Bridging the educational divide–How business networks level the playing field for those most in need

The next BriefingsDirect panel discussion explores how Step Up For Students (SUFS), a non-profit organization in Florida, has collaborated with SAP Ariba to launch MyScholarShop, a digital marketplace for education that bridges the information gap and levels the playing field for those students most in need.

Now assisting some 10,000 K-12 special needs and low-income students, the user-friendly marketplace empowers parents and guardians to find and purchase the best educational services for their children. In doing so, it also helps maximize availability of scholarship funds to enhance their learning.

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

Here to share more about how this first-of-a-kind solution actually works, are panelists Jonathan Beckham, Vice President of Technology Strategy and Innovation at Step Up For Students in Jacksonville, Florida; Mike Maguire, Global Vice President of New Market Development at SAP Ariba, and Katie Swingle, a Florida Gardiner Scholarship Program recipient. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Mike, there’s no doubt that technology has transformed procurement. We’ve gone from an emphasis on efficiency and spend to seeking better user experiences and more analytics capabilities. We’re also entering a new era where we see that businesses are trying to do “good,” in addition to doing “well.”

You had a very personal revelation about this a few years ago. Tell us about why doing well and good can go hand-and-hand?

Maguire: I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Jonathan and the SUFS team for both personal and professional reasons. First, I am a parent of a special needs young adult. My wife, Carole, and I have a 19-year-old daughter, Allyson, and we have lived with having no special needs solutions out there that help optimize the spend for such extra things as tuition, educational supplies, and services.

Mike Maguire

Maguire

If you go to a hospital for surgery or you need medications, there’s always somebody there to help you with the process. But when you go into this world of tuition reimbursement and educational optimization, there’s no guidance for how that spend should be effectively executed. So now, many years later in my professional life, it is terrific to have the opportunity to use a solution like SAP Ariba SNAP to help SUFS in their mission and open that up to parents through the Ariba supplier network.

Gardner: Tell us how cloud applications and the SAP Ariba business network platform are structured and architected that lends them to this kind of marketplace-plus benefit?

Maguire: Networks and cloud apps at their very core are about connecting people, processes, and information in a way that’s simple and transparent to all those who are involvedwith the outcome of making smart choices. We’ve done this for multinational corporations for years. They end up saving money on their bottom lines by having good information to make smart choices. Now we’re doing the exact same thing to optimize the bottom line for families.

Gardner: Jonathan, at SUFS, you probably faced the same kinds of challenges that many businesses do. They don’t want manual processes. They don’t want to be bogged down with time-consuming approaches. They need to broaden their horizons, to see all available assets, and then analyze things better. But were there particular problems that you were trying to solve when it came to using marketplaces like Ariba’s?

Optimized Opportunities

Beckham: We’re trying to solve a lot of problems by optimizing processes for our families. It’s very important to us that we choose a partner that provides a really great user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). You know, we’re all about not just optimizing our bottom line — like you think of for traditional corporations — we’re about optimizing the experience.

Jonathan-Beckham

Beckham

Any funds or any resources that we gain, we’re about putting those back into the families, and investing those, and helping them to accelerate their educational path or learning goals. So that was really something that we were looking to do and use this process for.

Gardner: Tell us about your organization and MyScholarShop. Was this something that depended on electronic digital marketplaces at the outset, or was it something you have now greatly enhanced?

Beckham: At SUFS, we provide scholarships for low-income and special needs students in kindergarten through grade 12. As part of that, we administer a program called an educational savings account. That allows parents and students to customize their learning options, to go out and buy instructional materials, to go out and buy curriculum or use tuition fees or technology and as part of that process. It’s largely been a reimbursement process for families. They go out, purchase services — using their own funds — and then seek reimbursement.

We were then really searching for a platform — something to change that model for us. The number one need was to not have to take money out of our families’ pockets. And then number two was to connect them with high-quality providers and suppliers so they can find better options.

Gardner: In a business environment, it’s about matching buyers and sellers — and then bringing a value-add to that discussion, with collaboration. This powerfully also enhances the ability for people who are looking to find the right place to donate scholarships and to provide educational support. How has the network helped on the seller side, if you will, when it comes to non-profits and charitable organizations? Do they see this as something as beneficial, too?

Suppliers Sought, and Found

Beckham: Absolutely. We’ve had a lot of great conversations with suppliers that have approached us, and with some that we’ve approached directly. There are a lot of terrific products that are out there for students with special needs that we wanted to bring into this network. And some of them are already on the Ariba Network, which was great for us.

But, at the same time, one of the things that we looked for is optimizing our spend. From a reporting standpoint, we wanted insights to help negotiate better pricing. And using the Ariba Network does that for us. So when we engage with suppliers, we know if we can get free shipping, or if we get discounts and better payment terms. Those are all things that we can pass on directly to our families and to the students. We’re a non-profit. We’re not looking to make extra money. We’re looking to reduce the cost, labor, and the processes for our families in our program.

Gardner: Katie, your son, Gregory, is a Florida Gardiner Scholarship Program recipient. Tell us how you came to learn about these services, and how they have been beneficial and impactful for you and your family.

Swingle: As a Gardiner Scholarship recipient, we are under the special needs side of what SUFS does. My son is diagnosed with autism. He has been since he was three years old. So it’s been quite a journey for us, lots of ups and downs.

SAP Ariba Live, 2018, Las Vegas, USA

Swingle

And what we came to find through our journey was needing the right educational environment. We needed the right educational tools if we were going to make progress. And unfortunately public school was just not the right option at that time, especially in those early years when you’re trying to help them the most.

SUFS is the administrator of our scholarship, and that’s how I became involved with them. So we go and we spend our money on tuition, products, and different therapies for Gregory. We pay for them. And then SUFS — because he’s a recipient of the scholarship — reimburses us for those. It’s been absolutely life changing for us.

Once we got Gregory into the right environment, with the school that he is in, with the right therapists, and with the right products — it felt like everything started to come together. All of the disappointment that we had had over and over and over again over the years was starting to go away, and it was exciting.

I was meeting my son for the first time — to be quite honest. We had had so many roadblocks, and all of the sudden this child was blossoming. And it was because we had the financial means from SUFS and from the scholarship to put him in the right environment where he could blossom.

And it’s been amazing ever since then. The trajectory for my child’s life has changed. We went from a pretty dire prognosis to …  I don’t know where he’s going to be, but I know it’s going to be great. And we’re just really excited to be a part of this on the ground level.

Gardner: And for those in our audience who might not be that familiar with autism,there can be a great amount of improvement when the right processes, services, and behavioral therapies are brought to bear. For those who don’t understand autism, it is a different way of being “wired,” so to speak, but you can work with that. These young folks can learn new ways to solve many problems that they might not have been able to solve on their own. So, getting those services is huge.

Jonathan, are we just talking about scholarships or you are also allowing families and individuals to find the services? Are we at the point where we’re linking services in the marketplace as well as the funding? How does it work?

Share the Wealth of Data

Beckham: That’s a great question. At SUFS we have an amazing department called the Office of Student Learning, and these are tried-and-true educators who have been in classrooms, and administrators that also work with professional development with teachers throughout the State of Florida.

As part of that, they’re helping us to identify some of these high-quality suppliers that are available. They’re really helping us with the SAP Ariba’s Guided Buying capabilities to curate and customize that platform for our individuals. So, we have great visions that we share with SAP Ariba, and we’re very happy to have a partner that is helping to make recommendations around the products and services.

All of the sudden, this child was blossoming. And it was because we had the financial means from SUFS and from the scholarship to put him in the right environment.

For example, if Katie and her family identify a great therapist, or a great technology tool that can help her son, then why can’t we make those recommendations to other families in similar situations? It becomes a sort Amazon-like buying experience — you know, where people who purchase one thing may be interested in purchasing other similar things.

Identifying those suppliers that are high quality, whose products and services are working for our families – we can now help make recommendations around those.

Gardner: Mike, as we know from the business world, marketplaces can develop organically — but they can then go viral. So that the more buyers there are then the more sellers come up, and the more sellers there are, the richer the environment – and the more viable the economics become.

Are we starting to see that with autism support services? Some of the recent studies show that somewhere close to one in 40 boys are autistic, and perhaps one in 190 girls are autistic. We’re talking about a fairly large portion of our society, around the world. So, how does this work as a marketplace? And is it large enough to be sustainable?

Autism-Support Savings

Maguire:I think it absolutely is. When we think about the Ariba Network, we’re about like-minded people and like-minded causes optimizing their goals.And in the area of disabilities that I’ve seen, technology is a godsend for these kids growing up in this generation.

When you think about technologies and connectedness — which the Ariba Network is all about  — in the disabled community, the use of such technologies as driverless cars can bring new levels of freedom to this population of differently abled people. As these children become adults, this is just going to open up to complete independence that the prior generations never knew.

Ariba Network is about like-minded causes optimizing their goals. In the area of disabilities, technology is a godsend for these kids growing up in this generation.

Gardner: It seems to me that if this works for an autism marketplace that there are many other flavors or variations on the theme — whether it’s other sorts of disabilities or learning challenges.

Maguire: An example: I am a board member of the Massachusetts Arc and we spend most of our time working out policy and legislation for independent skills and options for the full spectrum of a lifespan.

When you become 18 and you are out of the school system, you have the same exact requirements to optimize Social Security disability payments. The same exact challenges around an entitlement that a young adult gets at 18 years old, probably with some help from their parents. It goes to their own account because they are young adults.

How do you optimize that spend, right? How do you optimize that for the different things to make for better life skills and tools? I believe that MyScholarShop could be extended well beyond K-12 because there’s a need for a lifetime of spend optimization for intellectually challenged people.

Gardner: Jonathan, this was introduced in January 2018, and your larger implementation is slated for the 2018-2019 school year. What should we expect in the next year or two?

Beckham: The program we’re talking about with Katie is the Gardiner Scholarship Program, and we have about 10,000 students there. It’s about $100 million in scholarships that we utilize. But next year we’re actually looking to bring in the Florida Tax Credit Program as well.

These are lower-income families, and about 100,000 students, and we’re actually at some $630 million in spend this year. As we grow with this program, and we look for high quality suppliers and providers, we look to bring both of those together ultimately so that we can use all of that data, use all those recommendations to help many, many more families.

Gardner: And the scope beyond Florida? Is this going to be a state, regional, or national program, too?

National Expansion

Beckham: We already have a subsidiary in Alabama. We also work with the State of Illinois. We’ve worked with other states in the past, and we absolutely have plans to help provide this service and help expand this nationwide so we can help many, many more students.

Gardner: Mike, any more to offer in terms of how this expands beyond its base?

Maguire: One of the things that expands is the connectedness to the network. And this is going to unleash availabilities and capabilities for not only the people of intellectual needs but for the elderly. I mean, we can talk about this for every piece of the population that has a need for assistance in this space.

Gardner: Katie, any thoughts about where you like to see it go, or how you think be people should be aware of it?

Swingle: SUFS and other organizations are trying to spread the word about educational choice and education savings accounts specifically like mine, the Gardiner or the Florida Tax Scholarship. There are states that don’t have anything at all available to families like this. I’m so blessed to live in Florida, which has been one of the more progressive states to offer this kind of service.

I hope the success of the network gets people talking across the nation. They can then push their legislators to start looking into this. I’m just a Florida mom. But there’s a mom in California or Washington State who has no options, and I hope that she would hear about this and be able to push her legislators to open this up to even more families.

Gardner: Jonathan or Mike, this also strikes me as a really great example of a public-private cooperation — of leveraging a little bit of what government can offer but also financial support in a marketplace in the private sector. Let’s tease that out a little bit.

Parent-friendly purchasing

Maguire: I think through this a lot. Traditionally, when a company buys procurement software, it is being justified based upon all the savings of getting rid of maverick spend, that all spend comes under management, and that’s what the Return on Investment (ROI) is based on.

The key piece of that ROI is adoption by end-users. What we’re finding now as we go into the mid-market with good partners like Premikati and SUFS is that you can’t force adoption. But the only way you get the savings in the ROI is if everyone is a procurement services user. And that means you need a good user buying experience that is very natural — and actually fun.

The end-users are thousands of moms and dads. If their user experience is not much fun, if it’s not that easy, it’s not going to be used — and the whole pyramid of results will break down.

We’re now in an environment with SUFS where it’s not about, “Hey, our people in human resources are using the SAP Ariba system,” or, “The sales guy is using the SAP Ariba system.” Their end-users are thousands of moms and dads. And those moms and dads have to have an experience just like they’re buying from home, buying at any website. And if it’s not much fun, if it is not that easy, it’s not going to be used — and the whole pyramid of results will break down.

Gardner: It’s like Metcalfe’s Law, whereby the network is only as powerful as the number of the people on the network. You have to have the right user experience in order for adoption to take off.

Let’s go back to Jonathan to that public-private sector issue. How does this work in terms of local governments and also in the private sector?

Empowered Education 

Beckham: This is the way that we see educational choice throughout the country happening right now. You see a lot of states that don’t have any options out there for the students. You see some that are running them from the government side of things. And then you see some that are very successful like SUFS — legislated to have an opportunity for these educational choice programs.

But it’s running as a very slim non-profit. We only take 3 percent of our funds to administer our program. We’re a very high Charity Navigator-rated program, so we have an organization that’s really looking to empower our families, empower our students, and use our funds the best way that we can.

And then we’re able to find really high-quality partners like SAP Ariba to help us implement these things. So you put all those things together and I think you have an amazing program that really helps families.

Gardner: Katie, on the practical matter for other parents who might be intrigued, who have a special needs student, how might they start to prepare themselves to get ready? Where would you say, with 20-20 hindsight, that you should begin this process?

Raise your Voice 

Swingle: Let me start with if you’re a Florida parent, or an Arizona parent, or a parent already in a state where this is starting to move. You need to know what services your child is going to need. If, for example, they are going to need occupational therapy, you’re going to need to read those reviews, and read up a lot on behavior analysis and get some ideas about what your child might need.

As any autism parent who has shopped for products on multiple websites knows, our kids need all kinds of products. You now have an idea of where you can buy those via learning exchanges. You begin having an idea of what your child’s going to need with their funds. And you can really begin getting your keywords — occupational therapy (OT), Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, and physical therapy. You’re going to be reading reviews on the network about them and see how they might be able to help.

Don’t be afraid to tell your story, but the people who need to hear it are your legislators, your local and state representatives.

For people who are in states that don’t have options like we do, you need to be writing your state representatives; you need to be telling your story just like I am. Sometimes there’s a little bit of shame, sometimes there’s a little bit of embarrassment. I’ll be honest. My husband still has hard time saying the word “autism.”

We’ve been in this game now for seven years and he still sometimes can’t spit it out. It’s time to spit it out, it’s time to be honest and it’s time to tell your story. Don’t be afraid to tell your story, but the people who need to hear it are your legislators, your local and state representatives need to know about this.

They need to know about states like Florida that use SAP Ariba and MyScholarShop. They need to ask, “Excuse me? I live in California or I live in Colorado, why don’t I have this option? Look at what this woman is getting in Florida; look at what this family has in Arizona. I need this here and why don’t we have this?”

Put the pressure on, and don’t be afraid. You have a voice, you’re a voter, and they are there to represent you. Also give them some enthusiasm, let them meet your child, bring pictures. I brought pictures of my son, I said you know, “Look this is my child, please help me!” And if the legwork has been done by states like Florida and our organizations like SUFS and SAP Ariba, then the legwork is done. Now get your voice up there.

Gardner: What Katie is pointing to is that this is a very repeatable model. Mike, we know that doing well and doing good are very important to a lot of businesses now. How is this not only repeatable but also has extensions to other areas of doing well and good?

Principled Procurement

Maguire: Everyone has a purpose and every organization has a purpose. If you don’t, then you’re just wandering around in the woods. What are the pieces of your organization that you really want to have an ethical and moral stand with?

And that’s why we’ve worked with United Nations, the Global Compact for Fair and Decent Work. We work with Made in a Free World to stamp out human trafficking and people like Verisk MapleCroft and EcoVadis for sustainable and ethical supply chains.

We try to make sure that procurement with a purpose is actually in action at SAP Ariba because we like to oversee what’s actually happening, and we have the capability through the network — and through the transparency the network brings — to actually look, see, measure, and make some change.

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

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Pay-as-you-go IT models provide cost and operations advantages for Northrop Grumman

The next BriefingsDirect IT business model innovation interview explores how pay-as-you-go models have emerged as a new way to align information technology (IT) needs with business imperatives.

We’ll now learn how global aerospace and defense integrator Northrop Grumman has sought a revolution in business model transformation in how it acquires and manages IT.

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

Here to help explore how cloud computing-like consumption models can be applied more broadly is Ron Foudray, Vice President, Business Development for Technology Services at Northrop Grumman. The interview is conducted by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What trends are driving the need to change how IT is acquired? People have been buying IT for 40 or more years. Why a change now?

Foudray: Our customers, who are primarily in the government sector across the globe, understand the dynamic nature of how IT and technology innovation occurs. It can be a very expensive investment to maintain and manage your own infrastructure as part of that.

Ron Foudray

Foudray

In parallel, they see the benefits of where technology is going from a cloud perspective, and how that can drive innovation — and even affordability. So there is a cultural transformation around how to do more relative to IT and where it’s going.

That gets to the things you were just using in your opening comments as to how do we transform the business model and provide that to our customers, who traditionally haven’t thought about those business models.

Gardner: I suppose this is parallel to some creative financing trends we saw 10 or 15 years ago in other sectors – manufacturing and transportation, for example – where they found more creative ways of sharing and spreading the risk of capital.

Pay-as-you-go or buy?

Foudray: I think it’s a great analogy. You can look at it as if you are going to lease a car instead of buying one. In the future, maybe we don’t buy cars; maybe we just access them via Uber or Lyft, or some other pieces. But it’s that kind of transformation and that kind of model that we need to be willing to embrace — both culturally and financially — and learn how we can leverage that.

Gardner: Ron, tell us about Northrop Grumman and why your business is a good fit for these new models.

Foudray: I have been in the aerospace and defense market for 36 years. Northrop Grumman clearly is a market-leading, global security company, and we focus primarily on building manned and unmanned platforms.

We have as part of our portfolio the sensors that go along with those platforms. You may have heard of something called C4ISR, for Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. It’s those types of sensors and systems that we bring to the table.

In my portfolio, on the technology services side, we are also providing differentiated capabilities for how we support, maintain, upgrade and modernize that infrastructure. That includes the capabilities of how we can provide the services more broadly to our customers. So we focus primarily on five core pillar areas: autonomous systems, strike platforms, logistics, cyber-security, and C4ISR.

Gardner: You are not only in the delivery of these solutions, but you are an integrator for the ecosystem that has to come together to provide them. And, of course, that includes IT.

Foudray: Exactly. In fact, sometimes when I go talk to a customer, it’s like we’re Northrop Grumman Information Technology. They are trying to connect the dots. So, yes, I think of Northrop Grumman not only as the platforms, sensors and systems, but the enterprise IT infrastructure as well..

The edge for our war fighters is anywhere that their systems and sensors are being deployed.

That comes with the digital transformation that’s been ongoing inside of our war-fighting apparatus around the world for some time. And so when you hear about the [transformation] of things in the data center or at the edge — well, the edge for our war fighters is anywhere that their systems and sensors are being deployed.

We need to be able to do more of that processing, and that storage, in real time, at that closer point-of-need. We therefore need to be driving innovation with enterprise IT on how to connect into and leverage that all back across those systems, sensors, and platforms.

When you put it in that context, the digital interconnectedness that we have — not just a society — but in a war fighting sense as well, it becomes more and more clear as to why an integrator, a company like Northrop Grumman, wants to drive enterprise IT innovation and solutions. By doing so, we can drive essentially the three things I think all customers are looking for, which are mission effectiveness, mission efficiency, and affordability.

Gardner: The changes we have seen in IT and software over the past decade — of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and other cloud-driven models — make a lot of sense. You pay as you consume. You may not own the systems; they are in somebody else’s data center, typically referred to as the cloud.

But I’m going to guess that in your business, public cloud isn’t where you are going to put your data centers – this is probably more of an on-premises, close to the point of value, if you will, deployment model. So how do you translate SaaS consumption models and economics to an on-premises data center?

Control and compliance in the cloud?

Foudray: You are astute in pointing that out, because government customers traditionally have had a greater need for a level of control and compliance. With those types of data and applications — whether it’s the clearance level of the information or just the type of information that’s being collected — there is sensitivity.

That said, there are still some types of information — back office type of things – that may be appropriate for a public cloud that you could commingle with today. But very clearly there is more and more of a push for that on-premises solution set.

When our customers begin thinking about cloud — and they are modeling their enterprise on a cloud capability — they tend to use the model of, “Well, how can I get the same affordability outcomes that a public cloud provider is going to be able to offer?” They are amortizing their cost and those elements across all those other customers versus an on-premises solution that is only theirs.

The business model innovation is that consumption-based, on-premises solution that gets more creative on how you look at the residual values.

And so the business model innovation that we are talking about and driving is that consumption-based, on-premises solution that gets more creative on how you look at the residual values. And in our space, there’s a lot of digital data that won’t come back into the equation that is not able to realize residual value. It’s like when you bring back the leased car, that we talked about earlier, if you go over 30,000 miles, it still has value after your lease period.

In a lot of cases in the government environment, depending on where it lives, those digital fingerprints are going to have to stay on the customers’ side or get destroyed, so you can’t assume that into the model.

There are a lot of different variables driving it. That’s where the innovation comes in, and defines how you work as an integrator. With partners — like we see with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and others in the marketplace — we can drive that innovation.

Gardner: In a case where there’s a major government or military organization, they may want to acquire on a pay-per-use basis, but the supply chain that supports that, they might want to be paid upfront on a CapEx basis. How are you able to drive this innovation in end-pricing and in economics for entire solutions that extend back into such supply chains? Or are you stuck in the middle?

Trusted partners essential

Foudray: That hits on a very core part of the challenge, and why having a partner that is going to help you provide the IT infrastructure is so important — not just in terms of managing that supply chain holistically but in having a trusted partner, and making sure that the integrity and the security of that supply chain is maintained. We haven’t talked about the security element yet, but there is a whole cybersecurity piece of that supply chain from an integrity perspective that has to be maintained as well.

The more trust you build up in that partnership, and across those relationships with your downstream suppliers, the better. That trust extends to how they are getting paid and the terms associated with that, with working those terms and conditions and parameters upfront, and of getting those laid in so that the desired expectations are met. Then you must work with your customer to set the right expectations on their terms and conditions to provide them a new consumption-based model. It’s all from an agreement perspective, all very closely aligned.

Gardner: Is there something about newer data center technology that is better tuned to this sort of payment model change? I’m thinking of software-defined data center (SDDC) and the fact that virtualization allows you to rapidly spin-up cloud infrastructure applications. There’s more platform agility than we had several years ago. Does that help in being able to spread the risk because the IT vendors know that they can be fleet and agile with their systems, more than in the past?

Hardware clearly is an enabling feature and function, but software is what’s really driving digital transformation … not just on the technology side, but also on the business side and how it’s consumed.

Foudray: We do a lot from a software perspective as a systems integrator in the defense market space. Software is really the key. Hardware clearly is an enabling feature and function that’s driving that, but software is what’s really driving digital transformation. And that element in and of itself is really what’s helping to transform the way that we think about innovation — not just on the technology side, but also on the business side, and in how it’s consumed.

We are putting a lot of energy into software transformation, as part of the digitization aspect — not just in terms of how quickly we can provide those drops from an agile development, DevOps, development-security-operations (SecOps) perspective, but in terms of the type of services that are delivered with it, and how you look at it.

Changing the business model in parallel needs to avoid offending engineering principle 101: Never introduce more than one key change at a time. You have to be careful that culturally, depending on the organization that you are interacting with, that you are not trying to drive too much change and adoption patterns at the same time.

But you are right to hit on the software. If I had to pick one element, software is going to be the driver. Next is the culture — the human behavior, of where someone lives, and what he or she is used to. That’s also going to be transformative.

Gardner: For mainstream enterprises and businesses, what do you get when you do this? What are some of the payoffs in terms of your ability to execute in your business, keep your customers satisfied, and maybe even speed up innovation? What do you get when you do this acquisitions model transformation thing right?

Scale in, scale out, securely

Foudray: First, it’s important to recognize that you don’t lose control, you don’t lose compliance, and you don’t lose those things that traditionally may have caused you not to embrace [these models].

What you get is the ability to leverage innovation from a technology perspective as it happens because your provider is going to be able to scale in and scale out technology as needed. You are going to be able to provision more dynamically in such an environment.

You get the ability to leverage innovation from a technology perspective as it happens.

If you have the right partner in your integrator and their provider, you should be able to anticipate and get in front of the changes that drive today’s scalability challenges, so you can get the provisioning and get the resourcing that you need. You are also going to be in a much better predictability state of where you need to be for the financial elements of your system.

There are some other benefits. If you implement it correctly, not only are you going to get the performance that you need, your utilization rates should go way up. That’s because you are not going to be paying for underutilized systems as part of your infrastructure. You will see that added affordability piece.

If you do it right, and if you pick integrators who are also tying in the added dimension of security, which we very much are focused on providing, you are going to get a high level of compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Risk Management Framework (RMF). On the US side, there is also the National Defense Authorization Act, which requires organization and agency heads to certify that their enterprise is at a certain level of hygiene. If you have implemented this correctly, you should be able to instrument your environment in such a way that at any given time you know what level of security you are at, from a risk perspective.

There are a lot of benefits you get for cost, schedule, and performance — all of that tied together in a way that you never would have been able to see from an ecosystem perspective, all at the same time. You may get one or two of those, but not all three. So I think there are some benefits that go along those lines that you are going to be able to see as a customer, whether you are in the defense space or not.

Gardner: Yes, I think we’re going to see these models across more industry ecosystems and supply chains. Clearly vendors like HPE have heard you. They recently announced some very innovative new flex-capacity-types of pricing, and GreenLake-branded ways to acquire technology differently in most markets.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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A tale of two hospitals—How healthcare economics in Belgium hastens need for new IT buying schemes

The next BriefingsDirect data center financing agility interview explores how two Belgian hospitals are adjusting to dynamic healthcare economics to better compete and cooperate.

We will now explore how a regional hospital seeking efficiency — and a teaching hospital seeking performance — are meeting their unique requirements thanks to modern IT architectures and innovative IT buying methods.

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

Here to help us understand the multilevel benefits of the new economics of composable infrastructure and software defined data center (SDDC) in the fast-changing healthcare field are Filip Hens, Infrastructure Manager at UZA Hospital in Antwerp, and Kim Buts, Infrastructure Manager at Imelda Hospital in Bonheiden, both in Belgium.The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What are the top trends disrupting the healthcare industry in Belgium? Filip, why do things need to change? Why do you need to have better IT infrastructure?

Hens: That’s a good question. There are many up-and-coming trends. One is new regulations around governance, which is quite important. Due to these new rules, we are working more closely together with other hospitals to share more data, and therefore need better data security. This is one of the main reasons that we need to change.

Filip Hens

Hens

In Belgium, we have many hospitals, with some of them only a few kilometers apart. Yet there have been very few interactions between them.

New demands around augmentation of services means patient data are a growing concern. So it’s not only the needs of new governance but also the demand for providing better medical services across hospitals.

Gardner: Kim, how are the economics of healthcare — of doing more with less — an ongoing requirement? How are you able to conserve on the costs?

Buts: We are trying to do everything we can across the financial possibilities. We are constantly looking for good solutions that are affordable. The obligation to work in a [hospital] cluster provides us with a lot of new challenges.

A major challenge for us was around security. We have invested hugely in security. Many of the new applications are now shared across the hospital cluster. So we chose to take on the role of innovator. And to continue innovating, we have to spend a lot of money. That was not foreseen in the annual budget. So we took advantage of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE’s) new financial services approaches, to make things happen much faster than usual.

How HPE Digital Solutions

Support Healthcare

And Life Sciences

Gardner: We’ll get back to some of those services, but I’d like to help our readers and listeners better understand this interesting combination of needing to compete — that is to attract patients — but at the same time cooperate and share data across hospital cluster. Filip, tell us about UZA and how you’re unique compared to a regional hospital. What makes you different?

Sharing is caring, and saving

Hens: Our main focus remains patient care, but for us it is not necessarily general medicine. It is more the specialist cases, for such things as specialized surgery. That is our main goal. Also we are a teaching hospital, so we have an emphasis on learning from patients and from patient data.

Gardner: You have unique IT and big data requirements from your researchers. You have more of an intense research and development environment, and that comes with a different set of IT requirements?

Hens: Yes, and that is very important. We are more demanding of the quality of the data, the need to gather more information, and to provide our researchers a better infrastructure platform.

That is one difference between a general hospital and a university hospital. A teaching facility has more complex patient analytics requirements, the need for complex data mining and stuff like that.

Gardner: Kim, how are you in your healthcare cluster now able to share and cooperate? What is it that you’re sharing, and how do you that securely to creating better healthcare outcomes?

Buts: A big difference for us is financial. Since we are a smaller hospital, we must offer a very broad portfolio of treatments. That means we need to have a lot of patients to then have enough income to survive. The broad offering, that portfolio of treatments, also means we are going to need to work more together with the other cluster members.

Kim Buts

Buts

We are now trying to buy new IT equipment together, because we cannot afford to each buy for every kind of surgery, or for every kind of treatment. So we have combined our budgets together and we are hosting different things in our hospital that are then used by the other cluster members, too.

Financially, due to the regulations, we have less income than a university hospital. The benefits of education funding do not get to us. We only get income from patients, and that is why we need to have a broad portfolio.

Hens: Unlike a general hospital, we have income from the government and we also have an income flow from scientific research. It is huge funding; it is a huge amount. That is really what makes us different. That is why we need to use all of that data, to elaborate on scientific research from the data.

If not an advantage, it is an extra benefit that we have as university hospital. In the end, it is very important in that we maintain and add extra business functionality via an updated IT infrastructure.

If we maintain those clusters well — the general hospitals together with university hospitals — then those clusters can share among themselves how to best meet patient needs, and concentrate on using the sparest amount of the budget.

Robust research, record keeping, required

Gardner: You are therefore both trying to grapple with the use and sharing of electronic medical records (EMR) applications. Are you both upgrading to using a different system? How are you going about the difficult task of improving and modernizing EMR?

Buts: One big difference between our hospitals is our doctors; they are working for the hospital on a self-employed basis at Imelda. They are not employees of the hospital as at UZA. The demands of our doctors are therefore very high, so we have to improve all of our facilities — and our computer storage systems — very fast.

We try to innovate for the doctors, so we have to spend a lot of money on innovation. That is a big difference, I think, between the university hospitals because the doctors are employees there.

Gardner: How does that impact your use of EMR systems?

How HPE Digital Solutions

Support Healthcare

And Life Sciences

Buts: We are in the process of changing. We are looking for a new EMR system. We are discussing and we are choosing, but the demands of the doctors are sometimes different from the demands of the general hospital management.

Gardner: Filip, EMR, is that something you are grappling with, too?

Hens: We did the same evaluations and we have already chosen a new EMR. For us, implementing an EMR is now all about consolidation of a very scattered data landscape, of moving toward a centralized organization, and of centralizing databases for sharing and optimization of that data.

There is some pressure between what physicians want and what we as IT can deliver with the EMR. Let’s just say it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to understand each other better, to know why they have high demands, and why we have other demands.

That comparison between the physicians and us IT guys makes it a challenging landscape. We are busier with the business side and with full IT solutions, rather than just implementing something.

It is not just about implementing something new, but adaptation of a new structure of people. Our people rethink how everybody’s role is changing in the hospital, and what is needed for interaction with everybody. So, we are in the process of that transformation.

Gardner: What is it about the underlying IT infrastructure that is going to support the agility needed to solve both of your sets of problems, even though they are somewhat different?

Filip, tell us about what you have chosen for infrastructure and why composable infrastructure helps solve many these business-level challenges.

Composable confidence

Hens: That is a good question, because choosing a solution is not like going to the supermarket and just buy something. It is a complex process. We still have separation of data storage and computing power.

We still separate that kind of stuff because we want to concentrate on the things that really bring added value, and that are also trustworthy. For us, that means virtualization on the server and network platforms, to make it more composable.

A more software-defined and composable approach will make us more independent from the underlying hardware. We have chosen for our data center the HPE Synergy platform. In our opinion, we are ready because after many years as an HPE customer — it just works.

For me, knowing that something is working is very important, but understanding the pitfalls of a project is even more important.

And for me, knowing that something is working is very important, but understanding the pitfalls of a project is even more important. For me, the open discussion that you can have with HPE about those pitfalls, of how to prepare for them and how to adapt your people to know what’s to come in the future — that is all very important.

It’s not only a decision about the metal, but also about what are the weaknesses in the metal and how we can overcome that — that is why we stick with HPE, because we have a good relationship.

Gardner: Kim, what are you doing to modernize, but also innovate around those all-important economic questions? How are you using pay-as-you-go models to afford more complex technology, and to give you advancement in serving your customers?

One-stop shopping

Buts: The obligations of the new hospital-cluster regulations had a huge impact on our IT infrastructure. We had to modernize. We needed more compute power and more storage. When we began calculating, it showed us that replacing all of the hard drives at one time was the best option, instead of spreading it over the next three to four years.

Also the new workload demands on the infrastructure meant we needed to replace it as fast as possible, but the budget was not available at our hospitals. So HPE Financial Services provided us with a solution that meant we could replace all our equipment with very short notice. We exchanged servers, storage, and our complete network, including our Wi-Fi network.

So we actually started with a completely brand new data center thanks to the financial services of HPE.

Gardner: How does that financing work? Is that a pay-as-you-go, or are payments spread over time?

Buts: It’s spread over the coming five years. That was the only solution that was good for us. We could not afford to do it any other way.

Gardner: So that is more like an operating costs budget than an upfront capital outlays budget?

We actually started with a completely brand new data center thanks to the financial services of HPE. We could not afford to do it any other way.

Buts: Yes, and the other thing we wanted to do was do everything with HPE — because they could offer us a complete range of servers, storage, and Wi-Fi networking. That way we could reduce the complexity of all our work, and it guaranteed us a fast return on the investment.

Gardner: It is all more integrated, upfront.

Buts: Yes, that is correct.

Gardner: At UZA, what are you doing to even further modernize your infrastructure to accommodate more data, research, sharing, and security?

Hens: It is not about what I want to deliver; it is about what the business wants that we can deliver, and what we can together deliver to the hospital. So, for me, the next step is the EMR program.

So, implementing the EMR, looking for the outcomes from it, and offering something better to end-users. Then those outcomes can be used to further modernize the infrastructure.

That for me is the key. I will not necessarily say that we will buy more HPE Synergy. For me, the key to the process, as I just described, that is what will set the margins of what we will need.

Gardner: Kim, now that you have a new data center, where do you take it next in terms of people, process or even added technology efficiencies? Improved data and analytics, perhaps?

Cloud in the Cluster?

Buts: That is a difficult one because the cluster is very new for us. We are still looking at good ways to incorporate and decide where the data is going to be placed, and what services are going to be required.

It is still brand new for us, and we have to find a good way to incorporate it all with the different hospital cluster members. A big issue is how are we going to exchange the critical patient data, and how we are going to store it safely and securely.

Gardner: Is cloud computing going to be a part of that?

Buts: I do not know. Everything is “cloud” now so, maybe. I am not a huge fan of public cloud. If you can stay in a private cloud, yeah, then okay. But public cloud, I do not know. In a hospital, regulations are so strong and the demands are so high.

Gardner: Maybe a shared private cloud environment of some sort?

Buts: Yeah. I think that could be a good solution.

How HPE Digital Solutions

Support Healthcare

And Life Sciences

Hens: For public cloud in general, I think that is a no-go. But what we are doing already with our EMR, we can work together with a couple of hospitals and we can choose to build a private cloud at one of the sites at our hospitals.

You do not need to define it as a cloud. Really, it’s like public Internet cloud, but you have to make your IT cloud-aware and cloud-defined inside the walls of your hospital. That is the first track you need to take.

Buts: That is why in our hospital cluster, we chose to host a lot of new applications on the new hardware. It gave us the ability to learn and adapt quickly to the new innovations. And for the other hospitals, we are now becoming a kind of service provider to them. That was for us a big change, because now we are more a service level agreements (SLA)-driven organization than we used to be.

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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Posted in application transformation, Cloud computing, Cyber security, data center, Data center transformation, disaster recovery, electronic medical records, Enterprise architect, enterprise architecture, Enterprise transformation, healthcare, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Security, storage, User experience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Retail gets a makeover thanks to data-driven insights, edge computing, and revamped user experiences

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer vertical industry disruption solutions interview explores how intelligence, edge computing, and a rethinking of the user experience come together to give retailers a business-boosting makeover.

We’ll now learn how Deloitte and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) are helping traditional retailers — as well as hospitality organizations and restaurants — provide a more consistent, convenient, and contiguous user experience across their businesses.

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

Here to help to define the new digitally enhanced retail experience are Kalyan Garimella, IoT Manager at Deloitte Consulting, and Jeff Carlat, Senior Director of Technology Solutions at HPE. The interview is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Jeff, what are the top trends now driving the amazing changes in retail?

Jeff Carlat

Carlat

Carlat: First off, I want to clear the air. Retail is not dead. Everywhere I go I hear that the retailer is dead, no more brick and mortar. It’s a fallacy. There is a retail apocalypse out there, but quite honestly 85 to 90 percent of purchases still go through the brick-and-mortar retailer.

The retail apocalypse does apply to brick-and-mortar stores that are failing to transform to fully embrace the digitalization  expected by consumers today. We are here to do something about it.

Gardner: Kalyan, user experiences have always been important. You can go back to Selfridges in London more than 100 years ago. People understand the importance of user experience. What’s different now in the digital age?

Garimella: Unfortunately, if you think about it, going back for the past four decades, retailers have relied on brand names and the strength of the merchandise to attract more customers. They never really differentiated themselves from the experiences that they were creating versus what their competitors were creating.

With the advent of changing customer demographics — with Millennials, Gen Ys, Gen Xs coming into the picture — retailers now need to produce a more customized shopping experience. They need to give shoppers a reason to escape their online retail channels, to come to brick-and-mortar shops and make more purchases there. It’s high time we give that to them — and make them come back to the stores.

Gardner: There are still things in the physical world that need to remain in the physical world, right, Jeff?

Virtual-real hybrid

Carlat: Exactly right! Take me, for example. We recently bought a new house and I wanted to get a nice La-Z-Boy chair. I’m the kind of guy who’s not going to just push a button on a computer or a handheld to buy a new chair. I’m going to want to go sit in it. I want to know is this right for me, and so I go to a traditional brick-and-mortar outlet.

How HPE and Deloitte Align IT
With Business Strategies

Yes, I may do my research [online]. I may actually end up [online] doing my purchase and having it shipped directly to my home. But while I’m at the store, I want to have an experience — an immersive experience — that’s going to help suggest to me, “Oh what’s the perfect side table that should go with that? What’s the complementary piece of art that actually matches the fabric?”

I want the capability to know what that chair will look like in my own decor, via virtually imposing that chair into my environment. That’s where the world is going. Those are the demands of the new retail environment, and they will separate those that continue to thrive in the retail environment from those that suffer and decline.

Gardner: And, of course, the people in that physical environment might actually know quite a bit about the purchase that you could gain from. They have been doing this for some time. There is the interaction of a consultancy effect when you are in a sales environment.

Kalyan Garimella

Garimella

Garimella: People are always going to be a key asset no matter where we do it and in whichever industry. If we can complement the existing user knowledge that exists in the retail stores with the intelligence, or analytics and data that go along with it — that’s a powerful combo. We want to provide that.

That’s why we are talking about helping brick and mortars attract more customers — not just by increasing the customer experience and optimizing your digital store operations — by combining data and insights, and not relying only on opinions.

Gardner: Is that what we mean by cross-channel experiences, Jeff?

Easy as 1-2-3

Carlat: We, together with Deloitte, are delivering in early 2018 the Connected Consumer for Retail offering. It’s definitely a cross-channel experience. This takes the cross-channel experience and enhances it for the brick-and-mortar environment.

The Connected Consumer for Retail offering is based on three core principles. Principle number one is providing that enhanced customer experience, that immersive experience, which ultimately increases revenues and basket sizes for retailers.

The Connected Consumer for Retail offering takes the cross-channel experience and enhances it for the brick-and-mortar environment.

The second principle is based on optimizing in-store operations. How do you ensure that you have the right amount of stock — not overstocking and not under-stocking? How do you reduce the amount of a lost inventory? This Connected Consumer offering will help shrink and reduce the cost structures in a brick-and-mortar environment.

And finally, as Kalyan mentioned, the third key principle is around driving new insights from the in-store analytics. That data and intelligence is derived from the customers — coming through video-location analytics and all kinds of integration into social networks. You can know so much more about the customer, and then give that customer a personalized experience that brings them back and increases brand loyalty.

Gardner: I suppose it’s important to connect all of the dots across an entire shopping ecosystem process – from research to purchase to installation to service. Is that what we need?

Garimella: Absolutely, and that is what we refer to as an omni-channel experience, or a unified commerce experience. Our customers these days expect a seamless continuous shopping experience — be it online or in a store. If you can create that consistent behavior and shopping experience, that is a powerful channel to attract even more customers.

There are many retail concepts very much in demand right now, such as online delivery or pickup at the store. Or you can order in-store and have delivery to your house. Or you can order in one store and pick up in other stores, if the inventory is not currently available in the initial store.

So whatever channel they choose, you can provide value in each of those steps back to the customer – and in doing so you are attracting loyalty, you are building the brand. And that is a powerful medium.

Deloitte and HPE Collaboration

Span 20 Years and Myriad IT Solutions

Gardner: And the more interactions, the more data, the more feedback, the more analysis, and the better the experience. It can all tie together.

Let’s talk about how the technology accomplishes that. You mentioned a new retail initiative at HPE in partnership with Deloitte. What are fundamental technology underpinnings that allow this to happen?

Solid foundations for success

Garimella: The Connected Consumer for Retail begins at the infrastructure level — solutions around HPE Aruba, HPE Edgeline Systems portfolio, and other converged infrastructure systems. For location-based analysis, we are using the wireless LAN from Aruba and their Meridian App Platform for mobile. From a security layer, we are using Niara and ClearPass, but we are also working with a set of third-party vendors for radio-frequency identification (RFID) and for video analytics. So it amounts to an ecosystem of the right partners to solve the right business problem for each of those retailers.

Gardner: And, of course, it has to be integrated properly, and that is where Deloitte comes in. How does that come together into an actual solution?

Carlat: This is the beauty of working with a group like Deloitte. They bring together the consultative and advisory capabilities, along with the technical integration needed. Deloitte brings the ability to help the customer figure out how to get started on this journey.

First off, the methodology helps a customer think big about what they can do, then helps them actually build a business plan internally to drive change and get the right business approvals to start changing. Then they proceed to solution execution that starts small – and builds a proof of concept.

How HPE and Deloitte Align IT

With Business Strategies

In as little as eight weeks, we can deliver the value that can then be extrapolated across all of the retail sites. That’s what projects the true savings. That is the proper scale: To think big where you can, then start small, and lastly, scale fast across all of the sites.

Gardner: Kalyan, any more to offer on the importance of proper integration at a solutions level?

Garimella: Internet of Things (IoT) is such a complex ecosystem of technologies that you need subject matter experts from each of the technologies — such as RFID, Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), your core enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, the customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and the list goes on.

That’s where we come in, with the right people, and with the vast resources that we have. That’s deep industry expertise. We come and we look at the problems, create the customer journey for our clients, and then create the right level of systems integration that can help achieve the business objective.

Gardner: Let’s look at some examples. What are some of the ways that retailers are doing things right to improve on that all-important user experience?

Carlat: As a consumer, I know what I like — and I know what I do not like. I have seen overly aggressive advertising, pushiness that repels me as much as waiting in a long line at a retail brick-and-mortar. There needs to be a correct balance, if you will, of suggestive selling, cross-selling, and upselling. But you have to have the right learning, the right analytics, to be right more times than you are wrong. It means providing a value versus becoming a pest.

This new offering allows that balance to be made. Other best practices would be providing point notifications to issue a discount that would get me as a consumer over the buying hump, to say, “You know, that is a good deal. I cannot pass this up.” Then as a seller, I can naturally dovetail into increasing the basket size, cross-sell, and upsell.

Gardner: How can the brick-and-mortar company better extend itself beyond the threshold of the physical building into the lifestyle, the experience, and the needs of the consumer?

Customized consumer choices

Garimella: You are talking about bringing the retailer into the houses of the customers. That is where the successful online retailers have been. We are working with our brick-and-mortar clients to create similar experiences.

Some of the options to do that would be having a digital voice assistant included on your retailer or shopping app. You could add items to a wish list; you could look up those items and determine if they are close by and where is the retailer nearest to my house. Maybe I could go and check those out instead of waiting for a couple of days for them to be delivered.

We are talking about bringing the retailer into the houses of the customers. That is where the successful online retailers have been.

So those are some of the experiences that we are trying to create — not just inside the brick-and-mortar store, but outside as well.

Gardner: Jeff, tell us a bit more about the Connected Consumer for Retail. Where can we find out more information?

Carlat: We are rolling out this offering in Q1 2018. It is being delivered consultatively initially through Deloitte as the lead. We are happy to come in and do demos, as well as deliver proofs of concept. We are actually happy to help build a business model and conduct workshops to understand what is the best path for retailers to begin adopting the on-ramp to this digital transformation.

The easiest way to get to us is via our websites at either HPE or at Deloitte. We have business leads in all regions, all parts of the world.

Gardner: We have talked mostly about brick-and-mortar retailers, but this applies to hospitality organizations, restaurants, and other consumer services. How should they too be thinking about the user experience and extending it to a life cycle and a lifestyle?

From pain to gain

Garimella: Wherever there’s a possibility of converting a pain point in a customer journey into an engagement point, I think IoT can definitely help. We are calling this the Connected Consumer for Retail for a reason. The same concepts and the same technologies that we have developed for the retail solution can be extended to hospitality, or travel, or food services, et cetera, et cetera.

For example, based on location and proximity of a user, you can create — using the location-based services – improved experiences that cater to individuals in hospitality and hotels by giving them the right offers at the right time, thereby increasing the basket size in their respective industries.

Gardner: It seems that across these vertical industries we are at the threshold of something that had never been possible before.

Carlat: This is the beginning of a new era for retail. What is clear to me is those retailers that choose to adopt change are going to be the winners — and more importantly those that do not choose to change are going to be the losers.

Deloitte and HPE Collaboration

Span 20 Years and Myriad IT Solutions

Garimella: I think Jeff hit it right on. Retail is changing and changing fast, and other industries will follow in the same suit as well. If you do not put enough emphasis on customer engagement, while also optimizing your operations, you are at risk.

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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Posted in application transformation, artificial intelligence, big data, Business intelligence, Business networks, Cloud computing, CRM, data analysis, Deloitte, Enterprise architect, enterprise architecture, Enterprise transformation, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Internet of Things, Mobile apps, mobile computing, Networked economy, retail, social media, User experience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How VMware, HPE, and Telefonica together bring managed cloud services to a global audience

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer optimized cloud design interview explores how a triumvirate of VMware, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and Telefonica together bring managed cloud services to global audiences.

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

Learn how Telefonica’s vision for delivering flexible cloud services capabilities to Latin American and European markets has proven so successful. Here to explain how they developed the right recipe for rapid delivery of agile Infrastructure-as-a-Services (IaaS) deployments is Joe Baguley, Vice President and CTO of VMware EMEA, and Antonio Oriol Barat, Head of Cloud IT Infrastructure Services at Telefonica. The interview is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What challenges are mobile and telecom operators now facing as they transition to becoming managed service providers?

Oriol Barat: The main challenge we face at this moment is to help customers navigate in a multi-cloud environment. We now have local platforms, some legacy, some virtualized platforms, hyperscale public cloud providers, and data communications networks. We want to help our customers manage these in a secure way.

Gardner: How have your cloud services evolved? How have partnerships allowed you to enter new markets to quickly provide services?

Antonio Oriol Barat

Oriol Barat

Oriol Barat: We have had to transition from being a hosting provider with data centers in many countries. Our movement to cloud was a natural evolution of those hosting services. As a telecommunications company (telco), our main business is shared networks, and the network is a shared asset between many customers. So when we thought about the hosting business, we similarly wanted to be able to have shared assets. VMware, with its virtualization technology, came as a natural partner to help us evolve our hosting services.

Gardner: Joe, it’s as if you designed the VMware stack with customers such as Telefonica in mind.

Baguley: You could say that, yes. The vision has always been for us at VMware to develop what was originally called the software-defined data center (SDDC). Now, with multi-cloud, for me, it’s an operating system (OS) for clouds.

We’re bringing together storage, networking and compute into one OS that can run both on-premises and off-premises. You could be running on-premises the same OS as someone like Telefonica is running for their public cloud — meaning that you have a common operating environment, a common infrastructure.

So, yes, entirely, it was built as part of this vision that everyone runs this OS to build his or her clouds.

Gardner: To have a core, common infrastructure — yet have the ability to adapt on top of that for localized markets — is the best of all worlds.

Joe Baguley

Baguley

Baguley: That’s entirely it. Like someone said, “If all of the clouds are running the same OS, what’s the differentiation?” Well, the differentiation is, you want to go with the biggest player in Latin America. You want to go with the player that has the best direct connections: The guys that can give you service levels maybe that the cloud providers can’t give. They can give you over-the-top services that other cloud providers don’t provide. They can give you an integrated solution for your business that includes the cloud — and other enterprise services.

It’s about providing the tools for cloud providers to build differentiated powerful clouds for their customers.

Learn How HPE and VMware Solutions
Enable a New Style of Business

Gardner: Antonio, please, for those of our listeners and readers that aren’t that familiar with Telefonica, tell us about the breadth and depth of your company.

Oriol Barat: Telefonica is one of the top 10 global telco providers in the world. We are in 21 countries. We have fixed and mobile data services, and now we are in the process of digital transformation, where we have our focus in four areas: cloud, security, Internet of Things (IoT), and big data.

We used to think that our core business was in communications. Now we see what we call a new core of our business at the intersection of data communications, cloud, and security. We think this is really the foundation, the platform, of all the services that come on top.

Gardner: And, of course, we would all like to start with brand-new infrastructure when we enter markets. But as you know, we have to deal with what is already in place, too. When it came time for you to come up with the right combination of vendors, the right combination of technologies, to produce your new managed services capabilities, why did you choose HPE and VMware to create this full solution?

Sharing requires trust

Oriol Barat: VMware was our natural choice with its virtualization technologies to start providing shared IT platforms — even before cloud, as a word, was invented. We launched “virtual hosting” in 2007. That was 10 years ago, and since then we have been evolving from this virtual hosting that had no portal but was a shared platform for customers, to the cloud services that we have today.

The hardware part is important; we have to have reliable and powerful technology. For us, it’s very important to provide trust to the customers. Trust, because what they are running in their data centers is similar to what we have in our data centers. Having VMware and HPE as partners provides this trust to the customers so that they will move the applications, and they know it will work fine.

Gardner: HPE is very fond of its Synergy platform, with composable infrastructure. How did that help you and VMware pull together the full solution for Telefonica, Joe?

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Baguley: We have been on this journey together, as Antonio mentioned, since 2007 — since before cloud was a thing. We don’t have a test environment that’s as big as Telefonica’s production environment — and neither does HPE. What we have been doing is working together — and like any of these journeys, there have been missteps along the way. We stumbled occasionally, but it’s been good to work together as a partnership.

As we have grown, we have also both understood how the requirements of the market are changing and evolving. Ten years ago providing a combined cloud platform on a composable infrastructure was unheard of — and people wouldn’t believe you could do it. But that’s what we have evolved together, with the work that we have done with companies such as Telefonica.

The need for something like HPE Synergy and the Gen10 stack — where there are these very configurable stacks that you can put together — has literally grown out of the work that we have done together, along with what we have done in our management stack, with the networking, compute, and storage.

Gardner: The combination of composable infrastructure and SDDC makes for a pretty strong tag team.

Baguley: Yes, definitely. It gives you that flexibility and the agility that a cloud provider needs to then meet the agility requirements of their customers, definitely.

Gardner: When it comes to bringing more end users into the clouds for your managed services providers, one of the important things is for end users to move into that cloud with as much ease as possible. Because VMware is a de facto standard in many markets with its vSphere Hypervisor, how does that help you, being a VMware stack, create that ease of joining these clouds?

Seamless migrations

Oriol Barat: Having the same technology in the customer data center and in our cloud makes things a lot easier. In the first place, in terms of confidence, the customer can be confident that it’s going to work well when it is in place. The other thing is that VMware is providing us with the tools that make these migrations easier.

Baguley: At VMworld 2017, we announced VMware Hybrid Cloud Extension (HCX), which is our hybrid cloud connector. It allows customers to locally install software that connects at a Layer 2 [network] level, as well as right back to vSphere 5.0 in clouds. Those clouds now are IBM and VMware cloud native, but we are extending it to other service providers like Telefonica in 2018.

The important thing here is by going down this road, people can take some of the fear out of going to the cloud.

So a customer can truly feel that their connecting and migrations will be seamless. Things like vSphere vMotion across that gap are going to be possible, too. I think the important thing here is by going down this road, people can take some of the fear out of going to the cloud, because some of the fear is about getting locked in: “I am going to make decisions that I will regret in two years by converting my virtual machines (VMs) to run on another platform.” Right here, there isn’t that fear, there is just more choice, and Telefonica is very much part of that story of choice.

Gardner: It sounds like you have made things attractive for managed service providers in many markets. For example, they gain ease of migration from enterprises into the provider’s cloud. In the case of Telefonica, users gain support, services and integration, knowing that the venerable vendors like VMware and HPE are behind the underlying services.

Do you have any examples where you have been able to bring this total solution to a typical managed service provider account? How has it worked out for them?

Everyone’s doing it

Oriol Barat: We have use cases in all the vertical industries. Because cloud is a horizontal technology, it’s the foundation of everything. I would say that all companies of all verticals are in this process of transformation.

We have a lot of customers in retail that are moving their platforms to cloud. We have had, for example, US companies coming to Europe and deploying their SAP systems on top of our platforms.

For example in Spain, we have a very strong tourism industry with a lot of hotel chains that are also using our cloud services for their reservation systems and for more of their IT.

We have use cases in healthcare, of companies moving their medical systems to our clouds.

We have use cases of software vendors that are growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) businesses and they need a flexible platform that can grow as their businesses grow.

A lot of people are using these platforms as disaster recovery (DR) for the platforms that they have on-premises.

I would say that all verticals are into this transformation.

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Gardner: It’s interesting, you mentioned being able to gain global reach from a specific home economy by putting data centers in place with a managed service provider model.

It’s also important for data sovereignty and compliance and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other issues for that to happen. It sounds like a very good market opportunity.

And that brings us to the last part of our discussion. What happens next? When we have proven technology in place, and we have cloud adoption, where would you like to be in 12 months?

Gaining the edge

Baguley: There has been a lot of talk at recent events, like HPE Discover, about intelligent edge developments. We are doing a lot at the edge, too. When you look at telcos, the edge is going to become something quite interesting.

What we are talking about is taking that same blend of storage, networking and compute, and running it on as small a device as possible. So think micro data centers, nano data centers. How far out can we push this cloud? How much can we distribute this cloud? How close to the point of need can we get our customers to execute their workloads, to do their artificial intelligence (AI), to do their data gathering, et cetera?

And working in partnership with someone who has a fantastic cloud and a fantastic network just means that a customer who is looking to build some kind of distributed edge-to-cloud core capability is something that Telefonica and VMware could probably do over the next 12 months. That could be really, really strong.

Gardner: Antonio?

Oriol Barat: In this transformation that all the enterprises are in, maybe we are in the 20 percent of execution range. So we still have 80 percent of the transformation ahead of us. The potential is huge.

Looking ahead with our services, for example, it’s very important that the network is also in transformation, leveraging the software-defined networking (SDN) technologies. These networks are going to be more flexible. We think that we are in a good position to put together cloud services with such network services — with security, also with more software-defined capabilities, and create really flexible solutions for our customers.

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Baguley: One example that I would like to add is if you can imagine that maybe Real Madrid C.F. are playing at home next weekend … It’s theoretical that Telefonica could have the bottom of those network base stations — because of VMware Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), it’s no longer specific base station hardware, it’s x86 HPE servers in there. They can maybe turn around to a betting company and say, “Would you like to move your front-end web servers with running containers to run in the base station, in Real Madrid’s stadium, for the four hours in the afternoon of that match?” And suddenly they are the best performing website.

That’s the kind of out-there transformative ideas that are now possible due to new application infrastructures, new cloud infrastructures, edge, and technologies like the network all coming together. So those are the kind of things you are going to see from this kind of solutions approach going forward.

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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Infatuation leads to love—How container orchestration and federation enables multi-cloud competition

The use of containers by developers — and now increasingly IT operators — has grown from infatuation to deep and abiding love. But as with any long-term affair, the honeymoon soon leads to needing to live well together … and maybe even getting some relationship help along the way.

And so it goes with container orchestration and automation solutions, which are rapidly emerging as the means to maintain the bliss between rapid container adoption and broad container use among multiple cloud hosts.

This BriefingsDirect cloud services maturity discussion focuses on new ways to gain container orchestration, to better use serverless computing models, and employ inclusive management to keep the container love alive.

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

Here to help unpack insights into the new era of using containers to gain ease with multi-cloud deployments are our panelists: Matt Baldwin, Founder and CEO at StackPointCloud, based in Seattle; Nic Jackson, Developer Advocate at HashiCorp, based in San Francisco, and Reynold Harbin, Director of Product Marketing at DigitalOcean, based in New York. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Nic, HashiCorp has gone a long way to enable multi-cloud provisioning. What are some of the trends now driving the need for multi-cloud? And how does container management and orchestration fit into the goal of obtaining functional multi-cloud use, or even interoperability?

Nic Jackson

Nic Jackson

Jackson: What we see mainly from our enterprise customers is that people are looking for a number of different ways so that they don’t get locked into one particular cloud provider. They are looking for high-availability and redundancy across cloud providers. They are looking for a migration path from private cloud to a public cloud. Or they want a burstable capacity, which means that they can take that private cloud and burst it out into public cloud, if need be.

Containers — and orchestration platforms like KubernetesNomad and Swarm — are providing standard interfaces to developers. So once you have the platform set up, the running of an application can be mostly cloud-agnostic.

Gardner: There’s a growing need for container management and orchestration for not only cloud-agnostic development, but potentially as a greasing of the skids, if you will, to a multi-cloud world.

Harbin: Yes. If you make the investment now to architect and package your applications with containers and intelligent orchestration, you will have much better agility to move your application across cloud providers.

This will also enable you to quickly leverage any new products on any cloud provider.  For example DigitalOcean recently upgraded our High CPU Droplet plans, providing some of the best values for accessing the latest chipsets from Intel. For users with containerized applications and orchestration, they could easily improve application performance by moving workloads over to that new product.

Gardner: And, Matt, at StackPointCloud you have created a universal control plane for Kubernetes. How does that help in terms of ease of deployment choice and multi-cloud use?

Ease-of-use increases flexibility

Baldwin: We’ve basically built a management control plane for Kubernetes that gives you a single pane of glass across all your cloud providers. We deal with the top four, so AmazonMicrosoft AzureGoogle and DigitalOcean. Because we provide that single pane of glass, you can build the clusters you need with those providers and you can stand up federation.

Matt Baldwin

Matt Baldwin

In Kubernetes, multi-cloud is done via that federation. The federation control plane connects all of those clusters together. We are also managing workloads to balance workloads across, say, some on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and some on DigitalOcean, if you like.

That’s what we have been doing with our star product. We are still on that journey, still building more things. Because it’s moving quite fast, federation is shifting and changing. We are keeping pace and trying to make it all easier to use.

Our whole point is usability. We think that all this tooling needs to become really, really easy to use. You need to be able to manage multi-cloud as if it’s a single cloud.

Gardner: Reynold, with DigitalOcean being one of the major cloud providers that Matt mentioned, why is it important for you to enable this level of multi-cloud use? Is it a matter of letting the best public cloud services values win? Why do you want to see the floodgates open for public cloud choice and interoperability?

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Harbin: Thousands of businesses and over a million developers use DigitalOcean — primarily because of the ease in provisioning and of being able to spin up and manage their infrastructure. This next step of having orchestration tools and containers puts even more flexibility into the hands of developers and businesses.

Reynold Harbin

Reynold Harbin

For customers who want to use data centers on DigitalOcean, or data centers on other providers, we want to enable flexibility. We want developers to more easily burst into public clouds as they need, and gain all the visibility they want in a common way across the various infrastructure providers that they want to use.

Gardner: Developers are increasingly interested in a serverless model, where they let the clouds manage the allocation of machine resources. This also helps in cost optimization. How do the container orchestration and management tools help? How does serverless, and the demand for it, also fit in?

Jackson: Serverless adds an extra layer of complexity, because the different cloud providers have different approaches to doing serverless. A serverless function running on Google or Azure or AWS — they all have different interfaces. They have different ways of deploying, and the underlying code has to be abstracted enough so that it can run across all the different providers. You have to really think about that from a software architectural problem, from that perspective.

Serverless pros and cons 

In my opinion, you would allow yourself to get locked in if you use things like the Native Queuing or Pub/Sub, which works really well with a particular cloud provider’s serverless platform.

One of the recent projects I’m super-excited about is OpenFaaS, by Alex Ellis. What OpenFaaS tries to do is provide that cloud-agnostic method of running functions-as-a-service (FaaS). This is not necessarily serverless, you still have to manage the underlying servers, but it does allow you to take advantage of your existing Kubernetes, Nomad, or Docker Swarm Clusters. It then gives you the developer workflow, which I think is the ultimate end-goal, rather than thinking about decoupling the complexity of the infrastructure.

Gardner: Reynold, any thoughts on serverless?

Harbin: I agree. We are on this road of making it easier for the application developer so they don’t have to worry about the underlying infrastructure. For certain applications, serverless can help in that goal, but at the same time you’re adding complexity. You have to think about the application, the architecture, and which services are going to be the most useful in terms of applying serverless.

You have to think about the application, the architecture, and which services are going to be the most useful in terms of applying serverless.

We want to enable our developers to use whatever technologies will help them the most. And for certain applications, serverless will be relevant. OpenFaaS is really interesting, because it makes it easier to write to one standard, and not have to worry about the underlying virtual servers or cloud providers.

Jackson: The other neat thing about OpenFaaS is the maintainability. When you look at application lifecycle management (ALM), which not enough people pay enough attention to, Serverless is so new that ALM is still unknown.

But with OpenFaaS — and one of the things that I love about that platform — you are baking functions into Docker containers so you can run those as standard microservices outside of the OpenFaaS platforms, if you want. So you can see that kind of maintainability. It gives you an upgrade path, despite being completely decoupled from any particular cloud provider’s platform. So you gain flexibility.

If you want to go multi-cloud, you can run OpenFaaS on a federated Nomad or federated Kubernetes cluster and you have your own private multi-cloud FaaS approach, which I think is super cool.

Gardner: It sounds as if we would like to see the same trajectory we saw with containers take place with serverless, there is just a bit of a lag there in terms of the interoperability and the extensibility.

Baldwin: There is also the serverless framework they can use that helps to abstract out the serverless endpoints. So abstract at Lambda or Kubeless or any other, Fission; Kubeless and Fission are just two other projects that are more geared toward Kubernetes than others.

Gardner: Nic, tell us about your organization, HashiCorp. What are you up to?

Simplify, simplify

Jackson: We are all about delivering developer tooling to enable modern applications. We have products like Nomad, which is a scheduler; Terraform, for infrastructure-as-code; Consul, which you can use for key value configurations and service discovery; Packer for creating gold master images; and Vault, which is becoming very popular for managing “secrets” and things like that.

We are putting together a suite of products that can make integration super-easy, but they actually work well standalone, too. You could just run Terraform if you want to, or maybe you are just going to use Nomad and Consul, or maybe Consul and Vault. But the aim is that we want to simplify a lot of the problems that people have when they start building highly available, highly distributed and scalable infrastructures.

Gardner: Reynold, tell us about DigitalOcean, and why you are interested in supporting organizations like StackPointCloud and HashiCorp as they better provide services and value to their customers.

Harbin: DigitalOcean is a very intuitive cloud services platform on which to run applications. We are designed to help developers and businesses build their applications, deploy them, and scale them faster, more efficiently, and more cost effectively. Our products basically are cloud services with various configurations to maximize CPU or memory available in our data centers around the world.

We also have storage, including object storage, for a unlimited scale; or block storage that you can attach a volume of any size to, depending on your needs. And then we also include networking services for securing and scaling — from firewalling to load balancing your applications.

All of these products are designed to be controlled, either through a simplified UI or through a very simple API, a RESTful API, so that tools like Terraform or Kubernetes orchestration through StackPointCloud can all be done through the single pane of glass of your choice. And the infrastructure that underlies it is all controlled via the API.

 Users and developers want easier ways to provision and manage infrastructure.

The reason we are leaning to these kinds of partnerships and tooling is because that’s what our users want, what developers want. They want easier ways to provision and manage infrastructure. So if you want to use an orchestration tool, then we want to make that as easy and as seamless as possible.

Gardner: The infatuation with containers has moved into the full love affair level, at least based on what I see in the market. But how do we keep this from going off the rails? We have seen other cases where popularity can lead to some complexity. For example, with the way virtual machines (VMs) were adopted to a point where sprawl became such an issue.

What are the challenges we are facing, and how can organizations better prepare themselves for a world of far more containers, and perhaps a world of more serverless?

Container complexity 

Baldwin: Containers are going to introduce a lot of complexity. I will just dig into one level of complexity, which is security. How to protect one host talking to another host? You need to figure out how to protect one service talking to another service. How do you secure that, how do you incur that traffic, how do you ensure that identity is handled?

When you begin looking at other pieces of the puzzle, things like ServiceMesh. We look at things like Kubernetes and Istio as complementary because you are going to need to be able to observe all of these environments. You are going to have to do all the things that you would have done with VMs, but there’s just an abundance of these things. That’s kind of what we are seeing, and that’s the level of complexity.

The tooling is still trying to catch up, and a lot of the open source tools are still in development, with some of the components still in alpha. There is a lot of need for ease-of-use around these tools, a lot of need for better user interfaces. We are at the beginning where, yes, we are trying to handle containers, and lots of containers all over the place, and trying to figure out how these things are talking to each other, and being able to just troubleshoot that.

How do you trace when your application starts to have an issue? How do you figure out where in that environment the issue is showing up? You start to learn how to you use tools like the Zipkin or you introduce OpenTracing into your stack, things like that.

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Gardner: Matt, what would you encourage people to do now, experiment with more tools, acquaint themselves with those tools, make demands on tools, how to head this off this from a user perspective?

Tiptoe through the technology

Baldwin: I would begin by stepping into the water, going into the shallow end of the pool by just starting to explore the technology.

I have seen organizations jump into these technologies. Take Kubernetes as an example. I have seen organizations adopt Kubernetes really early, and then they started to build their own Platform as a Service (PaaS) on top of it without actually being involved in the project and being aware of what’s happening in the project.

So there is the danger of duplicating things that are happening in the roadmap, duplicating something that’s in the roadmap that will be done in six months in the project. And now you are stuck on Kubernetes version 1.2, and how do you move to the next version of Kubernetes?

So I think there is a danger there with too early of an adoption, if you start to build too much. But at the same time there is a need to conduct proof of concepts (POCs), to start to shift some of your smaller services into new areas.

I think you need to introduce Istio into test environments and start to look at what that does for you, and start looking at all the use cases around it, things like traffic shifting. There are issues like how to do a A-B deployments, service meshes can actually give you that and start to play with that and start to plan for the future, but maybe not completely start to customize whatever you just built, because there is always a threat that the project isn’t fully baked yet.

Gardner: Sounds like it might be time to be thinking strategically, as well as tactically in how you approach these things. Maybe even get some enterprise architects involved so that you don’t get too bogged down before the standards are cooked.

Nic, what do you see as the challenges with bringing containers to use in a multi-cloud environment? What should people be thinking about to hedge against those challenges?

Sensible speed

Jackson: Look at just how fast things have moved. I mean, Kubernetes as a product practically didn’t exist two years ago. Nomad didn’t really exist two years ago. I think it was only just launched at HashiCorp in 2015. And those products are still evolving.

And I think it was a really good comment that you have to be careful about building on top of these things, and then stray too far away from the stable branch. You could end up in a situation where you can’t follow an upgrade path — because one thing that’s for certain, the speed of evolution isn’t going to slow down.

Look at just how fast things have moved. I mean, Kubernetes as a product practically didn’t exist two years ago. Nomad didn’t really exist two years ago. I think it was only just launched at HashiCorp in 2015. And those products are still evolving.

Always try to keep abreast of where the technology is, and always make sure you have a great path. You can do that through being sensible about abstraction. In the same way that you would not necessarily depend on a concrete implementation in your code, you would depend on interfaces. You have to take a similar approach to your infrastructure, so we should be looking at depending upon interfaces, so that if a new component comes along — something that’s better than Kubernetes – you can actually hot-swap them out without having to go through years of re-platforming.

Gardner: Reynold, how do you see solving complexity in the evolution of these technologies, and ways that early-adopters can resist getting bogged down as they continue to mature?

Harbin: The two main points that Matt and Nic have brought up are really good ones. Certainly visibility and security of these applications and these environments is really important from a functionality perspective.

As Nic mentioned, the pace at which new technologies are being developed is intense. You have to have an environment where you can test out these various tools, see what works for you, do it in a way that you can get these ideas and run them and test them and see how this technology can help your particular business. And a lot of this infrastructure in many ways is almost disposable, because you can spin it up as you need to, test it and then spin it down — and it might only need to live for an hour or for a couple of days.

Being aware of the tools, what’s happening in terms of new functionality, and then being able to test that either locally or in a cloud environment is really going to be important.

Gardner: I was expecting at least one of you to bring up DevOps. That thinking about development in conjunction with production, and making this more of a seamless process would help. Am I off base? Matt, should DevOps be part of this solution set?

Shared language

Baldwin: Yes, it should be part of it. I guess my personal opinion on DevOps is that we are moving more toward where Ops needs to become more and more invisible. It’s more about shipping, and it’s more about focusing on the apps versus the infrastructure. And so I just see more like the capital O going to lowercase o.

What I do think is interesting right now is that developers and operators are now speaking the same language. If you are looking at Kubernetes, developers and operators are now speaking the same language. They are speaking in Kubernetes, and so that’s a very big deal. So now the developer is building it in the same way that the operator is going to understand it. The operator is going to understand how the microservice is built; the developer is going to understand how it’s built. They are all going to understand everything.

And then with multi-cloud, you could also do things like have your staging environment in one cloud and you promote your code so that your operators are running the code over in production on another provider and you could promote that code across the network, so you can do things like that, too.

They are speaking in Kubernetes, and so that’s a very big deal. So now the developer is building it in the same way that the operator is going to understand it.

I think there is some of the traditional DevOps tooling, things like Chef, things like Puppet, I don’t think have as much of a future as they used to have, because they did a lot of app management on the hosts and now that the apps are not living on the host anymore, there is not a lot for those tools to do. So just build out a host at Amazon AWS and then just deploy Kubernetes and then just let Kubernetes take over from there.

Some of those tools, their importance will lessen, like you won’t have to know Puppet as much; you likely won’t ever need to know Puppet.

Gardner: Nic, are you in the same camp, more Dev, less Ops, lowercase o?

More Dev, less Ops?

Jackson: I think it depends on two things. The first thing is the scale of your organization. When you look at a lot of tools, and you look at a lot of information that’s out there, it makes an assumption that everybody is operating at fixed scale, and I don’t think that’s the case. Pretty much any business that’s operating in a digital world, which is pretty much any business these days, you can take advantage of modern development techniques. When you start depending on the scale, then it also shifts who is potentially going to be doing the infrastructure side of things.

Smaller companies, I think you are going to get more Dev than you will Ops because that may not be a scale that can support a dedicated operations team. But larger enterprise organizations, you may have more of a platform team, more of an operations person who is using code to manage infrastructure.

Introducing

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Cloud Object Storage

In either case, there’s a requirement that developers have to have an appreciation and an understanding of the platform to which they are deploying their code. They need to have that because they need to have an understanding of how things like service discovery works. How are the volumes working for persistent storage, how are things going to work in terms of scale and scalability? So if you are going to be load testing it, what are sort of the operational thresholds in terms of I/O for CPU or disk, and things like that?

I think DevOps is a really powerful concept. I certainly love working in a world where I can interact and work with the operations and the infrastructure teams. I benefit as a software engineer, and I think the infrastructure engineers benefit because those sorts of skills that we both have, we can share. So I really hope DevOps doesn’t go away, but I think the level at which that interaction occurs does very much depend on scale of your organization.

Shop around

Gardner: Are there examples of some organizations, large or small, that have embraced containers, have multi-cloud in their sights, are maybe thinking about serverless?

Baldwin: I have an example. This customer was a full-on Amazon shop, and they had not migrated to microservices. Their first step was to move to Docker, and then we moved them up to Kubernetes. These guys were an adtech firm and they had, as you can imagine, ingress traffic that had a high charge to it, and that was billed by Amazon.

So they spent a lot of time negotiating a better cloud price-point with Google. What they were able to do is stand up a Kubernetes cluster on Google Cloud and then shift the workload that was needed at that better price-point. At the same time, they kept the rest of the workload at Amazon because they were still relying on some of the other underlining services of Amazon, things like Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS).

So they didn’t want to completely move to Google, but they wanted to move something that they were taking a really large hit on, on cost, and move that to Google. So I think you are going to see multi-cloud first get used as a vendor tactic against the cloud providers to try and negotiate a better price point. So if you are doing adtech, now you are in a position where you can actually negotiate with Amazon, Google or whomever, and get a better price and just move your workload to whomever gives it to you.

So that makes it a lot more competitive. That was an early example, one of the earlier federation examples we have.

Gardner: The economic paybacks from that could be very significant, if you can leverage better deals from your cloud providers. That could be a very significant portion of your overall expenses.

Baldwin: It’s giving the power back to the consumer. We basically have a cloud monopoly, and then smaller ones. So we have Amazon AWS, and so how do you work against Amazon to reduce the price points, how do you try to break that?

And once you start to get power back to the consumer, that starts to weaken the hold on the end-user.

Gardner: Nic, an example that we can look to perhaps in a different way, one that provides a business advantage?

Go public 

Jackson: One of the things that we see for a lot of enterprise customers is the cloud adoption phase. So I can’t give you the exact numbers, but the total market in terms of compute for the big four cloud providers is about 30 percent. There is something like 60 percent to 70 percent of all of the existing compute still running in private data centers. A lot of organizations are looking at moving that forward. They want to be able to adopt cloud, for whatever reason. They want better tooling to be able to do that.

You can create a federated Kubernetes cluster, or a federated Nomad cluster, and you can begin shifting your workload away from the private data center and into the cloud. You can gain that clear migration path. It allows you to run both of those platforms side by side, the distinct platform that the organization understands but also the modern platform that requires learning in terms of tooling and behavior.

That’s going to be a typical approach for a lot of the large enterprises. We are going to see a lot of the shift from private data centers into public clouds. A lot of the cloud providers are offering pretty attractive reasons in terms of licensing to do that rather than renew your license for your physical infrastructure. Why don’t you just move it off into your cloud provider?

That’s going to be a typical approach for a lot of the large enterprises. We are going to see a lot of the shift from private data centers into public clouds.

But if you’re running tens of billions of dollars worth of business, then any downtime is incredibly expensive. So you will want to ensure that you have the maximum high availability.

Baldwin: You can see that Microsoft is converting a lot of their enterprise agreements to move people over to Azure.

Jackson: Well, it’s not just Microsoft. I mean, Dell/EMC is one of the most aggressive. I could imagine a great sales strategy for them is to say, “Well, hey, rather than buying a new Dell server, why don’t you just lease one of these servers in the Dell cloud and we will manage it for you.” And you basically you’re just shifting from a capital expenditure (CapEx) to an operational expenditure (OpEx) model.

I think Oracle has a similar strategy, the Oracle cloud is up and coming. So the potential is rather than paying for an Oracle database license you could just move that database into the Oracle cloud and save yourself a lot of trouble around the maintenance of the physical data center.

Gardner: Reynold, any thoughts on examples of how orchestration of containers may be moving more toward Serverless models that have great benefits for your end users? As a public cloud, where do you see a good example of how this all works to everyone’s advantage?

No more either/or

Harbin: As developers move toward containers and orchestration, they can begin looking at cloud providers not as a choice of either/or but as, “I get to use all of them, and I get to use the products and services that are best for my particular application.”

An example of that would be a customer who was hosting their application and their storage on Amazon AWS, and a month ago DigitalOcean released our new object storage product called Spaces. Essentially they gained all the benefits of the AWS S3 object storage, but the cost is 10 times lower, at least for bandwidth.

If this particular customer could containerize their application, which basically publishes and posts content to object storage and delivers a lot of that to end users, they would have the flexibility to take advantage of new products like Spaces that are being rolled out all the time by various cloud providers. In this case, they could have easily moved their application to DigitalOcean, take advantage of our new object storage product, and essentially lowered the total cost.

But it’s not just DigitalOcean products. New technologies that can make your applications better are being released all the time, as open source projects and commercial products. Companies will gain agility if their applications are containerized, as they will be able to use new technologies much more easily.

Baldwin: There are some great abstraction layers — things like Minio that you don’t necessarily need to interact with the underlying object storage. You have a layer that allows you to be ignorant of that, and such de-coupling is super-useful.

Companies will gain agility if their applications are containerized, as they will be able to use new technologies much more easily.

Gardner: I’m afraid we are about out of time, but I wanted to give each of you an opportunity to tell us how to learn more about your organization.

Matt Baldwin, how could people follow you and also learn more about StackPointCloud?

Baldwin: If you wanted to give Kubernetes a shot, we provide a turnkey marketplace and management platform. So you just hit the site, log in with social credentials like GitHub, and then you can start to build clusters. You can check it out via our blog on Stackpoint.io. We also run all of the major markets for the Kubernetes community, up and down the West and East Coasts.

So you can engage with us at any of the Kubernetes events in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and wherever. Yeah, also just drop any Kubernetes slack channel and just ping us, ping me on baldwinmathew, also @baldwinmathew on Twitter.

Gardner: Nic, same thing, how can people follow you and learn more about HashiCorp?

Jackson: HashiCorp.com is a great landing site because you can bounce out to the various product sites from there. We also have a blog, which we are pretty active with. We are generally publishing at least a couple of pieces of information ourselves on there every week but we are also syndicating other stuff that we find, not necessarily always related to HashiCorp but just interesting technology things.

So you can get access to the blog through there and on Twitter following HashiCorp, myself, I am @sheriffjackson, so you can follow me on Twitter, I try to share stuff that I find interesting.

Gardner: And Reynold, learning more about DigitalOcean as well as following you or other evangelists that you think are worthy?

Harbin: The community site on DigitalOcean has 1,700 really well-curated articles. So do.co/community would be a good start, and we have several really technology-agnostic articles about containerization, as well as specific technologies like Kubernetes. They are articles, they are well written and they will teach you just how you can get started. And then of course, the DigitalOcean website is a good resource just for our own product.

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

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Posted in application transformation, Cloud computing, cloud messaging, Data center transformation, DevOps, DigitalOcean, Enterprise architect, enterprise architecture, Enterprise transformation, multicloud, server, serverless, ServiceMesh, SOA, Software, Software-defined storage, storage, Virtualization | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How a large Missouri medical center developed an agile healthcare infrastructure security strategy

Healthcare provider organizations are among the most challenging environments to develop and implement comprehensive and agile security infrastructures.

These providers of healthcare are usually sprawling campuses with large ecosystems of practitioners, suppliers, and patient-facing facilities. They also operate under stringent compliance requirements, with data privacy as a top priority.

At the same time, large hospitals and their extended communities are seeking to become more patient outcome-focused as they deliver ease-of-use, the best applications, as well as up-to-date data analysis to their staffs and physicians.

The next BriefingsDirect security insights discussion examines how a large Missouri medical center developed a comprehensive healthcare infrastructure security strategy from the edge to the data center — and everything in between.

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

To learn how healthcare security can become more standardized and proactive with unified management and lower total costs, BriefingsDirect sat down with Phillip Yarbro, Network and Systems Engineer at Saint Francis Healthcare System in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The discussion was moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: When it comes to security nowadays, Phil, there’s a lot less chunking it out, of focusing on just devices or networks separately or on data centers alone. It seems that security needs to be deployed holistically — or at least strategically – with standardized solutions, focused on across-the-board levels of coverage.

Tell us how you’ve been able to elevate security to that strategic level at Saint Francis Healthcare System.

Phillip Yarbro

Phillip Yarbro

Yarbro: As a healthcare organization, we have a wide variety of systems — from our electronic medical records (EMR) that we are currently using, to our 10-plus legacy EMRs, our home health system, payroll time and attendance. Like you said, that’s a wide variety of systems to keep up-to-date with antivirus solutions, making sure all of those are secure, especially with them being virtualized. All of those systems require a bunch of different exclusions and whatnot.

With our previous EMR, it was really hard to get those exclusions working and to minimize false positives. Over the past several years, security demands have increased. There are a lot more PCs and servers in the environment. There are a lot more threats taking place in healthcare systems, some targeting protected health information (PHI) or financial data, and we needed a solution that would protect a wide variety of endpoints; something that we could keep up-to-date extremely easily, and that would cover a wide variety of systems and devices.

Gardner: It seems like they’re adding more risk to this all the time, so it’s not just a matter of patching and keeping up. You need to be proactive, whenever possible.

 Being proactive is definitely key. We like to control applications to keep our systems even more secure, rather than just focusing on real-time threats.

Yarbro: Yes, being proactive is definitely key. Some of the features that we like about our latest systems are that you can control applications, and we’re looking at doing that to keep our systems even more secure, rather than just focusing on real-time threats, and things like that.

Gardner: Before we learn more about your security journey, tell us about Saint Francis Healthcare System, the size of organization and also the size of your IT department.

Yarbro: Saint Francis is between St. Louis and Memphis. It’s the largest hospital between the two cities. It’s a medium-sized hospital with 308 beds. We have a Level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and a Level III trauma center. We see and treat more than 700,000 people within a five-state area.

With all of those beds, we have about 3,000 total staff, including referring physicians, contractors, and things like that. The IT help desk support, infrastructure team, and networking team amounts to about 30 people who support the entire infrastructure.

Gardner: Tell us about your IT infrastructure. To what degree are you using thin clients and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI)? How many servers? Perhaps a rundown of your infrastructure in total?

Yarbro: We have about 2,500 desktops, all of which are Microsoft Windows desktops. Currently, they are all supplied by our organization, but we are looking at implementing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy soon. Most of our servers are virtualized now. We do have a few physical ones left, but we have around 550 to 600 servers.

Of those servers, we support about 60 Epic servers and close to 75 Citrix servers. On the VDI side, we are using VMware Horizon View, and we are supporting about 2,100 virtual desktop sessions.

Gardner: Data center-level security is obviously very important for you. This isn’t just dealing with the edge and devices.

Virtual growth

Yarbro: Correct, yes. As technology increases, we’re utilizing our virtual desktops more and more. The data center virtualization security is going to be a lot more important going forward because that number is just going to keep growing.

Gardner: Let’s go back to your security journey. Over the past several years, requirements have gone up, scale has gone up, complexities have gone up. What did you look for when you wanted to get more of that strategic-level security approach? Tell us about your process for picking and choosing the right solutions.

Yarbro: A couple of lessons that we learned from our previous suppliers is that when we were looking for a new security solution we wanted something that wouldn’t make us experience scan storms. Our previous system didn’t have the capability to spread out our virus scans, and as a result whenever the staff would come in, in the morning and evenings, users were negatively affected by latency because of the scans. Our virtual servers all scanned at the same time.

We have a wide variety of systems and applications. Epic is our main EMR, but we also have 10 legacy EMRs, a picture archiving and communication system (PACS), rehab, home health, payroll, as well as time and attendance apps.

So whenever those were set to scan, our network just dragged to a halt. We were looking for a new solution that didn’t have a huge impact on our virtual environment. We have a wide variety of systems and applications. Epic is our main EMR, but we also have 10 legacy EMRs, a picture archiving and communication system (PACS), rehab, home health, payroll, as well as time and attendance apps. There are a wide variety of systems that all have different exclusions and require different security processes. So we were hoping that our new solution would minimize false positives.

Since we are healthcare organization, there is PHI and there is sensitive financial data. We needed a solution that was Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-compliant as well as Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)-compliant. We wanted a system that made a really good complement and that made it easy to manage everything.

Our previous ones, we were using Trend Micro in conjunction with Malwarebytes, were in two consoles. A lot of the time it was hard to get the exclusions to apply down to the devices when it came time to upgrade the clients. We had to spend time upgrading clients twice. It didn’t always work right. It was a very disruptive do-it-yourself operation, requiring a lot of resources on the back end. We were just looking for something that was much easier to manage.

Defend and prevent attacks

Gardner: Were any of the recent security breaches or malware infections something that tripped you up? I know that ransomware attacks have been on people’s minds lately.

It’s been a great peace-of-mind benefit for our leadership to hear from Bitdefender that we were already protected (from ransomware attacks).

Yarbro: With the WannaCry and Petya attacks, we actually received a proactive e-mail from Bitdefender saying that we were protected. The most recent one, the Bad Rabbit, came in the next day and Bitdefender had already said that we were good for that one as well. It’s been a great peace-of-mind benefit for our leadership here knowing that we weren’t affected, that we were already protected whenever such news made its way to them in the morning.

Gardner: You mentioned Bitdefender. Tell me about how you switched, when, and what’s that gotten for you at Saint Francis?

Yarbro: After we evaluated Bitdefender, we worked really closely with their architects to make sure that we followed best practices and had everything set up, because we wanted to get our current solutions out of there as fast as possible.

For a lot of our systems we have test servers for testing computers. We were able to push Bitdefender out within minutes of having the consoles set up to these devices. After we received some exclusion lists, or were able to test on those, we made sure that Bitdefender didn’t catch or flag anything.

We were able to deploy Bitdefender on 2,200 PCs, all of our virtual desktops and VDI, and roughly 425 servers between May and July with minimal downtime, knowing that the downtime we had was simply to reboot the servers after we uninstalled our previous antivirus software.

We recently upgraded the remaining 150 or so servers, which we don’t have test systems for. They were all of our critical servers that couldn’t go down, such as our backup systems. We were able to push Bitdefender out to all of those within a week, again, without any downtime, and straight from the console.

Gardner: Tell us about that management capability. It’s good to have one screen, of course, but depth and breadth are also important. Has there been any qualitative improvement, in addition to the consolidation improvement?

Yarbro: Yes. Within the Bitdefender console, with our various servers, we have different policies in place, and now we can get very granular with it. The stuff that takes up a lot of resources we have it set to scan, maybe every other day instead of every day, but you can also block off servers.

Bitdefender also has a firewall option that we are looking at implementing soon, where you can group servers together as well as open the same firewall roles, and things like that. It just helps give us great visibility into making sure our servers and data center are protected and secured.

Gardner: You mentioned that some of the ransomware attacks recently didn’t cause you difficulty. Are there any other measurements that you use in order to qualify or quantify how good your security is? What did you find improved with your use of Bitdefender GravityZone?

It reduced our time to add new exclusions to our policies. That used to take us about 60 minutes. It’s down to five minutes. That’s a huge timesaving.

Yarbro: It reduced our time to add new exclusions to our policies. That used to take us about 60 minutes to do because we had to login to both consoles, do it, and make sure it got pushed out. That’s down to five minutes for us. So that’s a huge timesavings.

From the security administration side, by going into the console and making sure that everything is still reporting, that everything still looks good, making sure there haven’t been any viruses on any machines — that process went down from 2.5 to three hours a week to less than 15 minutes.

GravityZone has a good reporting setup. I actually have a schedule set every morning to give me the malware activity and phishing activity from the day before. I don’t even have to go into the console to look at all that data. I get a nice e-mail in the morning and I can just visually see what happened.

At the end of the month we also have a reports setup that tells us the 10 highest endpoints that were infected with malware, and we can be proactive and go out and either re-educate our staff if it’s happening with a certain person. Not only from the security administration time has it saved us, it also helps us with security-related trouble calls. I would say that they have probably dropped at least 10 percent to 15 percent on those since we rolled out Bitdefender hospital-wide.

Gardner: Of course, you also want to make sure your end-users are seeing improvement. How about the performance degradation and false positives? Have you heard back from the field? Or maybe not, and that’s the proof?

User-friendly performance

Yarbro: You said it best right there. We haven’t heard anything from end-users. They don’t even know it’s there. With this type of roll out, no news is good news. They didn’t even notice the transition except an increase in performance. But otherwise they didn’t even know that anything was there, and the false positives haven’t been there.

We have our exclusion policy set, and it really hasn’t given us any headaches. It has helped our physicians quite a bit because they need uninterrupted access to medical information. They used to have to call whenever our endpoints lost their exclusion list and their software was getting flagged. It was very frustrating for them. They must be able to get into our EMR systems and log that information as quickly as possible. With Bitdefender, they haven’t had to call IT or anything like that, and it’s just helped them greatly.

Gardner: Back to our high-level discussion about going strategic with security, do you feel that using GravityZone and other Bitdefender technologies and solutions have been able to help you elevate your security to being comprehensive, deep, and something that’s more holistic?

Multilayered, speedier security

Yarbro: Yes, definitely. We did not have this level of control with our old systems. First of all, we didn’t have antivirus on all of our servers because it impacted them so negatively. Some of our more critical servers didn’t even have protection.

Just having our entire environment at 100 percent coverage has made us a lot more secure. The extra features that Bitdefender offers — not just the antivirus piece but also the application blocking, device control, and firewall roles control just adds another level of security that we didn’t even dream about with our old solutions.

Gardner: How about the network in the data center? Is that something that you’ve been able to better applying policies and rules to in ways that you hadn’t before?

Yarbro: Yes, now with Bitdefender there is an option to offload scanning to a security server. We decided at first not to go with that solution because when we installed Bitdefender on our VDI endpoints, we didn’t see any increased CPU or memory utilization across any of our hosts, which is a complete 180-degrees from what we had before.

But for some of our other servers, servers in our DMZ, we are thinking about using the security server approach to offload all of the scanning. It will further increase performance across our virtualized server environment.

Gardner: From an economic standpoint, that also gives you more runway, so to speak, in terms of having to upgrade the hardware. You are going to get more bang for your buck in your infrastructure investments.

With servers-level security, it doesn’t have to send that file back or check it again — it already knows. That just speeds things up, almost exponentially.

Yarbro: Yes, exactly. And with that servers-level security, it’s beneficial to note that if there’s ever an upgrade for software or patches, that once a server checks into it first, if another server checks in or another desktop checks in, it already has that exclusion. It doesn’t have to send that file back or check it again — it already knows. So it just speeds things up, almost exponentially, on those other devices.

Gardner: Just a more intelligent way to go about it, I would think.

Yarbro: Yes.

Gardner: Have you been looking to some of the other Bitdefender technologies? Where do you go next in terms of expanding your horizon on security?

One single pane of secure glass

Yarbro: The extra Bitdefender components that we’re kind of testing right now are device control and firewall, of being able to make sure that only devices that we allow can be hooked up, say via USB ports. That’s critical in our environment. We don’t want someone to come in here with a flash drive and install or upload a virus or anything along those lines.

The application and website blacklisting is also something that’s coming in the near future. We want to make sure that no malware, if it happens, can get past. We are also looking to consolidate two more management systems into just our Bitdefender console. That would be for encryption and patch management.

Bitdefender can do encryption as well, so we can just roll our current third-party software into Bitdefender. It will give us one pane of glass to manage all of these security features. In addition to patch management, we are using two different systems; one for servers, one for Windows endpoints. If we can consolidate that all into Bitdefender, because those policies are already in there, it would just be a lot of easier to manage and make us a lot more secure.

Gardner: Anything in terms of advice for others who are transitioning off of other security solutions? What would you advise people to do as they are going about a change from one security infrastructure to another?

Slow and steady saves the servers

Yarbro: That’s a good question. Make sure that you have all of your exclusion lists set properly. Bitdefender already in the console has Windows, VMware’s and Citrix’s best practices in their policies.

You only have to worry about your own applications, as long as you structure it properly from the beginning. Bitdefender’s engineers helped us with quite a bit. Just go slow and steady. From May to July last year we were able to do 425 servers. We probably could have done more than that, but we didn’t want to risk breaking something. Luckily, we didn’t push it to those more critical servers because we did change a few of our policy settings that probably would have broken a few of those and had us down for a while if we had put it all in right away.

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

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Posted in application transformation, Bitdefender, Citrix, Cloud computing, Cyber security, Data center transformation, disaster recovery, Help desk, Identity, Security, server, User experience, Virtualization, VMware | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment