Why a Cloud Management Platform is a Hybrid Cloud Must-Have

Although a hybrid cloud offering is the clear preference for the majority of businesses looking to leverage cloud services, this move often brings its own complexity, volatility, and other potential obstacles.

As IT service providers and end users become more accepting of the cloud’s growing role in business, another trend within cloud is emerging, based on the idea that it rarely makes sense for businesses to put all their storage and compute “eggs” in the same cloud basket. The reality is that some IT is better served in a public cloud environment and others are better suited for a private cloud environment. And, now within the cloud explosion is a trend within the trend, which is the hybrid cloud phenomenon. A recent survey by InformationWeek revealed that nearly 47% of companies are developing hybrid cloud systems. Research from Gartner corroborates this finding, predicting that nearly half of all enterprises will adopt hybrid cloud offerings by 2017.

The trend appears to be extending through all industries, too, which makes sense because having the “best of both worlds” is something everybody wants. On the one hand, private cloud promises better security, control, predictability and easy access to large legacy data sets. Public cloud’s appeal, on the other hand, is that it’s convenient, scalable, less expensive, mobile, collaboration friendly, and incorporates multitenant services.

The Search for Hybrid Utopia Comes With Serious Challenges, New Solutions
While it makes good business sense why businesses need to keep some IT local, some in a private cloud, and the rest in a public cloud, implementing and managing this environment can quickly turn into an IT nightmare, requiring multiple tools from multiple vendors to monitor and manage each environment (read: silo), plus multiple calls to multiple parties must be made when problems occur in order to get to the root cause. This, of course, leads to lots of finger-pointing and could easily nullify the benefits of a hybrid computing initiative.

Fortunately, vendors are paying attention to implementation problems, and companies including Cisco, Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, and VMware have made substantial progress simplifying the implementation process and working with cloud service providers to integrate private and public infrastructure.

Most recently, Cisco announced significant momentum around its Intercloud, which is its platform for interoperable cloud services designed to offset or even eliminate the potential pitfalls hybrid cloud deployments face.

Intercloud is based on the OpenStack architecture and can accommodate any workload on any hypervisor and works with any public or private cloud. Cisco also announced that 20 additional partners have joined its Intercloud initiative, dramatically expanding its reach with 250 additional data centers across 50 countries.

What IT service providers selling cloud services will find most important is that Cisco is now offering the Cisco Intercloud Services bundle, a hybrid cloud service that enables customers currently using only public or private cloud services to expand seamlessly to both services.

Cisco is further backing up its claims by earmarking $1 billion in financial aid to Cisco customers and partners involved in deploying Cisco technologies needed to transition to hybrid clouds.

As the hybrid cloud model continues to become the new standard in cloud computing, cloud management platforms will play an increasingly important role in enabling end customers and IT service providers alike to realize the benefits of hybrid cloud without having to relive the data silo nightmares of the past.

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6 Tips for Making Great IT Sales Hiring Decisions

If you’ve ever made a bad hiring decision and had to fix a problem caused by an employee’s incompetence or poor attitude, you can attest to the fact that who you hire plays a big role in your success — and peace of mind.

When it comes to hiring IT salespeople, VanGuard Technologies‘ President Matthew Adkins has learned several important lessons on this topic over the past 11+ years, which he shared with me recently. The bottom line for Adkins is that business owners/hiring managers need to get to the “why” of the situation. Specifically:

  1. WHY sales?
  2. WHY IT sales?
  3. WHY my company?
A must-read before hiring your next IT salesperson.

A must-read before hiring your next IT salesperson, says Matthew Adkins, President, VanGuard Technologies.

Additionally, Adkins offers the following six tips that will help any IT service provider make better IT sales hiring decisions:

1. Read up on federal and state laws about the interviewing process and what questions you can and cannot ask (I took an HR class for business owners at a local college).

2. Give them 3 minutes to prepare a sales pitch for some product you sell or give them your sales PowerPoint to present cold to your staff.

3. Ask them hard, tough questions to see how they handle them.

4. Check to see if candidates did their homework – if they didn’t memorize your website, Facebook page, and Twitter before they came in (bonus points for knowing I was on the cover of Business Solutions magazine, and I’m a server at my church) then they probably won’t do it for a prospect.

5. I don’t hire salespeople on commission only, and I don’t hire them on a huge base/small commission. Which reminds me – anyone hiring a salesperson should learn about compensation plans and have one figured out before beginning any interviews. If you don’t have a sales compensation plan inked out you are not ready to hire – trust me on this.

6. I recommend every organization leader read the book “EntreLeadership” by Dave Ramsey before hiring anyone.


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Give Your Disaster Recovery Sales Approach a “Ready” Makeover

As we approach the last few days of September, a national month-long celebration winds down. Not sure what you should have been celebrating this month? Why, National Preparedness Month (NPM) of course. According to Ready.gov, the national public service advertising arm of FEMA, this September marks the eleventh annual NPM. After checking into it, I realized that there’s tons of useful information that VARs and MSPs could use to engage their customers about the topic of protecting their businesses from various types of “disasters.”

Not only does the site include a helpful  five-step preparedness program for SMBs, using these resources and NPM can be a great way to bring up a topic that many IT service providers tend to either shy away from out of fear of not wanting to be seen as a doomsayer.

Neal Bradbury, vice president of channel development at Intronis does a great job outlining “5 Tips for a ‘Ready’ Approach to Disaster Recovery Planning,” which summarizes Ready‘s five-step preparedness program.

Here are the five steps as well as a brief summary of how they can be applied to your clients, along with my comments on the first two steps:

Step 1 — Develop A Preparedness Policy. This step includes a litmus test that can help you determine your customer’s/prospect’s awareness and attitude toward the threat of a disaster. If they pass the test, you can then help them develop a policy defining the goals and objectives as well as determining who is responsible for keeping the policy current.

Step 2 — Planning. This entails performing a business impact analysis that spells out the financial and operational impacts resulting from a disruption to the business as well as how these threats could be minimized.

Step 3 — Implementation. 

Step 4 — Testing And Exercises.

Step 5 — Program Improvement.

If you’ve been putting off the important discussion of disaster planning, it’s still not too late to get into the spirit of NPM. And, even if you don’t get to talk to some customers until after the event is officially over, no one is going to fault you for turning NPM into a two-month celebration.


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Why You Shouldn’t Dismiss the “Most-Hyped Technology of 2014″

I remember early in my IT writing career covering the AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) space and hearing about RFID (radio frequency identification). I was certain that by 2005, barcodes would be ancient history and everything would be automated thanks to RFID tags and transponders. Nearly 10 years later, barcodes are still the de facto standard and non of the retailers in my area are using “smart shelves.”

When I first heard about the Internet of Things less than two years ago, it reminded me of the RFID buzz from years ago. In fact, Gartner has dubbed the Internet of Things as “The most-hyped technology of 2014,” a title that would have easily described RFID 12 years ago. A closer look at the facts, however, reveals that this newer technology phenomena is very different from its predecessor. For one thing, as the infographic below points out, 1.9 billion devices are already communicating with one another today. Sure, we’re still a long way away from the physical world becoming “one big information system,” but when you consider how many “things” are already moving in that direction (e.g. shoes, watches, traffic lights, wind turbines), and there are ROI numbers to back it up, it becomes evident that the Internet of Things is a reality we should be embracing rather than shrugging off.

In fact, as you’ll see in the infographic below, not only is the Internet of Things something worth keeping up on, there is at least one key area where IT service providers should be honing their skills and helping their customers right now (the answer is at the bottom of the infographic for those who can’t take the suspense).



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Articulate The Value Of Business-Grade BDR

I recently spoke with experts from Axcient, Intronis, Unitrends, and StorageCraft to get their input on the must-have features VARs and MSPs should be looking for when selecting a business-grade BDR solution. In addition to sharing their insights on this topic (check out “Business-Grade BDR: What Really Matters?” to get all the details), there was another topic I was equally excited to get their opinion about: price. It’s no secret that business-grade solutions are more expensive than their consumer-grade counterparts, which means that price objections will be a reality you’ll have to face from time to time — especially in the SMB market. And, if you’re not able to articulate the value of your more expensive offering, you’ll have difficulty selling BDR.

Some VARs and MSPs treat BDR like a loss leader and either let customers choose their own backup products, or they sell business-class BDR at cost, rationalizing that they’ll make up the loss selling other IT services. StorageCraft’s Director of Product Management and Chief Evangelist, Matt Urmston, disagrees with this approach.

“Every time you take on a new client who is using an unfamiliar backup product, there is a time investment as technicians come up to speed. There is also a great deal of risk to the MSP who, in most cases, is providing an SLA that includes recovery time objectives. MSPs are viewed as the experts; this is why they are hired. By taking the time to educate clients and help them understand how important BDR is to their business, they will be more willing to implement your services, and you’ll end up with fewer sleepless nights.”

Intronis’ VP of Sales, Rob Merklinger, concurs and offers an additional tip to protect your profit margins:

“Don’t allow customers to nickel and dime your IT services. The most successful MSPs bundle their solutions and support into a complete managed services offering that commands a higher perceived value and leads to greater profitability. Moreover, successful MSPs ensure that foundational and business-critical services, such as security and data protection, are always included as part of the deal. Make sure to also stress the unique qualities your business brings to customers — including your level of service, your response times, and your proactive monitoring, alerting, and reporting.”

VARs and MSPs who follow these principles should not have to give anything away for free. Every product and service you provide customers has a perceived value, and the higher you can raise that value, the better. In the end, the perceived value is equal to, if not more important than, the actual value of a service.

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An MSP’s U-turn From Failure to Double-Digit Profits

A lot of IT service provider business success stories  can be summarized like this: “We were good, now we’re great, let me tell you why.” A conversation with VanGuard Technologies‘ President Matthew Adkins definitely does not follow that format — thankfully. Adkins shared with me recently that when the U.S. recession hit seven years ago, his company got painfully close to shutting its doors. In fact, Adkins was just four months away from closing down his business when he acted upon an email invite to attend an ASCII event focused on managed services. In the middle of the night, he drove from his home in Toledo, Ohio to the event, which was in Chicago.

Matthew Adkins, President, VanGuard Technologies

Matthew Adkins, President, VanGuard Technologies

One of the most important training sessions Adkins attended at the event was on the topic of PSA (professional services automation) and the value of automating his business processes.

“Up to that point, we used sticky notes and email to track IT projects and customer service requests. We were struggling to follow-up with customer requests in a timely fashion, and our billing procedures were haphazard.”

Shortly after the training session, Adkins investigated various PSA offerings and selected Autotask. Realizing he didn’t have the luxury of easing into the new solution, Adkins recalls his strategy for ensuring the PSA tool would be a top priority. “I told my engineers that every project gets entered into the PSA portal or we die,” he says.

VanGuard’s dramatic turnaround began just two months after it started using a PSA. You can find out which other changes it made that helped it get out of the red and into double-digit growth and profitability by reading, “Saved By Managed Services.”

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3 Traits The Most Successful IT Service Providers Possess

During his keynote presentation at the fall LogicNow (GFI Software’s newly restructured name, which combines GFI MAX, IASO cloud backup, and other cloud-based products) partner conference, Dave Sobel shared some great insights with attendees.

Sobel is the former CEO of Evolve Technologies, an IT service provider that earned several industry awards during his 15 years at the helm before becoming the director of partner community at Level Platforms and more recently fulfilling the same role at LogicNow.

Among the many insights Sobel shared at the event, the following three traits of successful MSPs stood out the most:

1. Develop operating process discipline. “The best MSPs are built on a foundation of repeatable processes,” says Sobel. That statement resonates with my experience talking with hundreds of service providers, too. I’ve observed that the best service providers don’t allow their bundled solutions to be sold in piecemeal fashion. Maintaining too many dissimilar products requires a larger investment in product training, and it makes troubleshooting problems more complex and time-consuming, which translates to lower profit margins.

2. Understand customers’ business requirements. “This isn’t just about technology,” Sobel pointed out at the event. “It’s about knowing how customers can use technology to achieve meaningful business outcomes.” I’ve seen this point illustrated numerous times in the healthcare arena where doctors are using the latest electronic health record software to be HIPAA-HITECH compliant, but they’re actually less productive than they were when they used pen and paper. Some IT service provider sold them the right IT stuff, but failed to help the practice understand how the new program could actually improve productivity and enable better patient care.

3.  Maintain market awareness. There was a time when the most successful service providers made their biggest margins selling hardware. That, of course, is not the case today and those providers who are still enjoying healthy margins are the ones who kept in touch with the changes happening in their markets and adapted accordingly. “Leading MSPs keep in touch with developing trends and confirm that products do what they say they will,” says Sobel.

One other hot topic Sobel talked about at the event and Business Solutions Chief Editor Mike Monocello talks about in his latest blog is agility. Be sure to check out, “Why Agility Equates to Longevity in Managed Services.”

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