information directly into the hands of the IT managers to allow them to make smarter, more informed decisions to meet tight budgets.

What are the key benefits?

From specific project needs through to complete management of an IT estate, Estate Management solutions available today can cover a range of areas which can be used in isolation or together to form a comprehensive overview of a company’s IT infrastructure.

These benefits include:

Contracts and renewals

  • Contracts and renewals are assets to an organisation. They define the ‘rights to use and consume’ products and services from vendors and resellers. By enabling proactive management of contracts and renewals applicable to your estate you can improve commercial management and identify new opportunities.

Discovery and estate baseline

  • Identifying what hardware and software is deployed in an estate is critical to defining your ‘as-is’ position and provides detailed knowledge to optimise the estate for the future. Managing your estate correctly requires a solid baseline from which the user can understand, govern and assess changes, new deployments and opportunities as they arise.

Common language and visualisation

  • Bring a common language to all your assets enabling you to ask questions such as: ‘show me all databases,’ ‘show me all servers,’ ‘show me all virtualization’ in your estate. Visualise where assets are located and how they relate to each other which allows deeper insight into your estate.

Modelling

  • Managing an estate also means planning for the future, looking how existing estates can be transformed, scaled up, removed from and augmented. Implementing an effective estate management solution can help the user to model changes in the estate and to look at the commercial impact.

Opportunity identification

  • Analysis of contract and discovered estate uncovers areas of opportunity and pin-points issues. This can help to highlight product and service cross sell and upsell where applicable.

What does this have to do with the channel?

Customer spend is getting tighter, the mantra ‘to do more with less’ applies to CIOs, IT managers and also to channel partners who manage their customer estates today.

Estate Management solutions provide the channel with new opportunities for incremental revenue from their existing customers by providing tools to gain deeper insight into existing customer estates, helping to identify new service opportunities thus enabling the channel to offer improved services and value to their customer base.

Posted under Estate Management, IT infrastructure

The importance of Big Data for the channel

Big data specialist

Wayne Gratton, EMEA SolutionsPath Business Development Director

According to IBM, 90% of the world’s big data has been produced in the last two years but despite this, for some reason, I can see big data is definitely not as important as it should be to the channel. Much like Cloud Computing, resellers are often confused about what’s hype and what’s reality. They’re also concerned about actually having a big data strategy and how they can capitalise on this market.

With regards to customers, there are pockets of understanding but some are also blissfully unaware of big data’s potential. There certainly needs to be more education about how big data can match business strategies, taking into account appropriate spend and how far it might affect future business decisions.

Benefits

Overall, when big data is analysed to look at patterns, it can provide invaluable business insight and improve decision making across entire organisations. However, there are a wide range of benefits to wielding big data and these can vary dependent on vertical sectors. For example, it allows retailers to optimise supply chains by analysing sales data so they can stock up on the most popular items to remain profitable and to keep customers happy. Without data in healthcare, analysis on the recent outbreak of legionnaire’s disease in Europe during the summer wouldn’t have been as well documented. In the future that helps combat and prevent more disease outbreaks.

Channel opportunity: big data versus business needs

Resellers need to look at the opportunities big data brings to their business but to do this, they need to be better educated about ultimately what it means for them. They should consider how they’re dealing with big data in the first instance e.g. are they looking at it from a storage point of view or do they deal with software analytics?

It’s true that big data means different things to different companies and analysing a company’s needs is the first stage to deciding how important this growth sector is. It’s about turning big data into an asset. A simple way of doing this is by using asset discovery tools to gather intelligence on resources and usage of a clients’ storage, helping to implement solutions at a lower cost of ownership to gain more control over this rapid growth in data.

An approach to get sales rolling

Defining your company’s and your customers’ position(s) in the big data ecosystem can be achieved by working with a partner that has global expertise yet local knowledge to help tap into market opportunities.

We believe the best way to go about this is to take a three-pronged approach, working with said partner to:

  1. Envision – look at what big data means to your company and your customer’s company. We think it’s important to understand this growth sector on a global and local level through in-depth market analysis
  2. Enable – use training schemes to gain the skills and local knowledge in this area to become ‘big data advisors’ to your customers
  3. Execute – implement what has been learnt to drive sales and scout out local market opportunities

Posted under Big data, Storage