Sansom IT – Sourcing Infrastructure Solutions

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Jul 13
Brexit: What now for IT?
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Winston Churchill

The votes have been cast and decision made. Democracy at its best even if the decision is not what most businesses wanted. It’s now about what we do next to make sure we prosper in an uncertain and volatile market.
In my mind the internal wrangling at Westminster is a side show in the fact that it won’t stop any time soon. As soon as the leadership arm-wrestling is over, the arm-wrestling over article 50 begins, and once invoked 2 years of negotiation and more arm-wrestling. Great if you enjoy parliament TV, not so good if you’re charged with the future of a business and those who work for it.
We will be stuck with a degree of un-certainty for some time. However, in theory nothing has actually changed yet. So what volume of uncertainty can there reasonably be out there? The result was a shock but common sense suggests the general hysteria should calm down in the near future. It’s surely in Britain’s and the EU’s best interests to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement that facilities trade and cooperation in key areas. It would be a huge blow to both economies should we wind back the clock 40 years, however nothing can be ruled out at this point.
So how do we adjust our IT strategies to protect our organisations and businesses from uncertainty?
First of all, you need an IT strategy. I know this sounds cheap however I see a lot of customers without one. And to be clear just saying “cloud” or “hyper-convergence” is not a strategy. I would advise those in positions of responsibility to lock yourself away and draft/ look at your strategy and start thinking how Brexit and a sustained period of uncertainty affects it. Clarity of thinking is going to be key over the next few years and a good strategy aligned to business objectives will only assist.
Are large Capex investments in your best interests at the moment? It depends what alternative options are available and what the investment is for. If you are investing in development or infrastructure that is core to your business activity and/ or will supply a point of differentiation, then it should be considered. The assumption is the outcome will drive efficiencies and revenue.
However, if you are replacing a legacy infrastructure and upgrading your messaging servers it’s time to stop and think about the alternatives! What’s the point and parting with a large capex investment if there is no possibility of a financial benefit. In an uncertain time, your business could easily shrink rather than grow, and then the investment is essentially wasted. IT infrastructure and associated services like backup etc are neither core to business activity or supply no point of differentiation for most organisations. The business case to invest in these areas has to be rock solid because the opex alternatives offer a much more sustainable commercial model.
If your business is using IT service providers or is hosting infrastructure on the continent, there should be plenty of time before you need to consider hitting the eject button. However, depending on the nature of the services and their value to the business, you need some sort of exit plan. Waiting for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will be risky if things turn sour. Also there are significant complexities and risks in large scale migrations so the more time you commit now the better the outcome.
There may be the need to renegotiated existing contracts should legislation change in key areas such as data residency and protection. So make sure you understand what your current commercial commitments are. Remember it’s the businesses responsibility as the data controller to know where the data is and that its being processed correctly. So if you don’t know what data is where or the ins and outs of relationship with a European based 3rd party, get on top of it. It’s the known unknown’s that will trip you up just as hard as the unknown unknown’s. Make sense?
Lastly it’s time to rally to the cause. Britain has made its decision, it’s now up to us to make that decision the best for everyone. Working smarter and innovating will get us through what is sure to be a turbulent next few years.​

Jul 13
Why use 3rd party broker to buy cloud services?
When life gets complicated we quite often turn to brokers to help reduce complexity and make better decisions. In return the broker gets a fee for helping find the right product, communicating the pros and cons, and ultimately completing the deal. Stocks and shares, insurance, mortgages, energy – brokers provide services wherever a specialist need exists. With so much transition and change in the technology industry, is an independent broker a service that now justifies the fee for businesses today?
Buying Cloud infrastructure (IaaS) and associated services such as DR, Backup and Restore, desktop etc is a complex, time consuming task that businesses can’t afford to get wrong. The impact of doing so can mean overly complex IT environment, poor performance, higher IT spend and a lack of security leaving your data and business vulnerable. The IT industry is anything but simple and there is a huge amount of change in the market to learn about and then act upon.
Most businesses turn to their internal IT team to buy their IT services. However, there is a conflict of interest that means the business may not be getting the agile, sustainable solution that benefits them in the medium to long term. The perception from an internal IT management position can be that outsourcing elements of your IT environment to cloud service providers (CSPs) is eroding their influence. Traditionally IT departments were almost all technicians that built and supported infrastructure and applications. Now that IT services can be better delivered by a 3rd party, modern IT departments are transitioning to a different skill set, such as business analysis, vendor management and only the technical skills that are necessary to the core business activity are kept in house. This is a big change and some IT management figures still want to keep the infrastructure and all round technical skills to retain their status as a predominantly technical IT function. This is in conflict with a business strategy that wants to streamline operations and increase sustainability and agility to react to opportunities.
An independent perspective can help refine IT strategy and bring forward different solutions that will fulfil the needs of the business. However, your partner must be truly independent and not a reseller of various CSP’s products. This way you can be assured of getting the right advice and reduce the risk of procuring solutions and partners that are not fit for purpose.
Experience and knowledge of enterprise cloud market is crucial to the success of transforming an IT environment. It’s difficult for internal IT staff to balance managing a busy environment and keep up to date with the products and companies that are really innovating and changing the way we deliver IT services. Opportunities to transform IT delivery and reduce costs are missed because of time constraints, inexperience and lack of market visibility. To make sure this doesn’t happen a business needs to consider outside help.
Lastly if you are considering using a broker to help transform your IT delivery you need to be aware of different service offerings. Some brokerages sell SaaS platforms that broker the purchasing of IaaS between multiple CSPs. These are great if you know the service you want and you need multiple vendors to service your business. However, they are limited in scope to offer independent advice. Also the approach taken to source and procure solutions is absolutely important. You must be satisfied that the service being provided takes into consideration all of your business and technical requirements. If it doesn’t you are at risk of procuring solutions that are not fit for purpose.
Square pegs and round holes are not compatible and IT is no longer a one size fits all discussion. If your business wants to benefit from the cloud market, then anindependent broker can give you the vision and the manpower to do this. As the technology industry continues to evolve the broker role will become more relevant.
Mar 09
"The Cloud" there's more to it.

Like a lot of people, I like to read the Sunday papers. Generally, it’s to review sporting events and current affairs, however, on Sunday 14th February - Valentine’s day, for the romantic or the married - I was drawn to an exposé about cloud computing. The thing that struck me was the use of ​the term “the cloud” and the generic, undefined meaning associated with it.  It is my belief that the IT industry often places more value on a term, than what it actually represents.

Let me try and explain.

Cloud Computing is a concept that has three core characteristics.  When all three are present when delivering IT infrastructure or an application, essentially you have a cloud service.

  1. Customer self-service. Automation and orchestration of tasks and processes are completed in the background where the customer doesn’t see and is only concerned when it doesn’t work.

  2. Scalability.  No major step changes are chargeable or visible to the customer when increasing usage. They can scale the service as and when they need to, and associated usage should be reflected in the billing if provided by a third party.

  3. Wide Area Network (WAN). A cloud service should be delivered to the customer out of a purpose-built data centre across a WAN.  This could be the internet or a corporate network.

So in my mind cloud computing has been with us for some time. Think about the early internet e-mail services that were about. Hotmail, yahoo etc.  They all had, and still have, the above characteristics. 

So when we refer to “the cloud” are we just referring to these three basic characteristics?  To my mind we are not, and this is where the confusion exists. 

The technology industry is specialising in delivering their products as a service, rather than designing and shipping the various components for the customer to build. This change is in part due to the cloud concept, but more credit has to go to the advancements in technology, such as virtualisation and low latency networks. These newer, faster, more functional IT services are delivered incorporating the characteristics of cloud computing. Therefore, when we use the term “the cloud”, are we are intimating that the service that was delivered in house by your IT team, will now be delivered by a specialist technology company?  Otherwise known as outsourcing.

However, businesses do create their own private clouds by purchasing outright the component pieces, building, and delivering the service back to their internal customers. Is this investment ownership model discounted from the term?

Another interesting aspect about the use of “the cloud” is the benefits which are attributed to it. Some of the benefits are plainly due to the functionality of the application which was obviously created for the role it was deployed. The application is delivered as a service, however it’s not the cloud delivery model that gives the benefit. By attributing the application specific benefits to such a generic term is disingenuous at best.

If you are not in the IT industry, the term must seem vague. And if you use it in the same context as the internet then you must think “the cloud” is a single entity. Which it is not, yet we in the IT industry still use “the cloud” to refer to multiple, separate IT services that incorporate 3 different service models (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), 3 different delivery models (Public, Private and Hybrid), that are available in a plethora of different commercial models. The only aspect in common are three characteristics.

The truth about adopting cloud computing is every business needs to research the market based on their requirements, and go through the appropriate levels of due diligence and planning. They need to consider all options to make the right choices for their businesses. Delivering an IT service is simply not a one size fits all discussion. There are a range of specialist products and service providers that now offer real choice, the new challenge is making sense of it all.

A simple life beckons for those running an end user IT organisation.  However, overplaying, “The cloud” doesn’t reflect the progress in the industry and work required to take advantage of it.   

Originally published on Compare the Cloud on March the 9th, 2016. View the original here.​


Feb 16
IaaS, the infrastructure IT utility?

When a business today opens an electricity bill it sees the amount of electricity used over the billing period and the cost per kilowatt hour. What the business doesn't see is a separate flat rate allocated per appliance and to the various pieces of electronic equipment that have been deployed in the office. Imagine paying a flat rate for the electricity to power your air conditioning, but only using it heavily for 2 months a year; commercially it doesn't make sense. Yet we are willing to accept the flat rate model and the complexities that go with it when we buy and deploy cloud IaaS.

Is the current cloud infrastructure (IaaS) market, delivering an easy to use, consumer friendly service, similar to common utilities? Or should we be looking at the benefits of an alternative commercial model, utility computing, which differs from the widely used cloud IaaS model.

When comparing IT infrastructure to a utility model of delivering a service it is important to define what we mean. Standard utilities such as electricity and gas are delivered in a model where we, the consumer, only pay for the actual amount we use. Generally, this is considered to be the fairest way to buy utilities, as well as other goods and services such as food and commodities. All associated costs for the service, such as production and delivery, are included in the amount we pay at the end of the billing cycle. The key to the success of the commercial model is there is a single unit of measurement that enables the service provider to measure, and charge for the amount of resource that we have consumed.

This model essentially removes the consumer from any of the responsibilities and financial investment into the supply, production and maintenance of the utility. The consumer is only concerned about the unit cost, the amount of resource used, and the reliability of the supplier. With regards to changing supplier, all suppliers use the same unit of measurement, and are therefore easily comparable. The complexities of managing supply and demand are removed from the consumer and the buying process is simplified to make the resource easy to use.

Let's look at how this model translates into the world of IT infrastructure and the cloud IaaS market.

Traditionally organisations/ the consumer owned and invested in the technology and people to deliver their IT. The organisation took on the responsibility of managing supply and demand, so they could deliver data and applications to the business. They also, inadvertently, took on headaches such as keeping pace with changing technologies, recruiting and skilling specialist staff, scaling to meet demand, financing ad-hoc capital investment and building specialist facilities, the list goes on.

This is not a simple model for the consumer to understand, and therefore control. As a consequence, costs and delivery standards were, and still are, wildly different between organisations. 

The cloud era has brought about IaaS and more of a utility aspect to infrastructure delivery. Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) are specialised and the consumer pays on an opex basis, no ownership of assets and no responsibility for supply and demand. However, it is not common practise to pay for IaaS as a true utility, or in other words only pay for the resources that have been used.

Most CSPs sell their cloud IaaS instances at a flat rate depending on the amount of resources (CPU, storage etc) allocated. It doesn't matter how well utilised the instance is over the billing period the customer pays the full amount. Therefore, if you deploy a 100 IaaS instances and most of them are over provisioned for the workloads they support, then you are wasting a considerable amount of money. For context, we see far more over-provisioned servers, than we do under-provisioned.

The other problem is variation in sizing (resources allocated) and flat rate pricing models for the IaaS cloud instances. Because each CSP's rates and instance sizes differ, it is an overly time consuming and complex task to work out who is offering value for money, and then to forecast your future spend.

The cloud model has changed infrastructure delivery for the better, however it is still not delivered in a consumer or business friendly model. What both the traditional investment ownership and cloud IaaS models have in common is that billing units are fixed logical containers of resource. The logical containers have just progressed from physical server, to virtual server, to cloud instance. If we want to be more efficient with infrastructure usage and IT spend, the industry needs to look to our common utilities for inspiration.

For a utility computing model to be effective in the IaaS space there must be a common unit of infrastructure measurement. 6fusion's Workload Allocation Cube (WAC) is a patented algorithm used to formulate a single unit of IT measurement, that combines the 6 compute resource metric readings together. A thousand WACs is equal to one kWAC hr, similar to gas and electricity utilities.

WAC -png2.png

This unit of IT measurement is already in use to facilitate trade on a utility computing spot exchange called the Universal Compute Xchange (UCX). The exchange has a number of vetted CSPs selling their IaaS products through their online trading platform. The best way for customers to buy via the exchange is to engage a registered broker. 

The broker role is a relatively new one in IT but not uncommon in other industries.  The broker will be a member of the exchange and has access to better pricing than non-members. Their role is to facilitate trade between the buyers and seller. However, as this is IT, a buyer may have specific needs for their workloads, so the broker will need to understand the requirements and purchase units with all the necessary assurances in place. The requirements organisations currently have like performance, security, compliance and service levels will still need to be addressed.

What the utility computing marketplace gives the customer is pricing transparency and usage based billing, so finance and business stakeholders can see where their IT spend is going. The simple commercial model also enables benchmarking and forecasting of future consumption and spend. This model seems superior to the currently more popular flat rate per IaaS instance, where the price is calculated on the resources allocated. Benchmarking and forecasting future deployments and spend is inherently more difficult in the flat rate model.

If the future of IT infrastructure is to be treated as a utility and a commodity that is on tap to drive innovation and customer engagement, then consumers must demand a more commercially savvy charging model. It's time to consider utility computing and the commercial benefits it can bring. 

Originally published on Compare the Cloud on February 16th, 2016. View the original here.​

May 26
Cloud Infrastructure: resource consumed not allocated.

This article focuses on why we need to change our perception of IT infrastructure from a resource that is allocated in fixed units, to a resource consumed as a utility. When we talk about IT infrastructure we are talking about Compute, Network and Storage components that deliver your data and applications to your business. For more information click here.

The evolution of the IT industry has spawned the cloud computing concept, and this is challenging the way organisations deliver IT services to their staff and customers. The IT industry is now mature enough for business decision makers to look at their IT needs and decide where these needs are best serviced from. The decision making should be influenced by a number of factors, however for most the economics of the situation is a major consideration.

If we look at infrastructure resource as a fixed allocation, the efficiency and value can be easily distorted. TCO tells us how much a block of infrastructure cost the business, however it doesn't tell us the value of that infrastructure in terms of resource utilised.  For instance, if your business provisions a bundle of compute and storage resource and usage peaks at 40% of capacity, then the business loses 60p of every pound dedicated to deploying and maintaining that infrastructure. Traditionally the IT industry has taught us to procure for beyond the peak because usage has only been going one way, up, and upgrading to meet demand was an expensive, complicated and time-consuming task. The IT department did what was right at the time and planned ahead.

We now need to re-condition our perceptions to evaluate more efficient options based on the needs of the organisation we are servicing. Cloud Infrastructure solutions give us the ability to purchase resource in smaller increments on an OPEX basis so it is inherently easier to meet demand.  However if we are deploying resource in a fixed allocation model to meet an estimated peak in the medium to long term, we lose the economic benefit. To service the business most efficiently our focus must be on measuring the infrastructure resource that is consumed, then we see trends and statistics that support the demands of the business currently.  We can use these metrics to maximise the agility benefit of cloud infrastructure solutions. The industry has evolved and our perception about how we meet changing demands needs to evolve with it.

Enterprise IT and especially infrastructure resource to service it can be compared to a moving sand dune: over time its size and shape will change. The factors that directly affect the consumption of infrastructure resource are difficult to plan for. User numbers change, business activity fluctuates, and there are changes and upgrades to applications to cater for. Consumption is simply not static. The impact of underestimating the amount of infrastructure required to support business endeavours is simple, staff struggle to work and as a result business output suffers.  Conversely, the business doesn't want to spend large sums of money on infrastructure for it to be essentially wasted. So how is a balance struck between the two major protagonists, the IT and Finance departments?

In truth this has been very difficult and all infrastructure deployment models (Physical, Virtual, Cloud, internal and 3rd party) are prone to being over or underutilised should the problem be ignored. For peace and prosperity to reign there needs to be common ground. The technology element needs to be simplified so the finance guys can understand resource consumption compared to resource allocation, and there needs to be an economic measurement to help the IT guys justify their budget and where they deploy resources. More information about how this achievable is available here.

The reality is that IT infrastructure is a utility, it supplies no point of differentiation for most businesses. If we are not measuring and managing it efficiently it will be draining away at your companies P&L.

Apr 12
Welcome to my blog!

This is where I'll be sharing my thoughts on topics that matter to me. Who knows... I might even share pictures, videos and links to other interesting stuff.

If I catch your interest, let me hear from you.