Playtika bets on big data analytics to deliver captivating social gaming experiences

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer discussion explores how social gaming company Playtika uses big-data analytics to deliver captivating user experiences and engagement.

We’ll learn how feedback from massive user action streams can be analyzed in bulk rapidly to improve the features and attractions of online games and so help Playtika react well in an agile market.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or  download a copy.

To learn more about leveraging big data in the social casino industry, we’re pleased to welcome Jack Gudenkauf, Vice President of Big Data at Playtika in Santa Monica, California. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: I understand that you’re part of Caesars Interactive Entertainment and that you have a number of online games. Tell us about Playtika.

Gudenkauf: We have a few free-to-play social casino games. In fact, we’re the industry leader. We have maybe 10 games at this point. World Series of Poker, which you’ve probably heard about, Slotomania, House of Fun, Bingo Blitz, a number of studios combined.

Gudenkauf

Worldwide, we’re about 1,000 employees. As I say, we’re the industry leader in this space at this moment. And it’s a very challenging space, as you might imagine, just within gaming itself. The amount of data is huge, especially across all of these games. Collecting information about how the users play the game and what they like about the game, is really a completely data-driven experience.

If we release a new feature, we get feedback. Of course, it’s social gaming as well. If we find out that they don’t like the feature, we have to rev the game pretty quickly. It’s not like the old days, where you go away for a year or so, and come out with something that you hope people like — Halo, or something like that. It’s more about the users driving the experience and what they enjoy.

So we’ll try something with some content or something else and see if they like this feature or functionality. If the data comes back immediately that, as they do the slot spin and they have a new version of the game and they’re clearly not playing, we literally change the game.

In fact, in the Bingo Blitz game, we will revise the game as often as once a week, if you can imagine that. So we have to be pretty agile. The data completely drives the user experience as well. Do they like this, do they not like this, shall we make this game change?

Data-driven environment

It’s a complete data-driven environment. That’s what brought me there. I came from Twitter, where we used very big data, as you might imagine, with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Vertica and Hadoop and such, but it was more about volume there. Here it’s about variety, velocity, and changing game events across all of our studios.

You can imagine the amount of data that we have to crunch through, do analytics on, and then get user feedback. The whole intention is to get feedback sooner so that we can change the game as rapidly as possible, so that users are happy with the game.

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So it’s completely user-driven as far as kind of the experience and what they enjoy, which is fun and makes it challenging as well.

Gardner: So being a data scientist in this particular organization gives you a pretty important place at a major table. It’s not something to think about at the end of the month when we run some reports. This is essential and integral to the success of the company?

Gudenkauf: Of course, we do analyze the data for daily, monthly, and general key performance indicators (KPIs), daily active users or monthly active users, those types of things. But you’re absolutely right. With the game events themselves, we need to process the data as quickly as possible and do the analysis. So analytics is a huge part of our processing.

We actually have a game economy as well, which is kind of fascinating. If you think of it in terms of the US economy, you can only have so much money in the economy without having inflation and deflation. Imagine if I won all the money and nobody else could have money to play with. It’s kind of game over for us, because they can’t play the game anymore. So we have to manage that quite well.

Of course, with the user experience and what they enjoy and the free to play, in particular, the demand is pretty high. It’s like with apps that you pay for. The 99-cent apps are the ones that people think the most about.

When somebody is spending a dollar, it’s very important to them. You want the experience to be a great experience for them. So the data-driven aspects of that and doing the analysis and analytics of it, and feeding that back to the game is extremely important to us. The velocity and the variety of games and different features that we have and processing that as fast as possible is quite a challenge.

Gardner: Now, games like poker, slots, or bingo, these are games that have been around for decades, if not hundreds of years, and they’ve had a new life online in the past 15 years, which is the Dark Ages of online gaming. What’s new and different about games now, even though the game is essentially quite familiar to people? What’s new and different about a social casino game?

Social aspect

Gudenkauf: I’ve thought about that quite a bit. A lot of it has to do with the social aspect. Now, you can play bingo, not just with your friends at the local club, but you can play with people around the world.

You can share items and gifts, and if you are running low on money, maybe you can borrow some from your friends. And you can chat with them. The social aspect just opened up all kinds of avenues.

In our case, with our games in the studios, because they’re familiar, they stand the test of time. Take something like a bingo or slots, as opposed to some new game that people don’t really understand. They may like it. They may only like it for a while. It’s like playing Scrabble or Monopoly with your family. It’s a game that’s just very familiar and something you enjoy playing.

But, with the online and the social aspect of it, I explain it to other people as imagine Carmen Sandiego meets bingo. You can have experiences where you’re playing bingo, you go on this journey to Egypt, and you’re collecting items and exploring Egypt, trying to get to another thing. We can take it to places that you wouldn’t normally take a traditional kind of board game and in a more social aspect.

Gardner: So this really appeals to what’s conceived of as entertainment in multiple ways for an individual. Again, as you established, the analysis and feedback loops are really important.

I understand why doing great data analysis is so important to this particular use case. Tell us a little bit about how you pull that off. What sort of data architecture do you have? What sort of requirements do you have? What are the biggest problems you have to overcome to achieve your goals?

Gudenkauf: If you think about the traditional way of consuming data and getting it into a reporting system, you have an extract. You’re going to bring in data from somewhere, and of course, in our case it’s from mobile devices, the web, from playing on Facebook. You have information about how much money did you spend, and user behavior. Did they like it?

So you extract that data as usual, and then you transform it. You reshape it and change it around a little bit to put it in a format to get it into a data warehouse like Vertica.

Once you get it into HPE Vertica, you have the extract, transform, and the load (ETL), the traditional model. You load it into Vertica and then you do your analysis there, where you can do SQL, JOINs, and analytics over it.

A new industry term that I’m coining is what we call Parallelized Streaming Transformation Loader (PSTL) instead of ETL. This is about ingesting data as fast as possible, processing it, and making analytics available through the entire data pipeline, instead of just in the data warehouse.

Real-time streaming

Imagine, instead of the extract, we’re taking real-time streaming data. We’re reading, in our case, off a Kafka queue. Kafka is very robust and has been used by LinkedIn and Twitter. So it’s pretty substantial and scalable.

We read the messages in parallel as they’re streaming in from all the game studios, certain amounts of data here and there, depending on how much we do with the particular studio. With Bingo Blitz, in our case, we consume a lot more user behavior than say some of the other studios.

But we ingest all the data. We need to get it in in real-time streaming. So we read it in in parallel. That’s the parallel part and the streaming part. But then we take it from the streaming, and instead of extracting, it’s being fed into us.

Then we do parallel transformations in Spark and our Hadoop cluster. Think of it as  bringing in a bunch of JSON event data, we are putting it into an in-memory table that’s distributed in Spark.

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Then, we do parallel transformations, meaning we can restructure the data, we can do transforms from uppercase, lowercase, whatever we need to do. But it’s done in parallel across the cluster as well. Where, traditionally, there’s a single monolithic app that was running, we could run independent to the extract of the load.

We have so much data that we need to also do the transformations in parallel. We do that in what are called Resilient Distributed Datasets (RDDs). It’s kind of a mouthful, but think of it as just a bunch of slices of data across a bunch of computers and your nodes, and then doing transforms on that in parallel. Then, something that has been a dream of mine is how to get all that data in parallel at the same time into HPE Vertica.

HPE Vertica does a great job of doing massive parallel processing (MPP) and all that means is running the query and pulling data off of different nodes in the cluster. Then, maybe you’re grouping by this and you are summing this and doing an average.

But, to date they hadn’t had something that I tried to do when I was at Twitter, but managed to pull off now, which is to load the data in parallel. While the data is in memory in Spark and distributed datasets, we use the Vertica Hash function that will tell us exactly where the data will land when we write it to a Vertica node.

We can say, User A, if I were to write this to Vertica, I know that it’s going to go on this machine. User B will go to the next machine. It just distributes the load, but we, a priori, hash the data into buckets, so that we know, when we actually write the data, that it goes to this node. Then, Vertica doesn’t have to move it. Usually you write it to one node and it says, “No, you really belong over here,” and so it asks you to move it and shuffle, like a traditional MapReduce.

Working with Vertica

So we created something in conjunction with the Vertica developers. We announced it. That part of it is kind of a TCP server aspect that we extend in the Copy command that exist in Vertica itself. We literally go from streaming in parallel, reading into in-memory data structures, do the transformations, and then write it directly from memory into our Vertica data warehouse.

That allows us to get the data in as fast as possible from streaming right to the right. We don’t have to hit a disk along the way and we can do analytics in Vertica sooner. We can also do analytics in Hadoop clusters for older data and do machine learning on that. We can do all kinds of things based on historical user behavior.

If we’re doing a sale or something like that, how well is it resonating compared to the past. What we’re doing is pushing the envelope to push the analytics as close as we can up to the actual game itself.

As I said, traditionally, you do the analytics, get the feedback, change the game, release it in a week, etc. We’re going to try to push that all the way up to be as near real time as we can. Basically, the PSTL pipeline, allows us to do that, do analytics, and tighten that loop down so that we can get the user behavior to the user as fast as possible.

Gardner: It’s intriguing. It sounds as if you’re able, with a common architecture, to do multiple types of analysis readily but without having to reshuffle the deck chairs each time. Is that fair?

Gudenkauf: That’s exactly right. That’s the beauty of this model and why I’m putting up more prescriptive guidance around it. It changes the paradigm of the traditional way of processing data.

We announced some benchmarking. Last year at the HPE Big Data Conference, Facebook stole the show with 36 terabytes an hour on 270 machines. With our model, you could do it with about 80 machines. So it scales very well. Some people say, “We’re not Twitter or Facebook scale, but the speed at which we want to consume the data and make it available for analytics is extremely important to us.”

The less busy the machines are, the more you can do with them. So does it need to scale like that? No, we are not processing as much data, but the volume, velocity, and variety is a big deal for us. We do need to process the volume, and we do have a lot of events. The volume is not insignificant. We’re talking about billions of events, mind you. We’re not on the sheer scale of say Twitter or Facebook, but the solution will work for both, in both scenarios.

Gardner: So, Jack, with this capability analysis as close to real-time with the volume and the variety that you are able to accomplish, while this is a great opportunity for you to react in a gaming environment. you’re also pushing the envelope on what analysis and reaction can happen to almost any human behaviors at scale. In this case, it happens to be gaming, but there are probably other applications for this. Have you thought about that or are there other places you can take it within an interactive entertainment environment?

All kinds of solutions

Gudenkauf: I can imagine all kinds of solutions for it. In fact, I’ve had a number of people come up to me and say, “We’re doing this Chicago Stock Exchange, and we have a massive amount of streaming-in data. This is a perfect solution for that.”

I’ve had other people come in to talk to me about other aspects and other games as well that are not social casino genre, but they have the same problem. So it’s the traditional problem of how to ingest data, massage it, load it, and then have analytics through that entire process. It’s applicable really in any scenario. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about the PSTL model, because it just scales extremely well along the way.

Gardner: Let’s relate this back to this particular application, which is higher entertaining games that react, and maybe even start pushing envelope into anticipating what people will want in a game. What’s the next step for making these types of games engaging? I’m even starting to toy with the concept of artificial intelligence (AI), where people wouldn’t know that it’s a game. They might not even know the difference between the game and other social participants. Are we getting anywhere close to that?

Gudenkauf: You’re thinking extremely clearly on the spectrum in analytics in general. Before, it was just general reporting in the feedback loop, but you’re absolutely right. As you can see, it’s enabled through our model of prescriptive analytics. Looking at historical data and doing machine learning, we can make better determinations of games and game behavior that will drive the game based on historical knowledge or incoming data that’s more predictive analytics.

Then, as you say, maybe even into the future, beyond predictive and prescriptive analytics, we can almost change as rapidly as possible. We know the user behavior before the user knows the behavior. That will be a great world, and I’m sure we would be extremely successful to get to that final spectrum. But just doing the prescriptive analytics alone, so that the user is happy with the game, and we can get that back to them as quickly as possible, that’s big in and of itself.

Gardner: So maybe a new game some day will be pass the Turing Test, you against our analysis capabilities?

Gudenkauf: Yeah, that would be pretty cool. Maybe eventually it will tie into the whole virtual reality. It’s kind of happening based on the information behaviors immediately. That will be neat.

Gardner: Very exciting world coming our way, right? We’re only scratching the surface. I guess I have run out of questions because my mind is reeling at some of these possibilities.

One last area though. For a platform like HPE Vertica, what would you like to see them do intrinsic to the product? We have the announcement recently about the next version of Vertica, but what might be on your list, a wish-list if you will, for what should be in the product to allow this sort of thing to happen even more readily?

Influencing the product

Gudenkauf: That’s one of the reasons we go to conferences. It’s one of the few conferences where you can get to the actual developers or professional services and influence the product itself.

One of the reasons why I like to be on the leading edge or bleeding edge is so that we can affect product development and what they are working on. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with developers and people internal to HPE Vertica for quite a while now. I just love the product and I want to see it be successful. With the adoption and their more openness of  working with open source like Spark and MapReduce, the whole ecosystem works well together, as opposed to opposing each other, which I think is what most people think. It’s a very collaborative, cooperative environment especially through our pipeline.

I really like the fact that when I talk about things like Kafka and the PSTL, and that Spark is a core part of our architecture, now we’re having conversation, and lots of them, to help Vertica and influence them to invest more in Spark and the interaction between Vertica data warehouse, Spark, and that eco-system from Kafka.

From the part of the work that we did with Vertica over the last year with reading streaming data from Kafka into Spark, of course, and then into Vertica, they said that  reading real-time streaming data from Kafka directly into HPE Vertica will be a great add-on  and they announced it. Ben Vandiver and developers announced it.

I really want to be in a place, and this affords us to be in that place, to influence where they are going, because it benefits all of us and the entire community. It’s being able to give them prescriptive guidance as well from the customer perspective, because this is what we’re doing in the real world, of course. They want to make us happy, and we will make them happy.

Our investments have been in things like Kafka streaming and Spark and how does Spark SQL work with Vertica and VSQL. They don’t necessarily have to compete. There is a world for both. So coexisting, influencing that, and having them be receptive to it is amazing. A lot of companies aren’t very receptive to taking the feedback from us as consumers and baking that into offerings.

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One of the things in our model to load the data as fast as possible in parallel is that we pre-hash the data. If you just take user IDs, for instance, and you hash on those IDs, so that you can put this user on this node, and this one on this one and this one, is an even distribution of data, that wasn’t exposed in Vertica. I’ve been asking for it since the Twitter days for years.

So we wrote our own version of it. I managed to have the Vertica developers, which is a rare and a great opportunity, review what we had done. They said, “Yes, that’s spot on. That’s exactly the implementation.” I said, “You know what would be even better.

I’ve been asking for this for years and I know you have lots of other customers. Why don’t you just make it available for everybody to use. Then, I don’t have to use mine and everybody else can benefit from it as well. They announced in 2015 that they’re going to make it available. So being able to influence things like that just helped the whole ecosystem.

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How Spain’s Mobile Experience leverages HPE location services to enrich the museum experience

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer discussion hones in on an organization in Madrid, Spain called Mobile Experience. We’re about to learn how they precisely track the location of individuals using mobile devices inside of large organizations, like a museum, and then apply that to an enriched mobile user experience.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn how precise positioning in a store or resort – anywhere with WiFi – leads to fascinating new mobile business apps development and interactive user experience benefits, we’re joined by Alvaro Garcia-Hoz, Founder and General Manager of Mobile Experience in Madrid. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us about Mobile Experience and how you have been able to work with a Wi-Fi provider like HPE Aruba to provide this really unique and interesting location experience within a large building or campus.

Garcia Hoz: We started working for museums and we saw that there were a lot of mobile applications for museums — but none of them were really helping the visitors during their visits. So, we decided to make an application for museumgoers, so visitors would  have a much better experience.

Garcia-Hoz

We designed this application without thinking about all the technology available at the moment. When we made the design, we discovered that one feature that we needed was an indoor-location system. So, we did deep research to try and find a way to have this location capability work properly … and we found two suppliers.

The first one had a Wi-Fi location system, and two years ago, when we started working with them, we implemented their Wi-Fi indoor-location system in the museum and it was working, but it was not working the way we were expecting. The user experience was not good enough. But then, we found HPE Aruba Beacons. They sent us a packet of beacons, and we deployed them in the museum.

We quickly discovered that the system was working really, really well, with very good accuracy. We made the deployment in less than a couple of days across the whole museum — that is about 150 beacons. It really works, and the user experience changed totally.

Then, we called HPE Aruba and we said, “Okay guys, come to the museum to see how this is working because you’re going to really be amazed.” And when they came to the museum they said, “Wow.”

After the 18 months that we had been working together, we decided to make a presentation for the media and other partners. From that moment on, we began receiving requests for proposals for other industries like retail, hospitality, and healthcare. There are hundreds of applications.

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Gardner: How were the museums able to enhance the experience of their visitors through the technology?

Three points

Garcia-Hoz: For me there are three very basic points. The first one is that they can prepare guided tours for those visitors, depending on their specific needs. Normally, when people visit a museum, after a couple of hours, they’re done and they leave the museum without knowing if they’ve viewed all of the exhibits. They don’t know if they missed any pieces of art or pieces of information that are important and relevant to them.

What we give the museum is the ability to prepare those guided tours depending on the amount of time a visitor wants to spend at the museum. So if you go, for instance, to the British Museum, given that we are in London, and you decide to spend two hours, the application will show you the works that the museum thinks that you cannot miss if you want to be there for two hours.

The application will guide you through the museum like an indoor GPS, while you’re walking within the museum, and they will guide you through the 20 works you have to see in that museum, and then give you all the information for those exhibits.

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The second point is that it’s different information for different types of visitors. For example, since we come from Madrid, when you are visiting the Real Madrid Museum, it’s different if you are 60 years old or if you are 20 years old, because the information you want to see is very different. With this application, we give the museum the opportunity to deliver highly personalized information.

Gardner: Personalization is so important now that everyone is carrying a smartphone. It really changes how you can have an experience within a shopping mall, for example. Or, if you want to start providing commerce based on demographic information, you could have something on sale for one person but maybe not for another, because it wouldn’t be appropriate for them. In healthcare, if you’re in a hospital, a large campus, it’s very easy to get lost. There are lots of different ways that this can be used.

What are the next steps? Where do you, Aruba, and HPE go in order to create a developer following for more applications and more ability to take advantage of this very precise location capability within almost any building?

Garcia-Hoz: Aruba and HPE are helping us a lot and they’re spreading the word. This technology is so new, and we’re visiting very important customers. But when we start talking to them, and we are talking about Aruba Beacons, and how they can get all this information from users, we’re exploring what can be done and what can’t be done.

Gardner: Where can you go to get more information on this technology?

More information

Garcia-Hoz: You can go to my website, mobileXperience.es. There, we have a lot of information about different features that can be delivered for mobile users.

Gardner: And how about developers? Are they able to use the Aruba SDK or APIs? How would the developers start to take advantage of this as a service?

Garcia-Hoz: There are two different ways of doing this. They can go directly to the Aruba SDK to have that for them and build on that, and also they can come to us — if you already have your venue up you can use your API so you can get all these features together.

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Business unusual: How the Dell-EMC merger sends shockwaves across the global storage market

The next BriefingsDirect IT market analysis discussion explores customer impacts to the global storage market now that the $67 billion Dell-EMC merger deal appears imminent. The proposed merger, which also includes EMC’s majority control of VMware, has been controversial from the start.

A massive and complex financing apparatus, largely built on private equity debt, undergirds the deal, with privately held Dell taking over the publicly traded EMC and VMware federation. This largest IT vendor deal ever is expected to close sometime between now and October 2016.

While EMC CEO and Chairman Joe Tucci has assured the storage and IT infrastructure market that the mega deal means business as usual, many observers, including analysts from Gartner, take a different view.

We’re now joined by two storage industry experts to explore how consumers of storage infrastructure can best prepare for the expected storage shockwaves from the Dell takeover of EMC and VMware.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To help us sort through the unknown unknowns of such an unprecedented business merger in IT, please welcome Jorge Maestre, Competitive Strategist, Global Storage at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and Craig Rice, Business Architect at Integris Solutions Group. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Even before this Dell acquisition of EMC was announced back in October, the storage market has been undergoing significant transformation. What have been the trends impacting the global storage business, and why did they prompt such an unprecedented merger in the first place?

Maestre: That’s a good question. Obviously, we start with flash storage. With flash as a focal point of primary storage in the data center, the technologies have evolved. Well, in the case of flash, we’re not talking about an evolution; we’re actually talking about a revolution. It has completely trumped what you have with spinning-disk media storage.

Maestre

You saw a lot of different opportunities for a lot of different vendors to jump in here and be the first with flash. EMC didn’t have a head start technically. That hurts, when you have vendors like Pure Storage, or ourselves at HPE obviously, or some of these other names like SolidFire and Kaminario.

And as companies are consolidating their primary storage into these flash footprints, which can be hyper-dense now, what we found is that other [infrastructure] technologies have emerged. These technologies and these trends have been here for a while, but now … they are very complementary to primary storage. You now have use cases in your data center where you can take advantage of things like hyper-converged or software-defined, or even just reinvest in file.

Now, you’re looking at a data center that needs to have a completed picture. For all of EMC’s bravado, for all of their product set, for all of their ability to sell, the completed picture from them isn’t something that necessarily has always looked pretty.

We saw the result, which is the constant revenue decline. I think they’re in consecutive quarters of revenue decline, and in some cases, they’ve taken a pretty bad hit. They’ve lost the midrange. The number-one product in the midrange is the HPE 3PAR. They lost that segment, and that was their staple.

They’ve seen VMAX revenue decline by almost 50 percent or more in the last few years, and so it has painted this picture of this huge conglomerate, monolithic company, maybe losing its way. The merger was at the right time.

Rice: I think flash is a contributing component here, but the catalyst that’s causing the greatest amount of disruption is shareholder value. Let’s take a look at what’s transpired over the past year.

Rice

We have an activist investor [Elliott Management] that’s been bullying EMC for quite some time to divest themselves from VMware. VMware is a catalyst that adds value to their storage array. We look at other organizations such as NetApp and how they had to acquire SolidFire.

We have companies such as Pure, an upstart that’s done maybe $200 million in sales and an innovating leader.

When you look at this, the whole challenge, the true disruption in storage, in the IT market then stems from shareholder value. What uniqueness do any of these mergers and acquisitions bring to the end-user customer? How does a technology change, or an innovation of flash, drive value not to IT, but to the lines of business? That’s what we’ve been seeing here at Integris.

Business motivations

Gardner: So clearly, there are business motivations from EMC and Dell that might not necessarily be the same motivations that their customers are facing.

EMC Chairman Joe Tucci tells everyone it’s business as usual, don’t be worried, but we saw in a recent research report from Gartner: Dell’s Acquisition of EMC Will Impact Storage Customers, 10 March 2016, that this will impact customers of both vendors, no question. They suggested it could take two or four years for the storage market to settle out and for more clarity to come to that.

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So, what are some of the biggest risks, as you see it, Jorge, for storage customers, with this deal in the works?

Maestre: We have to take a look at what EMC is telling people and what other people who are doing investigations on their own are finding, and we’re seeing that those contradict one another. … EMC’s business customers, their business partners, might be in a state of confusion, but I think storage is pretty solid in general.

There have been CRN articles, there have been Register articles that talk about what EMC is telling everyone, “This is going to be great. This is going to go well. The two companies combine. They’re going to be $80 billion. We’re $80 billion with a revenue, blah, blah, blah, blah.” The reality is that’s not going to be the case. Both companies are seeing revenues continue to decline.

As they merge, probably there’s not going to be any overlap. Just take a look at the storage portfolio. You’re not going to see a lot of overlap there. EMC is going to announce a new product [in May 2016] that everyone is expecting to jump into that entry-level space. So, they’re probably going to even create a displacement for Dell Compellent.

And, of course, Dell is telling people, “No matter what happens, we’ll still support Compellent for five years.” That’s pretty much saying, “This product is dead.” Most people agree that that’s going to happen.

From a product set perspective you’re not going to see too much craziness. You’re going to have the same EMC salespeople selling the same stuff. They’re going to be selling servers too now, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on where you come from.

But what we’re not seeing, and what we’re not going to see, is any type of growth. There is no way there’s going to be any growth. They’re talking about cutting $2 billion worth of expenses just to pay for this $67 billion deal. That’s a huge number. Cutting your expenses that much in order to show an increase in revenue, assuming you don’t lose any customers, or lose any executives, as this merger becomes complete, is just a huge risk.

Not going to happen

It’s not even a risk; it’s an uncertainty. There’s no way it’s going to happen. I think there is a CRN article that talks about this. In order for them to actually show revenue growth, they have to see a seven percent improvement on top of the $74 billion that would combine the two companies together. That’s where they would be today.

That’s crazy — seven percent on top of that and from two companies whose revenues continue to decline? How is this merger all of a sudden going to stop the revenue decline, turn it around, and bring it up seven percent? We could talk about financials all day, but you have to have a compelling product set for that. They don’t have it. I just don’t see it.

Rice: I’d like to emphasize one thing that Jorge said. I have some unique insight. We are a partner that used to be exclusively EMC. We’ve seen the writing on the wall. We’ve been working with HPE and transitioning over. We have a lot of good friends that have worked at EMC for 10, 12, 15 years, and in that highly competitive sales force environment of EMC, that’s a lifetime. These key leadership positions from district managers, area managers, and engineers are leaving the company in droves.

Why are they leaving if this is such a good deal and things are going forward? I have customers asking, “What happened to Bob Smith? He has been our rep or our district manager for 10, 12 years, why did he leave and go there?” I think that just puts credence on Jorge.

Gardner: We certainly have very big and different cultures here, where EMC has always been focused on enterprise, large companies, with an aggressive sales force, a very involved sales force. Dell, on the other hand, focused more on the mid-tier, and largely a self-service culture, where people are encouraged to buy things at a commodity level.

So what does that mean for enterprises? Are they going to see the Dell culture come to the EMC market or will the EMC market go to the Dell tier? How do you see these cultures melding, particularly in sales, that inflection point between the customer and the vendor? Jorge?

Maestre: Here’s the thing. This gets a little frustrating because we’re dealing with the greatest sales spin marketing company of all time. EMC is the Michael Jordan of sales spin, marketing, and everything else. Maybe not so much in product delivery and all that other stuff, but the reality is that these guys know how to talk the game.

It’s like everyone went to the Don King school of selling. They can just promote, promote, promote all day. They do a good job of being Don King-like, every single one of them. For those who don’t remember, Don King was a huge boxing promoter in the ‘80s; Google him.

So, they are all that and they are good at that. For me, it’s very frustrating, because there is nothing there. We take a look at the revenues, the product sets, and there’s just nothing here. You’re looking at two completely different product sets. There’s nothing compelling about it.

Now take that a step further. Why are people so interested in this? Why is everyone in love with this merger? The reality is because people love EMC. It’s the badge, it’s the sales badge, it’s the resources, and it’s the fact that they make you feel good. They come to your house. They make you hot cocoa. They tuck you in at night. That’s what they do. That’s how you sell. They’re great at it. Nobody does it better than them. They literally set a bar of selling that no other vendor has even attempted to approach. You have to tip your hat.

Gardner: How will that change, Jorge?

It takes resources

Maestre: Well, that’s just it. It takes resources. You have to invest in that. You have to put a lot of money behind that. You have to create a huge support infrastructure. Take a look at how each company invests in their R and D, just to put it in perspective. Dell’s numbers, public numbers are somewhere in the area of 10 percent. EMC’s numbers are somewhere in the area of 25 percent; it might be a little bit more than that.

Think about their resources. EMC is a resource-heavy company. Dell is a very lean company. They’re very much an assembly-line company. Let’s push it out here, and we’ll make our revenue through volume, and don’t worry about the margins. That’s what they’ve shown. It’s almost contradictory cultures, contradictory selling styles, and now you have to put them together.

There’s an ESG report that targets EMC customers and asks how they feel about this? Seventy five percent of the people who responded to that said, “We’re fine; nothing is going to change.” That’s crazy.

[The report] is actually telling you that 25 percent of those people are concerned. Twenty five percent is a big number for people who are EMC loyals. That’s a huge number, and we have to consider that.

At the end of the day, when this is all completed, those 25 percent are right to be nervous about this. There’s no way Dell just raised $45 billion. It’s not like they went to the bank and asked for a $45 billion mortgage. They actually raised $45 billion in private equity.

That means they don’t even get to say how the money gets spent. I’m sure they had to show game plans and show how things are going to work to get the money. So, of course they had a plan. And of course the private equity investors were no problem. They bought into the plan when they gave the money, but they still have to have return on that.

And that means you’re not going to be resource-heavy the way EMC is today. You’re not going to invest in your business the way EMC does today. You have no choice; you have to recoup it. So if we see the data, it’s already there. Dell has told people they have to cut expenses by $2 billion a year. How can you be resource-rich, resource-heavy, the way EMC is today and cut $2 billion in expenses? You just can’t. You can’t have it both ways. It’s one or the other; there’s no way around this. There are a lot of EMC customers out there who are due for a major wake-up call.

Gardner: Craig, Jorge said the halcyon days of EMC sales is coming to an end, that they won’t be spending the money to have that sales force. Is that what you’re seeing, and what’s wrong with going to the Dell model of a straightforward information-based, order-it-online approach to storage?

Assembly-line model

Rice: We’re seeing that. Like I mentioned earlier, Dana, there are a lot of people who have been long-term tenured, the soul of EMC, and they’re leaving the organization. There’s nothing wrong with going to the streamlined assembly-line model. I hope they do it and I hope they do it successfully, because what that means for a partner like myself that’s focusing on HPE is that they’re taking value out of the equation.

Their buyers are going to come to Dell-EMC and they’re going to buy solely on price. Going to Jorge’s point, in raising $45 billion in private equity, you have to do an awful lot of volume to pay back those types of people.

When you start to add value and you understand the customers’ business like we do and other HPE partners do, because of the portfolio which HPE has, it’s going to become a very clear night-and-day difference of who is going to be able to provide a business the ability and technology in the partnership to grow from 10 percent of their market share to 20 percent to 30 percent. I don’t know many businesses that just want the low price and don’t want value and don’t want a partner to help them grow their business. The Dell-EMC model is not that.

Gardner: It seems that Dell is taking a risk by not having a more sophisticated approach to sales if that’s what they need to do.

Rice: Oh, 100 percent. They’re not just taking a risk. They’re betting the whole company. They’re putting everything in on black. That would be concerning to me if I were a customer looking at that. They’re going to be so debt heavy, so focused on storage without innovation on compute. Storage is just not alone; you have all these applications, all these business processes that need to rely on compute.

What type of innovation are they going to do? Let’s make that even a little bit cloudier. You’re not going to do any innovation, but yet you sell a lot of servers because you’re a volume-based business, but yet I have a partnership with a competitor. So I have competition with Cisco that’s also self-compute.

Now, how can the two of you offer something you need, how can they bring out a product like Apollo or Moonshot? You need to do more than just innovate on storage; you need to innovate across whole IT spectrum.

I don’t see them doing that because they’re going to be so debt-heavy, so laden, that they have to trim all these costs and expenses, and by the way, they have to do an awful lot of volume. If you’re doing volume, you can make the best little widget, whatever that widget is, but how do you bring out that next product line, how do you impact the market, how do you change the industry, how do you bring out something like what HPE is doing with composable infrastructure? Where is that innovation in the Dell model?

Gardner: Clearly, this is not business as usual in the new sales force. So how can organizations that might be heavily EMC-orientated, or for smaller-sized organizations that are using a lot of Dell, protect themselves? They can hope for the best, they can hope that things don’t change for them, but what assurance can you put in place so that no matter what happens with Dell and EMC, you can, as an enterprise, still continue to do your business as usual?

Stay or move

Maestre: That’s a good question. For the Dell customers, the product set is easy to stay in or move to something else. If you choose to stay with the new Dell-EMC, there are a million ways to graduate from Dell into EMC’s portfolio, and of course, there are a million ways to get off of Dell’s portfolio easily altogether. So those customers are relatively safe. I think it’s relatively low risk.

The challenge … is not going to be technical, but it’s certainly going to be relationship-wise, and I don’t mean to disparage Dell. If it comes across disparaging, let me apologize up front for it, but Dell isn’t necessarily known for being a relationship company. You may have business processes in place, you may have contracts in place, things you get at a certain dollar-per-gig or at a certain price point. There is some risk to that, but that happens in business every day anyway. So, very little risk.

Let’s flip it over to the harder question, which are EMC shops. Forget that I work for HPE or anybody else. EMC products may work, but there’s no question that it takes a lot longer to get those things set up and in place than other vendors’ products.

So, you’ve now not just made a financial investment but you have a significant time investment, a significant training investment. That’s a lot trickier. If you’re not happy with this new combined Dell-EMC entity, if you’re not happy with the direction, if you’re not happy with the products that you are going to get going forward, you have a long road ahead of you. You’re going to have to talk to some vendors and you’re going to have to figure out how to migrate off. You have to figure out what your direction is. I would give those customers the same advice I give any customer.

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What’s your plan? What does your world look like in three years, in two years, in one year, whatever it is? Tell me what Utopia looks like, give me that, and then we’ll figure out how to make the technology fit that. I don’t think those customers should be making concessions for the technology or the technology vendor or the technology vendor story. They should be making those vendors either deliver, or move on to a vendor who can. Those are the conversations they have to start having.

In a way, this is an opportunity. EMC customers who invested in a lot of infrastructure can now look around and say, “Maybe this is an opportunity for me to shrink my infrastructure, to take advantage of the fact that it’s a buyer’s market in storage, take advantage of flash, take advantage of all these different things, and see what I can do to restart my infrastructure and get me closer to what my dream vision of my data center would look like.”

It could be a long and winding road. You may want partner companies. Partners are critical. The one thing that everyone has in common is Dell. HPE, IBM, no matter who you’re talking to, they’re all talking about partners and how important partners are. This is the best time in the world to lean on those partners and say, “Guys, help me navigate through this.”

The challenge is finding an impartial or unbiased partner. Everybody works with one specific vendor, and in that way, they’re just an expansion of the vendor, but there are a lot of good ones out there. This is the best time to lean on those guys if for nothing else, then just to get their consultative advice.

Gardner: What’s the time frame here, Jorge? It seems to me that we’re at a point where business agility means getting new systems in place to accommodate things like user experience, big data, and Internet of Things (IoT). These are driving change very rapidly. Waiting two or three years seems  to me a very long time for making strategic decisions.

Maestre: Let’s put that in perspective. The only concept in this industry is change. Things are always going to get better. Social media has created an endless stream of data that’s going to be written all the time. IoT exacerbates that. Change is always going to be here.

Every vendor is always going to be changing in some way, shape, or form, always going to be evolving. They have to. Otherwise, they’re going to be left behind. Craig brought up a good point earlier about NetApp and what happened at NetApp. Now, they are buying SolidFire, and that’s like their fifth or sixth different attempt at getting into the flash market.

So, you’re certainly looking at a world where you can’t be just constant. Either you stay in front of it or you’re going to get left behind. The issue for EMC customers for the next two or three years is not so much the roadmap, the combined product set. Everybody agrees that there is very little overlap. No one wants to disrespect Dell here, but the reality is that there is very little in the storage world that Dell has that isn’t going to be replaced by EMC, and EMC doesn’t sell servers.

Real questions

Sure, there are some questions around VCE and Vblock, but is that going to be their investment? Why would you continue to partner with Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) when you have servers already? Those are real questions, and that’s probably one of the points that Craig made so well before.

But the reality is that that’s not where you are going to feel the pain in the next two or three years. Where you’re going to feel the pain over the next two or three years is in that thing that made EMC special, the fact that they make you feel good about your purchase and the fact that they support you, and they deliver what they say.

Your EMC service is based on the people who are going to leave, the point that Craig made earlier, but not just the people who are going to leave, but what process is going to survive. You have to be a blind fool to go into this thinking that nothing is going to change; that’s ridiculous. Of course, something is going to change. Even if everything worked out in the way that Joe Tucci said it would, there would still be a lot of change, there would still have to be some concessions. So there is no question about that things are going to change.

So the one thing that made EMC great, in making all of those steps to give you what they promised, feels painless and makes you feel good. All of that is where you’re going to feel the pain for the next two or three years. Craig nailed it. It’s going to take about two or three years for them to sort all that out. That’s where the problem lies and that’s where this is going to impact customers. That’s why now is a good time to maybe start thinking about going elsewhere or looking at other direction.

Gardner: How do you as a storage consumer get assurance of reducing your risk, given this complex deal?

Rice: The best thing is to make competition a key component. I’ve read a couple of reviews from a couple well-known organizations that say get it in writing. I worked at EMC for a while, I worked at HPE for a while over the past decade. Prior to this change, a lot of salespeople would always do that get-it-in-writing thing. “Mr. Customer, I guarantee this.” When they leave, what good is that guarantee? They’re a publicly traded company. You can’t commit that in writing. Will Dell and EMC do that going forward? I don’t know.

The best way to keep them honest is to find a partner, such as Integris — there are many other good partners as well. Evaluate some competing technologies. Competition will always keep each other honest. That’s the simplest, most efficient, and least impactful way that a prospective customer can determine it. Do I want to go with Dell-EMC? Do I want to go with HPE? Do I want to go with anyone else? Bring competition in with a partner so they can equally evaluate what they had to offer.

Reducing risk

Maestre: Find partners you can work with that are good. Integris is a good one, and there are others, but find partners who are out there who can take care of you and have your best interests at heart, whose interests aren’t aligned with another vendor’s interests.

It’s great that they resell a vendor’s product, but the best partners have expertise across multiple vendors, and that’s what you want to look for. That’s important.

The other thing is to have a plan, make a plan. One thing I know about HPE in terms of the enterprise is that we absolutely make the best product. I don’t have to give you a commercial to buy my stuff. I know that we have the best product, and you’ll wind up here eventually.

Consider your perfect data center, think it through, write it down, and then start talking to people, and the people who can fit your vision those are the guys you want to talk to.  Don’t worry about what somebody else is saying, what somebody else is marketing, what somebody else is highlighting. The people who ask you to make concessions to fit their product set are probably the guys you want to walk away from. That’s the best way to reduce risk — just essentially invest in yourself.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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Capgemini and HPE team up to foster needed behavioral change that bolsters cyber security across application lifecycles

The next BriefingsDirect discussion explores improving cyber security in applications across their entire lifecycles. Such trends as the Internet of Things (IoT), hybrid cloud services, mobile-first, and DevOps are increasing the demands and complexity of the overall development process.

Key factors to improving both development speed and security despite these new challenges include new levels of collaboration and communication across formerly disparate teams — from those who design, to coders, to testers, and on to continuous monitoring throughout operations. The result is security being integrated into software design, even as the pressure builds to bring more apps to market faster.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

We’re here now with two experts from a Capgemini and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Alliance to learn how to create the culture, process, and technologies needed to make and keep today’s applications as secure as possible.

Please join me now in welcoming our guests, Gopal Padinjaruveetil, Global Cyber Security Strategist for Capgemini, and Mark Painter, Security Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Let’s start with you Gopal. What do you see as some of the top trends that are driving the need for improved security for applications? It seems like we’re in the age of “continuous everything” across the entire spectrum of applications.

Padinjaruveetil: Let me talk about a few trends with some data and focus on why application security is going to become more-and-more important as we move forward.

There’s a report saying that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. There was also a Cisco report that said that 92 percent of the devices today, connected devices, are vulnerable. There was an HPE study that came out last year said that 80 percent of the attacks are now happening at the application layer.

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If you put together these three diverse data points coming from three different people, we see that there will be 37 billion devices in 2020 that are deemed to be vulnerable. That’s very interesting, 37 billion devices vulnerable in 2020. We need to change the way that we develop software.

Key trend

The other key trend that we’re seeing is that agility is becoming a prime driver in application development, where the business would like to have functionality as early as possible. So the whole agile development methodology driving agility is becoming key, and that’s posing some unique problems.

Padinjaruveetil

The other thing that we’re seeing from a trend perspective is that apps and data are moving out of the enterprise landscape. So the concept of mobile-first, free the data, free the app, and the cloud movement are major trends that affects the application security and how applications are being developed and delivered.

The other trend is regulators. In many critical industries regulations are becoming very strict with cyber crime and advanced actors. We’re seeing nation states, advanced actors, coming into the game and we’re seeing advanced persistent threats becoming a reality. So that’s driving another dimension to the whole application security.

Last, but not least, is that we see a big shortage of cyber security talent in the market. Those are the trends that drives the need for a different look at application security from a lifecycle approach.

Gardner: Mark, anything to offer in terms of trends that you are seeing from HPE, perhaps getting more involved with security earlier in the process?

Painter: Gopal gave a very good and very thorough answer and he was dead-on. As he said, 80 percent of attacks are aimed at the application layer. So it actually makes sense to try to prevent those vulnerabilities.

Painter

We propose that people implement application security during the development cycle, precisely because that’s where you get the most bang for your buck. You need to do things across the entire lifecycle, and that includes even production, but if you can shift to the left, stop them as early as possible, then you save so much money in the long run in case you are attacked.

We do a study in conjunction with the Ponemon Institute every year, and since 2010, every year, it shows that attacks increase in frequency, they’re harder to find, and they’re also increasingly costlier to remediate. So it’s the right way to do it. You have to bake security in. You just can’t simply brush it on.

Gardner: And with the heightened importance of user experience and the need for moving business agility through more rapid iterations of software, is it intuitive to conclude that more rapid development makes it more challenging for security, or is there something about doing rapid iterations and doing security that somehow can go hand in hand, a continuous approach? Gopal, any thoughts?

Rapid development

Padinjaruveetil: There’s a need for rapid applications, because we’re seeing lot of innovations coming, and we welcome that. But the challenge is, how do you do security in a rapid world?

There is no room for error. One of the things from a trend perspective is IoT. One of the things I tell my clients is that if you look at traditional IT, we’re operating in a virtual world, purely a virtual world. But when you talk about things like operation technology (OT), we’re talking about physical things, physical objects that we’re using in everyday life, like a car, your temperature monitors, or your heartbeat monitors. These are physical things.

When the physical world and the virtual world come together with IoT, that could have a very big impact on the physical layer or the physical objects that we use. For example, the safety of individuals, of community, of regions, of even countries can now be put in danger, and I think that is the key thing. Yes, we need to develop applications rapidly, but we need to develop them in a very secure way.

Gardner: So the more physical things that are connected, the more opportunity there is to go through that connection and somehow do bad things, nefarious activities. So in a sense, the vulnerability increases with the connectivity.

Padinjaruveetil: Absolutely. And that’s the fear, unless we change ways of developing software. There has to be a mindset change in how we develop, deploy, and deliver software in the new world.

Gardner: I suppose another element to this isn’t just that bad things can happen, but that the data can be accessed. If we have more data at the edge, if we move computing resources out to the edge where the data is, if we have data centers more frequently in remote locations, this all means that data privacy and data access is also key.

How much of the data security is part of the overall application security equation, Gopal?

Padinjaruveetil: One of the things I ask is to define an application, because we have different kinds of applications. You have web services and APIs. Even though those are headless, we would consider that those are applications, and applications without data have no meaning.

The application and the data are very closely tied to each other, and what’s the value? There’s no real advantage for a hacker just to have an application. They’re coming after the data. The private data, sensitive data, or critical data about a client or a customer is what they’re coming at.

You bring up a very good point that security and privacy are the key drivers when we are talking about applications. That is what people are trying to get at, whether it’s intellectual property (IP) or whether it’s sensitive data, credit card data, or your health data. The application and the data are tied at the hip, and it’s important that we look at both as a single entity, rather than just looking at the application as a siloed concept.

Solving problems

Gardner: Let’s look a little bit at how we go about helping organizations approach these problems and solve them. What is it that HPE and Capgemini have done in teaming up to solve these problems? Maybe you could provide, Gopal, a brief history of how the app security alliance with these two organizations has come about?

Padinjaruveetil: Capgemini is a services company, and HPE has great security products that they bring to the market. So, very early on, we realized that there’s a very good opportunity for us to partner, because we provide services and HPE provides great security products.

One of the key things, as we move into agility or into application development, is that many of the applications have millions of lines of code. These are huge applications, and it’s difficult to do a manual assessment. So, automation in an agile world and in an application world becomes important. That’s a key thing that HPE is enabling, automation of security through their security products and application space. We bring the services that sit on top of the products.

When I go and talk to my clients about the HPE and Capgemini partnership, I tell them that HPE is bringing a very tasty cake, and we’re bringing a beautiful icing on top of the cake. Together, we have something really compelling for the user.

Gardner: Let’s go to Mark in describing that cake, I would imagine there are many layers. Maybe you could describe it for some of our listeners and readers who might not be that familiar with what those layers are. What are the major components of the transformation area around security that HPE is focused on?

Painter: At a high-level, what we’re trying to do is expand the application security scope, and that basically includes three big buckets. Those are secure development, security testing, and then continuous monitoring and protection.

During the development phase, you need to build security in while the developers are coding, and for that specifically, we use a tool called DevInspect. It will actually show secure coding to a developer as he is typing his own code. That gets you much, much farther ahead of the game.

As far as security testing, there are two main forms. There is static, which is code analysis, not only for your own code, but open-source components and other things. In this day and age, you really are taking security into your own hands if you trust open-source components without testing them thoroughly. So, static gives you one perspective on application security.

Then there is also dynamic scanning, where you don’t have access to the code, and you actually attack the application just as the hacker would, so you get those dynamic results.

We have a platform that combines and correlates those results. So, you get to reduce false positives and you can trust the accuracy of your results to a much greater detail.

Sustained frequency

We also provide services, but the whole thing is that you have to do this with sustained frequency. Maybe 10 years ago, there was a stage-gate approach, in which you tested at the end of the development cycle and released it. Well, that’s simply not good enough; you have to do this on a repeatable basis.

Some people would probably consider that the developmental lifecycle ends once the product is out there in the wild, but if anything, my experience in the security industry has taught me that software plus time equals vulnerability. You can’t stop your security efforts just because something has been released. You need that continuous monitoring and protection.

This is a new thing in application security, at least if you call something that’s almost a few years old “new.” With something called App Defender, you can actually put an agent on the application server and it will block attacks in real time, which is a really good thing, because it’s not always convenient to patch your software.

At HPE, we offer a combination of products that you can use yourself and we also offer hybrid solutions, because there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all in any environment.

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We also offer expertise. Gopal was talking earlier about the lack of qualified candidates, and Forbes has predicted that, by 2019, a full quarter of cyber security jobs are going to be unfilled. Organizations need to be able to rely on technology, but they also need to be able to find experts and expertise when they need it. We do a lot at HPE; I will leave it at that.

Gardner: Gopal, how do these products, these layers in the cake, help with the shifting-left concept, where we move more concern about vulnerability and security deeper into the design, earlier into the coding and development process? Where do the products help with shifting left?

Padinjaruveetil: That’s a great question if you decompose or if you analyze application security as a cake. Security vulnerabilities in applications come from three specific areas. One is what I call design flaws, where the application itself is designed in a flawed manner that opens up vulnerabilities. So a bad design, in itself, causes security vulnerabilities.

The second thing is the coding flaws. Take an Apple iPhone or something like that. If you look at the design of an iPhone, the actual end product, there will be a very close match. A lot of problems we have in software industry are because there is a high level of mismatch between the design and the actual product itself as coded.

Software is coded by the developers, and if the developers aren’t adding good code, there’s a high possibility that that vulnerability is introduced because of poor coding.

Configuration parameters

The third thing is that the application isn’t running in a vacuum. It’s running on app servers and database servers and it’s going through multiple layers. There are a lot of configuration parameters, and if these configuration parameters are not set, then it leads to open vulnerability.

From a product perspective, HPE has great products that detect coding flaws. Mark talked about DevInspect. It’s a great tool from a dynamics perspective, or hacking. There are great tools to look at all these three layers from a design flaw, from a configuration flaw, and a coding flaw.

As a security expert, I see that there is a great scope for tooling in the design flaw, because right now, we’re talking about threat modeling and risk determination. To detect a design flaw requires a high level of human intelligence. I’m sure that in the future, there will be products that can detect design flaws, but when it comes to coding flaws, these tools can detect a coding flaw at 99 percent accuracy. So, we’ve seen a very good maturity in the application security areas with these products, with the different products that Mark mentioned.

Gardner: Another part of the process for development isn’t just coding, but pulling together components that have already been coded: services, SDKs, APIs, vast libraries, often in an open-source environment. Is there a way for the alliance between Capgemini and HPE to give some assurance as to what libraries or code have already been vetted, that may have already been put through the proper paces? How does the open-source environment provide a challenge, or maybe even a benefit, when done properly, to allow a reuse of code and this idea of componentized nature of development?

Padinjaruveetil: That’s a great point, because most of the modern applications are not valid applications. They talk with other applications. They get data from other applications, data through Web service interface, a REST API, and open source.

For example, if you want to do login, there are open-source login frameworks available. If there are things that are available, we’d like to use them, but just like custom code, open source is also vulnerable. There are vulnerabilities in open source.

Vulnerability can come from multiple things in an application. It can be caused by an API. It can be caused by an integration point, like a Web service or any other integration point. It can be caused by the device itself, when you’re talking about mobile and all those things. Understanding that is a very critical aspect when we’re talking about application security.

Gardner: Mark, anything to offer on this topic of open source and/or vetting code that’s available for developers to then use in their applications?

Painter: Well, it’s not an application, but it’s a good example. The Shellshock vulnerability was due to something wrong with the code of an open-source component, and that’s still impacting servers around the world. You can’t trust anybody else’s code.

There are so many different flavors of open-source components. Red Hat obviously is going to be a little better than your mom-and-pop development team, but it has to be an integrated part of your process for certain.

Cyber risk report

There is something Gopal was saying. We do a cyber risk report every year at HPE, and one of the things we do is test thousands and thousands of applications. In last year’s results, the biggest application flaw we found were basically configuration flaws. You could get to different directories than you should be able to.

Application security is not easy. If application security were easy, then we still wouldn’t be having cross-site scripting vulnerabilities that have been around almost as long as the web itself. There are a lot of different components in place. It’s a complex problem.

Gardner: So it’s important to go to partners and tried and true processes to make sure you don’t fall down into some of these holes. Let’s move on to another area, which is also quite important and difficult and challenging. That is the cultural shift, behavioral changes that are forced when a shift left happens, when you’re asking people in a traditional design environment to think about security, operations, configuration management, and business-service management.

Gopal, what are some of the challenges to promulgating cultural and behavioral changes that are needed in order to make a continuous application security culture possible?

Padinjaruveetil: That’s a key aspect, because most of the application development is happening in a distributed team, and things are being assembled. So there are different teams building different things, and you’re putting together the final application product and deploying it.

Many companies have now started talking about security policies and security standards, whether it’s Java development standards or .NET development. So, there are very good industry standards coming out, but the challenge is that having a policy or standard alone is not sufficient.

What I tell my clients is that any compliance without enforcement is ineffective. The example that I give is that we have traffic laws in India. If you’ve been to India and you look at the traffic situation there, it’s chaotic. Here, you see radar detection and automated detection of speed and things like that. So enforcement is a key area even in software development. It’s not enough to just have standards; you need to have enforcement.

The second thing I talk about is that compliance without consequence will not bring the right behavior. For example, if you get caught by a cop and he says, “Don’t do this again; I’ll let you go,” you’re not going to change your behavior. If there’s a consequence, many times that makes people change behaviors.

We need to have some kind of a discipline and compliance brought into the application development space. One of the things that I did for a major client was what I call zero tolerance. If you develop an application and if we did find a vulnerability in the application, we won’t allow you to deploy it. We have zero tolerance on putting up unsecured code when we use one of these great products that HPE has.

Once we find an issue with a critical or a high issue that’s been reported, we won’t let you deploy. Over a period of time, this caused a real behavioral change, because when you stop production, it has impact. It gets noticed at a very higher level. People start questioning why this deployment didn’t go.

Huge change

Slowly, over a period of time, because of this compliance and because of the enforcement with consequences, we saw a huge change in behavior in the entire team, right from project managers to business analysts making sure that they are getting the security non-functional requirement correct, by the project managers making sure that the project teams are addressing it, the architect making sure the applications are designed correctly, and the testers making sure that the testing is correct. When it goes into an independent audit or something like that, the application comes out clean.

It’s not enough if you just have standards; you need to have some kind of enforcement with that.

Gardner: Mark, in order to have that sort of enforcement you need to have visibility and measurement. It seems to me that there’s a lot more data gathering going on across this entire application lifecycle. And big data or analytics that we have in other areas are being brought into this fold.

Is there something about automation, orchestration, and data analytics that are part and parcel of the HPE products that could help on this behavioral shift by measuring, verifying, and then demonstrating where things are good or not so good?

Painter: One thing that HPE uses to build it in is secure coding, but also we talk about detect and response. We have an application product that integrates with our security and monitoring tool from ArcSight.

So you can actually get application information. Applications have been a typical blind spot for Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools, and you can actually get some of those results you are talking about from our SIEM technology, which is really cool.

Over the past 10 years in the security industry, we’ve changed from the idea of we’re going to block every attack, to one that says the attackers are already inside your network. This is part of that detection. Maybe you didn’t find these. You can see active exploitation in other words, and then you can track it down and stop it that way.

Fifteen years ago, you had to convince people that they needed application security. You don’t have to do that know. They know they need it, but they just might not exactly know what they need to do.

It’s all about making this an opportunity for them to get security right, instead of viewing it as some sort of conflict between the need for speed and agile development and the need to release balanced against the needs of the enterprise to actually be secure and protect themselves from potential data breaches and potential data loss and all the compliance issues and now legal challenges from individual actors and all the way down the line.

Gardner: Gopal, before we close out, let’s look to the future a little bit. What comes next? Do you expect to see more use of data, measurement, and analytics, a science of development, if you will, to help with security issues, perhaps feedback loops that extend from development into production and back? How important do you think this use of more data and analytics will be to the improved automation and overall security posture of these applications?

Continuous improvement

Padinjaruveetil: You need to have data and you need to have measurements to make improvements. We want continuous improvement, but you can’t manage unless you measure. So we need to determine what are the systemic issues in application development, what are the systemic issues that we see constantly coming?

For example, if you’re seeing cross-site scripting as a consistent vulnerability that’s coming across the multiple development team, we need to have some way to make sure that we’re seeing patterns with the data and looking at how to reduce these major systemic errors or vulnerabilities in systems?

You will see more-and-more data collections, data measurements, and applying advanced methods to look at not just the vulnerability aspect of it, but also the behavioral aspect. That’s something that we’re not doing, but I see a huge change coming where we’re actually going to see the behavioral aspects being tracked with data in the application lifecycle model.

Gardner: Another thing to be mindful of is getting ready for IoT with many more devices, endpoints, sensors, biological sensors. All of this is going to be something coming in the next few years.

How about revisiting the skills issue before we sign off? What can organizations do about  maintaining the right skill sets, attracting the right workers and professionals, but also looking for all the options within an ecosystem, like the alliance between HPE and Capgemini. How do you see the skills problem shaking out over the next several years, Gopal?

Padinjaruveetil: If you look at many of the compliance frameworks, like NIST or ISO 27001, there’s a big emphasis on control being put in place for security awareness and education. We’re seeing a big drive for security education within the whole organization.

Then, we’re seeing tools like DevInspect. When a developer writes bad code, if you give the feedback instantly that right now you have written a code that is bad, instead of waiting for three months or four months and doing a test, we’re seeing how these tools are making changes.

So, we’re seeing tools like DevInspect and helping developers to actually make themselves better code writers.

Painter: Developers are not natural security experts. They need help.

Padinjaruveetil: Yeah, absolutely.

Additional resources

Gardner: That was my last question to you, Mark. Can you suggest places that people can go for resources or how can they start to prepare themselves better for a number of the issues that we have discussed today?

Painter: It’s almost on an individual basis. There are plenty of resources on the Internet. We provide training as well. Web application security is actually one of the best places for organizations to leverage Capgemini to do their web application security testing.

The job crunch is the number one concern that enterprises have right now as part of security in the enterprise. There’s a lack of qualified applicants, which says a lot when that’s a bigger concern than a data breach. We do a State of the SOC survey every year, and that was the result from the last one, which was a little surprising.

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But apart from outsourcing, you need to find those developers who have an interest in security in your organization, and you need to enable them to learn that and get better, because that’s who is going to be your security person in the future, and that’s a lot cheaper and a lot more cost-effective than going out and hiring an expert.

I know one thing, and it’s a good thing. I tell my boss repeatedly that if you have good security people, you’re going to have to pay them to keep them. That’s just the state of the market as it is now. So you have to leverage that and you have to rely on automation, but  even with automation, you’re still going to need that expert.

We are not yet at the point where you can just click a button and get a report. You still need somebody to look at it, and if you have interesting results, then you need that person who can go and examine those. It’s the 80/20 rule. You need that person who can go to the last 20 percent. You’re going to have automation, tools, and what have you to get to that first 80 percent, but you still need that 20 percent at the end.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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How efficient cloud networks help the smallest companies do brisk business with the largest

The next BriefingsDirect technology innovation thought leadership discussion examines new ways for small businesses to make and manage the connections that matter to them most using cloud-based networks to bring intelligent buying and digital business benefits to any type of company.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about the business of doing more commerce in the digital economy using cloud-based networks, please join me in welcoming Bob Rosenthal, Chairman and CEO of JP Promotional Products, Inc. in Ossining, New York, and Anne Kramer, CEO at Ergo Works, Inc. in Palo Alto, California. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Bob, what is JP Promotional Products? What do you do?

Rosenthal: JP Promotional Products is a distributor of imprinted promotional products. Anything you can put an imprint or logo on. We’ve had this company with my daughter for about 12 years now and we sell to small companies, large companies, anyone who buys promotional products from us.

Rosenthal

Gardner: Why is being digital, being on business networks, an important part of the way you find new clients?

Rosenthal: What this has given us is the ability to find the size of client that we could not ordinarily find. We’re getting into large corporations, and it is very difficult for a small company to get access to a large entity. Being on a network like SAP Ariba and leveraging services like Ariba Discovery has gotten us into some of these very large corporations.

Gardner: Anne, tell us about Egro Works.

Kramer: Ergo Works is a small, woman-owned company based in Palo Alto, California. We’re a full-service ergonomics company. We offer workstation evaluations and consulting, a complete line of ergonomic furniture, accessories and computer peripherals, as well as installation services. So, I would call it solution selling.

Gardner: And do you also share Bob’s challenge of trying to be seen and heard in a busy world, by big companies that perhaps don’t know about small vendors?

Kramer: Absolutely. It’s a challenge to get an audience with this group. They generally have established vendors, and trying to knock down those doors is challenging at best.

Gardner: We know that many of the buyers of goods are looking for increased automation. They’re looking for intelligence in that network and the partnerships and ecosystem that they play in. So they want to find people like you that have goods and services for them. What was it that you had to do in order to then be seen and heard, be and recognized among them?

Rosenthal: We joined Ariba Discovery, and that gave us the ability to search for leads as well as respond to matched leads. As a matter of fact, one of the first ones I got was about a half an hour after I paid for Ariba Discovery. It was a Fortune 100 Company. They were looking for a thousand pair of imprinted socks, something I knew we could do. It was a no-brainer. We established our relationship with the procurement manager. They never bought the socks, but we have a relationship now, and without Ariba Discovery, there was no way we could have done that.

Gardner: And is geography a barrier for you or you can do business with anyone, anywhere?

Rosenthal: We can do business with anyone, anywhere. The bulk of it is in the Continental US. We can ship to England or Canada and we do bring some product in from China as well.

Gardner: And for you, Anne, tell us about what you needed to in order to find clients.

Challenge of growing

Kramer: We’re located in Palo Alto, which is ground zero in Silicon Valley for ergonomics. So, we are well poised in that regard. Nonetheless, the challenge of growing a small business is ever present.

Kramer

One way that we’ve overcome that is to participate in online marketplaces. Specifically, what we’re excited about now, and why I’m here today, is the Ariba Spot Buy Program. This is going to give us a direct access to large companies that have been challenging for us to get into. It’s an exciting opportunity. Unlike other marketplaces that are geared to one-off end users, Ariba is geared toward large corporations; so we’re very excited.

Gardner: Can you give us a bit more about background and understanding of Ariba Spot Buy? These are not the usual contracts that are ongoing and repeatable, but are instances where there is a need, an ad-hoc need perhaps, in a large organization. A purchasing department has been tasked with doing this or maybe people directly in the company have got the authority to find and buy things on their own.

Kramer: That’s very well put. For example, we are currently an Ariba supplier with  several clients and we offer a static catalog. We often provide or make recommendations for products that are off catalog, and Ariba Spot Buy allows companies to buy products from vendors that they don’t currently have a contractual relationship with.

The niche that we’re in is a relatively small niche. So it may not warrant a company wanting to put together a catalog. This is an opportunity for them to buy these products, yet stay compliant within the Ariba ecosystem.

Gardner: Now, of course, a big approach to finding things nowadays is through search on the web and having a good website, and getting good rankings on the search engines is a big part of that. But it strikes me that you’re small, you’re not going to get the kind of traffic on your website that might elevate you in those search results, and you are also highly customizable. So you’re not just putting a big billboard up on the Internet, so to speak, and say, here we are.

You’re offering custom types of things, with promotional products in your case, Bob, and you probably want to hear a lot about each customer and tailor your services to them. How do you overcome the challenge of not being able to put a billboard up on the Internet, but also maintain the advantage of having highly customized products, Bob?

Rosenthal: Our own website has hundreds of thousands of items on it. It’s an industry-based website. If you’re searching for almost any product, you’ll find it on our site.

In terms of how we got people to our site, we did invest some money a few years ago. We decided to go with what’s called Local Search. We put money into being on the first page in New York State, the Tri-State area, and that’s gotten us a few large accounts.

What we’re looking for in Ariba Spot Buy is to bring in more business because a lot of our products are last minute. Someone will remember at the last minute, “Oh, I’m doing a trade show next week; I need a thousand widgets to give away. I forgot to buy them. I don’t want to go through a contract.” That’s where I think Ariba Spot Buy will help us because we can deliver products in 24 hours if we have to.

Network advantage

Gardner: So there is an advantage to being in a business network versus just the worldwide wild web?

Rosenthal: Right. What that gets us is more targeted corporations, hopefully larger entities. Where a small corporation might buy 100 pieces, the big corporation is going to buy thousands of pieces. That’s why we’ve joined Ariba Discovery and are looking at Ariba Spot Buy.

Gardner: And I suppose, as someone in a selling position, you’re also getting a lot more information about who you’re selling to, given that they’re in the network and you can see and access more about what they’re looking for?

Rosenthal: That’s true, and where that helps is that we tend to add a lot of creativity to it. If we know who you are and what you do, we can make recommendations for certain kind of products. If you’re a tractor company exhibiting at a show, maybe we’ll suggest a squeeze toy in the shape of a tractor. Knowing who you are and where you are helps us with our creativity in suggesting products.

Gardner: And for you, Anne, in the same vein, trying to be seen, heard, and understood in the Worldwide Web is perhaps a bit more daunting than on a business network. How do you overcome that need to customize and tailor your goods and services?

Kramer: Certain products lend themselves more to selling on the web than others, and same with online marketplaces. The visibility with  Ariba Spot Buy will give us the opportunity to interact with our customers to offer them custom products and get into project-based opportunities.

Gardner: We’re also seeing from SAP Ariba the desire to bring more collaboration embedded and automated into these applications and services. Also, with Guided Buying, they’re allowing the sellers to be part of an intelligence network, so that buyers can be led through the process and automation can be brought to bear. How do these new technological advantages affect you as a small businesses particularly, Anne?

Kramer: Technology helps us with new ways to bring our products to market and expose our offerings to a larger audience. That’s really the biggest benefit.

In addition, it helps us to expand our current relationships with our Ariba buyers. They can now buy off-catalog, which is a win-win. Technology also impacts the products that we sell. As technology changes, the products change in response to the latest mouse design or the material that a wrist rest is covered in, maybe it’s anti-microbial for instance. So technology has a huge impact on direct and indirect part of our business. 

Running the business
Gardner: Of course, it’s important for small businesses to have visibility into cash flow, when to expect payments, and how to bill accurately and appropriately. Any thoughts, Bob, on how this business network for you also adds to your own ability to run your business properly?

Rosenthal: In terms of technology, the biggest issue with us is the logo. Anyone can say they want a Bic pen. Where the technology should help us is in getting the art files from one point to the other and knowing, as far as things like cash flow, who we’re dealing with, that it’s a large corporation. Some use POs, some don’t, for these type of buys. It gives me more comfort that we are going to get paid.

It’s difficult to ask General Motors for a deposit for a $1,000 order, but we might ask the insurance broker down the street for that. So that comfort level of knowing we should be paid on a certain date is a big advantage.

Gardner: Anne, the same thing. Business visibility is important. Is there something about a business-network approach that’s beneficial to you in being able to run your business well?

Kramer: Well, specifically what I am excited about with Ariba Spot Buy is that all the purchases are made using a credit card, which we love because it helps us control our cash flow. We don’t have to go chasing after past-due invoices, and that time can be better spent selling more products. We love the fact that it’s all credit-card based.

Gardner: Are there any specific examples of actual customers that you found through the Ariba Discovery process in this online marketplace that would illustrate some of these points? You don’t have to name them necessarily, but maybe walk us through how it’s worked and how that’s different from the other approaches that you’ve had to find in customers, Bob?

Rosenthal: Well, the big account that we got, which I can’t name, has turned into a huge account for us. We’ve established a relationship with the procurement people, and I think that relationship has built this business with them over the last 18 months, because they have a confidence level in us, and we are confident in them that, a) we’re going to get paid, and paid on time, and b) it’s a continuing relationship.

We do a lot of one-offs. We get a hit on our website, I need something tomorrow, can you get it? We never hear from the people again but we get an order, which is great; we do a lot of that. But we also try and establish relationships and that’s what we get out of Discovery so far.

Gardner: As a small-business person myself, I know that you don’t want to push that rock up the hill every month. You want to have the recurring dependable revenue; it’s super important, right?

Kramer: Right. Ariba Spot Buy is an opportunity for ongoing and repeat business from companies participating in this technology.

Gardner: But this allows you to get the best of both worlds, which you can discover and find new interesting clients, but you can also maintain a steady flow from, from your installed base.

Kramer: That’s right. This technology offer us an opportunity to engage new corporate customers and get paid quickly with credit card payments.

Gardner: Thank you, Bob, and if people want to learn more about your organization, how might they do that?

Rosenthal: Our website is www.jppromoproducts.com or feel free to call us at 1-800-920-3451.

Gardner: Anne, how could organizations learn more about your company?

Kramer: They could go to our website at www.askergoworks.com or our toll free number 866-ASK-ERGO.

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Intralinks uses hybrid cloud to blaze a compliance trail across the regulatory mine field of data sovereignty

The next BriefingsDirect hybrid computing case study discussion explores how regulations around data sovereignty are forcing enterprises to consider new approaches to data location, intellectual property, and cloud collaboration services.

As organizations move beyond their on-premises data centers, regulation and data sovereignty issues have become as important as the technical requirements for their cloud infrastructure and applications.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn how organizations have been able to get the best of data control and protection — along with business agility — from hybrid cloud models, we’re joined Richard Anstey, CTO at Intralinks, and he’s based in London. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us about the trends that make data sovereignty so important as a consideration when organizations look at how and where to manage, house, and store their data.

Anstey: This is becoming a much more important topic. It has obviously been in the news very much recently in association with the Safe Harbor regulation having been effectively annulled by the European courts.

Anstey

This is the regulators catching up with the Internet. The Internet has been somewhat unregulated for a long time, and quite rightly, the national and regional authorities are putting in place the right protections to ensure that citizens’ data are looked after and treated with the respect they deserve.

So it’s becoming more important for companies to understand the regulatory environment, even those organizations that did not previously feel that they were subject to such regulation.

Gardner: So the pendulum seems to have swung from the Wild West Internet toward greater security oversight.  Do we expect more laws across more jurisdictions to make placement of data more restricted? Are we seeing this pendulum swing more toward regulation?

Anstey: Yes, it’s certainly swinging that way, and the big one for the European Region of course is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is the European Commission initiative to unify the regulations, at least across the European Union. But the pendulum is swinging toward a greater level of regulation.

Gardner: How about in Asia-Pacific (APAC) and North America, what’s happening there?

Global issue

Anstey: Post-Snowden, this has become much more of an issue globally, and certainly across APAC there have been some very specific regulations in place for sometime, Singapore Banking Authority being the famous one, but globally this is becoming much more of an important issue for companies to be aware of.

Gardner: So while the regulatory atmosphere is becoming more important for companies to keep track of, its also more onerous for them as businesses to comply. The Internet is still a very powerful tool and people want to take advantage of cloud models and compliant data lifecycle models. Tell us about Intralinks, and about how organizations can have the best of both protected data and cloud models.

Anstey: Intralinks is in the fortunate position of having been offering cloud services in highly regulated environments for almost 20 years now. Back when we were founded, which by the way was really before most people would do their shopping online, Intralinks was operating things called Virtual Data Rooms to facilitate very high value, market-moving transactions through effectively a cloud service. We didn’t call it cloud at that time; we called it software as a service (SaaS).

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But Intralinks has come from this environment. We’ve always been operating in highly regulated environments, and so we’re able to bring that expertise that we have built up over the last 20 years or so to bear on solving this problem for a wider range of organizations as the regulation really steps in to control a greater part of the services delivered over the Internet today.

Gardner: In a nutshell, how is it that you’re able to do, in a highly regulated environment, what people think of as putting everything in a cloud?

Anstey: Well, in a nutshell, it may be tricky, because there’s lot to it. There’s a lot of technology that goes into this. And there are a lot of dimensions around which you need to consider this problem. It’s not just about the physical location of data. Although that may be important, there are other dimensions. Physical location may be one thing to think about, but there’s another thing called logical location.

The logical location is defined as the location of the control point of the encryption as opposed to the location of highly encrypted data, which many people would argue is somewhat irrelevant. If it’s sufficiently encrypted, it doesn’t matter where it is. The location of the key is actually more important than who controls that key, and more important than where your encrypted data lives.

In fact, we all implicitly accept that principle. When you use your online bank, you don’t know the route that that information takes between your home computer and the bank. It may well be routed across the Atlantic, based on conditions of the Internet. You just don’t know, and yet we implicitly accept that because it’s encrypted in transit, it doesn’t really matter what route it takes.

So there is the physical location and the logical location, but there is still also the legal location, which might be to what jurisdiction this information pertains. Perhaps it pertains to a citizen of a certain country, and so there is a legal location angle to consider.

And there is also a political location to consider, which may be, for example, the jurisdiction under which the service provider is operating and where the headquarters of that service provider is.

Four dimensions

There are four dimensions already, but there is another one as well, which is the time dimension. While it may be suitable for you to share information with a third party in perhaps a different jurisdiction for a period of time, the moment that business agreement comes to an end, or perhaps the purpose or the project for which that information was being used has come to an end, you also need to be able to clear it up.

You need to tidy up and remove those things over time and make sure that just because that particular information-sharing activity was valid at one point, it doesn’t mean that that’s true forever, and so you need to take the responsibility to clear it up. So there are technologies that you can bring to bear to make that happen as well.

Gardner: It sounds as if there is a full spectrum, a marketplace, of different solutions and approaches to suit whatever particular issues an organization needs in order to satisfy the regulatory, audit, and other security requirements.

Tell us about how you have been working with HPE to increase this marketplace and solve data sovereignty issues as they become more prominent in more places.

Anstey: The thing that HPE really helps us with is the fact that while we’ve been able for quite a long time to have data centers in multiple regions — as the regulation and the requirements of our customers grow — we need to be even more agile with bringing new workloads up and running in different locations.

With HPE Helion OpenStack we’re able to spin up a new environment — a new data center perhaps, or a new service — to run in a new location far more quickly and more cost effectively than we would otherwise be able to if we were starting from the ground-up.

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Gardner: So it’s important to not just be able to take advantage of cloud conceptually, but to be able to move those cloud data centers, have the fungibility, if you will, of a cloud infrastructure, a standardized approach that can be accepted in many different data-center locations, many different jurisdictions.

Is that the case, and what can we expect for the depth and reach of your services? Are you truly global?

Anstey: We are certainly truly global. We’ve been operating right across the world for a number of years now. The key elements that we require from this infrastructure are things like workload portability and the ability to plug into additional service providers at any time we need to be able to create a truly distributed platform.

In order to do that, you need some kind of cloud operating system, and that’s what we feel we get from the HPE Helion OpenStack technology. It means that we have become much more portable to move our services around whenever we need to.

Gardner: When you’re an organization and you know that there’s that data portability, that there’s a true global footprint for your data that you can comply with the regulations, what does that do for you as a business?

How does this, from a business perspective, benefit your bottom line? How does it translate into business terms?

Enormous uncertainty

Anstey: The key thing to realize is that there has been an enormous amount of uncertainty, and in a way, the closure of the Safe Harbor agreement has been a good thing in that there was always some doubt over its applicability and its suitability. If you’ll forgive the pun, there was a cloud hanging over it. When you remove that, you still have to get a little bit more certainty, of … “Well, that thing definitely doesn’t work and so we need to have a different structure.”

Nevertheless, what happens in that environment of uncertainty is that people start to play it safe and they start to think, “This cloud thing is a bit scary. Maybe we should just do it all ourselves, or maybe we should only consider private cloud deployments.” When you do that, you cut off the huge options and agility that’s available from using the cloud to its full extent.

What would be a bad thing is if, as the pendulum swings, as you described, toward regulation, people retreat and give up and say, “This Internet thing, we don’t want to do that. We’re going to reverse the trends and the huge technological advances that we’ve been able to leverage over the last 10 years of growth of cloud.”

We believe that by building technology in the way that we are able to construct it, with all of those options associated with ways in which you can demonstrably prove that you are responsibly looking after data over time, you don’t have to sacrifice the agility of the cloud in order to adhere to the regulations as they come in.

Gardner: We’ve talked about data sovereignty from a geographic perspective, but how about vertical industries? Are there certain industries that require that global reach, but also need to be highly regulated?

Anstey: The vast majority of the global banks are our customers already. We also have a very large footprint in the life sciences, which often has a similar nature in terms of the level of regulation, especially if you’re dealing with patient data in the field of clinical trials, for example.

But the reality is that, as this pendulum swings, the net is cast wider and wider for the regulation, to the point where any company that deals with personal data and needs to use that data for legitimate business purposes will now be covered by regulation. This isn’t just guidance now.

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When we get through to the next level of EU regulation, there are some serious fines, including criminal penalties for executives and fines of up to two percent of global revenue, which really makes people wake up. It will make a far wider group of companies wake up than the previous ones who knew that they were operating in a strict regulatory framework.

Gardner: So in other words, this probably is going to pertain to many more industries than they may have thought. This is really something that’s going to hit home for just about everybody.

Anstey: Absolutely. Every industry becomes a regulated industry at that point, when to do business you need to handle the type of data that gets covered by the regulation, especially if you are operating in the EU, but as we described, with more to follow.

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ITSM automation and intelligence gains deliver self-service help to more users

The next BriefingsDirect IT support thought leadership discussion highlights how automation, self-service and big data analytics are combining to allow IT help desks to do more for less.

We’ll learn how automation and ITSM-driven insights endow help desk personnel with more knowledge and provide a single point of support for end users, regardless of their needs while still catering to their preferred method of help.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

Here to share the latest on how IT support is advancing in the era of bring your own device (BYOD), cloud, and tight budgets, are three experts, David Blackeby, Program Solution Owner for Cloud Services at Sopra Steria, based in the UK; Diana Wosik, Group Program Manager at Sopra Steria, based in Poland, and Mark Laird, Group Technical Architect at Sopra Steria, based in the UK. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Let’s start at a high level and talk about how support has changed, and why enabling self-service is so important nowadays. Mark, why is self-service such an important issue when it comes to IT help desk?

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Laird: For us, there are probably a number of issues. We have a range across our customer base, from millennials, who are used to dealing with websites, mobile, tablets, who really don’t want to call a call center, and don’t want to end up talking to somebody on the phone, through to the legacy users who are much more used to picking up the phone, asking for help, and talking through a problem.

So they’re looking for a more human approach, human interaction, versus the millennials who want to fix it themselves, want to do it quickly, and really don’t want to talk to somebody about it. That’s introducing a range of problems and challenges.

Gardner: It sounds as if you need to deliver support in a spectrum of ways, but perhaps with a common core to that support function.

Underlying answer

Laird: The underlying answer to the problem, whatever the problem is, is likely to be the same. If you have a log-on issue, it will be a password reset or an account issue. It’s how you get that information out to the person who has the challenge.

Laird

If it’s a person on the phone, it’s easy enough to talk them through it. But if you have somebody who is coming through a self-service portal, you have to provide them with that same information. So yes, at times, you connect a single call, a single database, and send your knowledge environment to a range of callers.

Gardner: David, we’re being called on here to deliver support across the spectrum of modalities, methods, or even latency, but at the same time, many of the world governments are asking for austerity and savings in their budgets for IT. How are we able to reconcile this need for more variety and the delivery of help desk services, but cutting costs at the same time? Is there any way to reconcile them?

Blackeby: It’s part of the core challenge in the current world with austerity, where both our public and private customers are looking at how they can do more for less money.

IT has continuing cost pressures to reduce cost and overhead of providing IT.  At the same time, we talk about new methods of self-service, different types of platforms and different types of devices and this multi-channel effect that costs time, effort and money to invest in these technologies.

Blackeby

That’s the underlying driver for how it comes down to the service provider to do that. The only way we can do that is looking at industrializing that service delivery and automating processes, moving activities that may have previously been done by Level 2 and Level 3 resources. We’re looking at how we can move those to cheaper or lower-cost resources, such as a service desk, or in an ideal world, remove them entirely from the cost chain and drive the automation. So the activity increases the speed and the agility while reducing the cost of delivering the service.

Gardner: Diana, another variable in the mix here is the increased use of mobile devices, of fluidity of the user in terms of their geography, their location, even the time of day that they might be working, and of course there is a plethora of devices, if you want to bring your own device organization. How is mobility affecting this equation for a more complex approach to help desk?

Wosik: Mobility is very important nowadays, because everybody uses mobile devices, every single day. We need to ensure a single point of contact, so they all can approach their help desk at

Wosik

any time they need, and they need the availability 24×7 for that.

Gardner: So, we’ve established that we have a need for more variability, addressing more types of help from more types of users. Tell me a bit more, Mark, about automation and self-service and how they support one another? What is it about automating processes that endows the user with more access to help, but then maybe that same feedback loop between the user and the support infrastructure can be brought to bear on future issues?

Laird: Automation is doing the same thing in a repeated, controlled fashion. Whether it’s a password reset or the delivery of a service or a server, what you’re doing is scripting. You’re putting into a workflow a process that a user can call on. Whether that user is an end user, an end customer, or in fact one of the operations team, it allows them to do that fairly standard process in a repeated quality controlled fashion.

And that can allow lower cost, potentially, as David said, bringing the tasks from maybe a qualified Level 3 expensive support person into an operations center, or in fact, maybe on to the self-service portal, where you’re not having to give access to systems to end users, but you are allowing them to run a script.

Double benefit

Gardner: David, perhaps you could help me understand why self-service is a benefit to both the receiver of the help, the end user, as well as the organization. What is it about self-service that refines process and benefits the deliverer of the help, but at the same time, gives more speed or perhaps options to the receiver of the help?

Blackeby: Essentially it supports both sides of the equation. From an end user perspective, it’s that instant gratification, I can go into a centralized portal. I can do my search or raise my request and I can be instantly satisfied with the response. I could be presented with a knowledge article that tells me how to fix my particular issue.

If I’m requesting a new service to be delivered through orchestration in the back end, I can make my request, and the orchestration comes in and drives the automated delivery of that service to me. So it increases the agility for the user and it reduces delays.

From the other side of the equation, looking at it from a service provider’s perspective, the more work the user can do themselves takes cost away from us as a service provider.

Historically, a user would have called the service desk, so as a part of that conversation you need to understand who the user is to provide them the service. Make sure it’s a service that they are potentially allowed to have and sort of help through the process. That means that we need a body to answer the phone, and the amount of time that we spend on a typical call from the user drives the cost from a support center perspective.

Even if you have a scenario where a user using the portal today, and still need ultimately a human interaction to deliver that service, we already know who they are, and will have asked relevant questions upfront which means we don’t have to ask the questions later on down the line when we try to deliver a service. That reduces the handling time by our agents and by the people who are delivering them the service.

Gardner: Before we dig into the how you do this, now that we have established why it’s an important new aspect of helpdesk, Diana, perhaps you can tell us a little bit about Sopra Steria, the organization, and to what degree they are supporting help desks in your markets?

Wosik: I can give you a good example of how it works in Poland and how the automation helps us out regarding the functionality of help desk.

We apply quite a few solutions, like virtual machine (VM) provisioning that has been automatically provisions the machines aligned to customer needs. There is a monitoring tool that is automated. So not only we monitor whatever is going on, but we’re also able to answer the needs very quickly, thanks to our automation services.

And then there’s the thing regarding the automatic deployment of our releases. Whenever there’s a new release of the system, we don’t need a bunch of people who are going to work on it. We can also deploy it very quickly in production, and that helps us to bring the solution as quickly as possible to our customer.

Higher-level view

Gardner: Could you give us a higher-level view of Sopra Steria, the organization, and to what degree help desk support is part of a larger portfolio of services?

Laird: We’re a European IT company. We run IT for a wide range of European customers. We deliver services. We write software. We do business process outsourcing. Essentially, if there’s a computer involved in there somewhere, that’s what we do.

We have a presence in 27 countries across Europe, in India, and then smaller offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. We have 36,500 staff, and an annual turnover of about 3.5 billion euros. So, we’re a reasonably large company, one of the top 10 European IT companies.

For us, the service desk is the single point of contact. For all of our customers, that is their point of contact with us, whether it’s through the Global Delivery Center in Poland, where we’re offering French, German, English, small amounts of Spanish and Italian, or through some of the in-country service desks, such as the ones we have in France and the UK. So that is our single point of contact and it’s of key importance to us.

Blackeby: Just to follow on from that, the key piece of that is that it’s an intelligent service desk as opposed to a help desk. It’s really about having the phones manned by intelligent people who are able to both try and fix or resolve issues straight away, as opposed to just logging a call, creating a ticket, and passing it off to someone else.

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Gardner: How is it that we’re providing those individuals on the front line with better knowledge? Are they getting more tools? Are they getting more data? Is this really just correlating a single point of access to the existing data? Is it all of the above? How do we empower those people to do this difficult help desk job better?

Blackeby: In the same way that we try to have a single point of entry for users, for a portal, it’s really the same piece for our support staff as well.

While there are many systems that underpin our service delivery, the key element we try to strive for is that the operators have a single place to work. It’s very much thorough the integration of various systems and data sources into a centralized repository, so that the person that’s trying to act on a ticket, request, or other activity has everything they need in one place, so they can immediately see what the issue is, see what the request is, and then deliver the service to that end user.

Gardner: It strikes me that whether it’s a help desk’s person or the end user, the more they use this, the more the data can be collected, the more knowledge can be harnessed from the interactions, and therefore brought back through a feedback loop into the next level of support.

Is the cost savings on this ultimately about you’re better able to understand the market because of the self-service, because of these portal approaches? Is that a big part of it?

Key items

Blackeby: It feeds into that. If you’re looking at industrializing or automating, you’re really looking for repeatable activities that are done time and time again. The data helps to support that. It identifies suitable candidates that are high volume, high throughput transactions that are really the key things that you want to focus on in terms of introducing automation into the environment, or automation into task elements in a given process. So, over time, it’s pretty much what we are doing.

As Mark mentioned, we’re a managed service provider (MSP), providing the services across many customers. So, a lot of the economies of scale we get are best practices that we apply in one account or particular scenarios or issues that we see in one, we can see correlations in other customer accounts as well. So we can bring those efficiencies and bring that investment we make and automation through our back office processes to benefit multiple customers.

Wosik: What is very well known right now is big data and smart analytics that will help us to gather all the information from our customers, so the more tickets and the more incidents are logged, the more information you can gather as well. This is gathered and analyzed. This is when we can provide more accurate and quicker answers to our customers. It’s something that has really impacted our quality of service.

Gardner: Let’s look also back to the systems, when we think about gathering information, more and more big data gathered from logs and other output data from the systems themselves, from the platforms. How are you at Sopra Steria managing the knowledge gathering from your systems and then applying that into this other knowledge base about the activities on your help desk and from the self-help portal?

Laird: We’re looking at some of the new technologies around smart analytics and big data, but we’re starting with some of the simpler approaches, which as David alluded to and as Diana mentioned earlier, are just the simple high-volume transactions, the things that we do on a regular basis that are maybe quality issues or maybe they are just time consuming, but those are the key ones we’re after.

Then, over the next three to six months, as we move into some of the newer technologies around smart analytics, for example, we’ll be taking some of the incidents and things coming into service desk, into the service management system, and looking at those and doing problem management on them.

Have we suddenly got an influx of incidents around our exchange platform? Is that actually indicating that there is an underlying problem or an underlying system error that we need to fix?

It’s starting to link all the various systems, whether it’s the business service monitoring system to the back end that the operations teams are using, or the service management platforms at the front that our service desk people are using, pulling all those together, tying them in with, for example, the configuration management platform, so that people are seeing the same information, both from a front-end user impacting view, or from a back-end infrastructure and service view.

Gardner: And I should think that would also help in more agility to do root-cause analysis and making it faster to time for resolution.

Automate and fix

Laird: Exactly. That back goes back to when we fix problems, close incidents, and if there’s a resolution in there, doing the analysis on them to identify common fixes. If an incident comes in or a particular type of incident comes in and we always do the same thing to it, we can automate that. We can actually either get the service desk or help desk people access to that quick fix or just automate it right at the start, so when that issue occurs, we automate and fix.

In some cases, that’s moving out of the customer’s view completely. We’re fixing it almost before there’s an impact.

Gardner: We’ve talked a bit about making these help desk approaches better from the end-user perspective, empowering the personnel in the help desk organization itself, and finding some new technologies and analysis benefits to propel that forward, but I would like to go back to the issue of cost.

How are we wringing out more cost from this process, perhaps things like identifying automation and what’s called shift left, better or earlier in the process. So, where are we targeting to get the most results when it comes to cost reduction in all of this?

Blackeby: It really talks about how people do transactions, what things are continually occurring that have a high amount of touch points to them. Some of that comes out through time.

One of the challenges we have when we take on a new customer is that you don’t have the excellent benefit of hindsight around how the organization works and what their common problems are. So, as we take on a new customer or a new contract, we have the ability to go and talk to their existing service provider or their in-house person. A lot of that comes out over time.

There are some standard things that we can recognize, because we have similar customers in similar marketplaces or industries and things that we would expect to get from the outset, and by looking at things like password reset tools and things like that are common and applicable across all types of clients.

Then, it’s a case of looking at your volumetrics over time, your repeatable activities, incidents and requests, identifying how can we drive the agility and improve the service levels that we’re delivering, and at the same time, reduce cost.

Take a simple thing like software deployment to users machines, historically, that might have been a call to the service desk. They might have dispatched a desk-side engineer or used remote control to be able to connect with a user’s device to go and install the software.

These days, more and more commonly, we can use software distribution, or automated software push tools, that don’t require human interaction at all. We can automatically deploy software to the user.

Zero-touch environment

That moves into that zero-touch type of environment. Through a portal request, we can manage the workflow around any approval activities. Then once fully approved, through the orchestration at the back-end, we can interface by software deployment solution to automate the delivery of that software to that endpoint device.

And we support many different types of devices now. We’ve seen more and more cases where not only are we talking about physical desktops or laptops, but also around how we manage mobile devices and tablet type devices as well, using mobility and mobile device management solutions.

Gardner: Let’s look at some of these solutions in practice. Sopra Steria has been doing this for some time and across a large marketplace. Do you have any examples that demonstrate when you can do this well that you get those benefits of self-help, common core data, more knowledgeable help desk, reduce costs, all at the same time?

Laird: One of the solutions we looked at in Poland, certainly around automation, was a really simple challenge that the operations team had as part of our Polish operation. Every morning, backups from a particular customer was taking them in the region of one hour to produce a backup report, look at the backup that had failed, re-run backups as appropriate, and then if backups had failed maybe consistently for a couple of days, escalating that out to support team.

We automated the whole thing. It’s all automated using HPE Operations Orchestration. The whole process now takes one of the team about five minutes in the morning, and it’s really a case of checking the output from the system.

So, we’ve saved somewhere in the region of just under an hour everyday for one person. It probably took two or three days to code the solution, but we’re saving a significant amount of time every day. We’re getting a much better quality report, and we’re able to pass that information out to our second-line and third-line teams earlier in the day, it gives them much more time to fix things.

One of the things that we’ve looked at now is automating the re-run of backups overnight. Rather than letting them go to maybe two or three days, they’re fixed overnight, and we run them within the backup window. It’s improving quality to the customer and a having significant impact on savings to the operations team.

Gardner: You mentioned the use of the HPE tools. Are there any other HPE platforms or approaches that are helping you bring in this common data. We talked about the analysis earlier that also helps in this equation of doing more with less.

HPE partner

Laird: We’re an HPE partner. We have been for over 10 years now, and we have quite a range of HPE tools across the portfolio, whether that’s from things like the Application Lifecycle Manager, through to HPE Service Manager.

We also have solutions like OMi doing things like event correlation, where we have events coming in from the monitoring solutions, whether that’s from HPE SiteScope or Operations Manager or from third party tools, like SCCM and some of the Nagios tools.

OMi is correlating those events and passing through to the service desk and the operations center the ones that actually need to be looked at. We’re filtering out more than 50 percent, 60 percent of the alerts. It reduces our cost. We’re filtering those alerts out at a much earlier point in the chain, and with that, we’re only raising incidents for ones that actually need to be escalated up to the teams.

We’re using tools and technology, to keep costs down and reduce the costs as far as we can.

Gardner: So as we think about being able to future-proof the support services, and by that I mean being able to adapt to a millennial audience, more distribution points, more types of help desk and automation, and that single portal, we also need to be thinking about being backwards compatible. Some organizations do want more of that human touch, the interactions, and perhaps some of the government organizations are interested in that as well.

What is it about the future direction of your services at Sopra Steria, some of the tools and technologies that you are employing from HPE, that allows you to feel confident about being both future proof and backwards compatible for your support?

Blackeby: One of the challenges that are coming more to the forefront these days is probably the adoption of cloud services. It’s a disruptive influence on traditional IT and how IT is delivered.

It’s a challenge for us the service providers to adapt to these. You’re talking about environments that can be built in minutes, bringing a whole new way of working, very fluid environments with auto-scaling where the number of resources that we are supporting and managing is growing and shrinking dynamically over time. So that’s really had a big sort of impact on how we deliver service.

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We’ve recognized this and are looking at how we transform the service delivery. We’re becoming more reliant on the data that supports the service. So it’s very much around how we manage what’s out there, with a heavy reliance on things like configuration management systems, and discovery of IT resources.

As Mark said, there are things like event correlation, looking at patterns, trends and events so that we can increase the agility and really manage much higher volumes of applications, of servers and of users with a smaller number of people or with the same number of people.

Gardner: It is very exciting a lot is going on.

Tools and technologies

Blackeby: As a ratio you might have a scenario of a support person looking after an average 40 servers to now having to deal with realms of managing, so there are a 100-plus servers, but it’s only through the deployment of the tools and technologies that we can do that.

But at the same time, we still have a large legacy estate and legacy clients and we still need to support. So it’s really looking at how come we engineer our processes so that irrespective of what we are talking about legacy physical server workloads or perhaps on premise virtualized workloads as well as things that might be spun up inside Amazon Web Services or in Microsoft Azure public cloud environments that we provide that consistent level of service and service delivery irrespective of where the service is located or in which format it is delivered back to the customer or users.

Gardner: When I speak to developer organizations and IT production organizations operations, they’re seeing a compression and a large degree of collaboration between development and operations. Thus, the DevOps trend.

But when I listen to you, I’m hearing also a compression between operations and help desk in such a way that it benefits the entire IT process in a more automated and the more software-defined and the more data that’s made available, the tighter that compression seems to get. Am I perhaps describing seeing this idea of help desk, support and operations becoming more collaborative, more tightly aligned?

Laird: The whole concept of the operations team being hidden away in a back room and the service desk being the public face is changing. They’re becoming much more tightly aligned. Things that the operations team is doing have an almost immediate impact on what the service desk is looking at, and the service desk needs to have access to really all the information the operations team has got.

When the user is on the phone and has a problem with a service, it’s good if the service desk can actually say, “Yes, we know there’s a problem and we know what the problem is. We have an estimated fix time of 15 minutes.” That gives the user the warm feeling that you’re in control and you know what you’re doing.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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