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A Better Demo: Cloud Solution Boosts Sales Strategy

Managed services deliver control, security and flexibility to sales and IT teams.

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Credit: iStock/shironosov

Public cloud services were a key part of the operating environment for a software platform company that helps businesses analyze their security, service quality, operational efficiency and regulatory compliance. Like many of its customers, the company relied heavily on public cloud services — popular because they are perceived as less expensive than buying equipment and hiring staff to maintain it.

But that perception is not necessarily accurate. The cloud is easier. But it’s not always cheaper.

Sales teams relied on the company’s computing environment to demo its software, which scours logs from applications and network infrastructure, and then presents actionable data for customers’ IT staff and other personnel. But the effectiveness of those demos was undermined because sales teams had to use emulators and canned scenarios rather than live infrastructure and real-world data. The reason? The company’s cloud provider didn’t provide low-level access to the infrastructure running its applications.

As a result, the sales teams were effectively telling prospective customers: “Trust us. This is how our product will work in a live environment.”

Bare-Metal Access
Not surprisingly, the company wanted an alternative that would provide live, unfettered access to the types of systems its software interfaces with in the real world. Initially, that appeared to require ditching the cloud. 

“The only option they could think of was to do it back on-premises themselves,” says Will Titherington, a CDW data center specialist and principal field solution architect. “That meant having an awful lot more staff, colocation and all of the other things that go with having an on-prem solution.” 

The company’s ideal scenario was a cloud solution that would provide low-level access, all the way down to the basic input/output system (BIOS). Enter CDW’s hosted private cloud service: The company would enjoy all the control and access of on-premises infrastructure, while servers, switches, firewalls and other gear would sit in CDW’s data centers and be managed by CDW staff. When Titherington met with a project manager from the company, he says, “we had a very in-depth meeting and mapped out his requirements. I took one look at it and said, ‘This is the perfect managed service play.’” 

Here’s why: Hardware-level access was critical because the company needed the ability to change versions to validate that its solutions were compatible with prospective customers’ systems — an option unavailable with traditional cloud services. But in CDW’s cloud, the company could manage all the way down to the bare metal.

Full Control in a Dedicated Environment
The company also wanted the ability to stock its private cloud with preferred vendors, including Cisco Systems, NetApp, Palo Alto Networks and VMware — flexibility that traditional providers wouldn’t accommodate. But CDW could, along with another benefit: dedicated infrastructure for the company’s applications.

“It’s really easy in our hosted private cloud environment, since all of the equipment is dedicated to each customer,” says Colin Huber, who handles aggregation, infrastructure and managed services for CDW. “The contract says they don’t share it with anyone else.”

CDW based the company’s solution on the FlexPod architecture, so it was validated by Cisco and NetApp as a full stack of converged infrastructure. Then, Huber says, “CDW manages it all the way up to the hypervisor level, so the company can consume all of the resources like it’s a cloud environment. They don’t have to worry about anything below their guest virtual machines.” Enhanced security and privacy are the major benefits of that approach. When infrastructure is shared, there’s always the risk that another tenant could be hacked or subject to law enforcement seizure. If that happens, the data for all the other tenants on that server is at risk.

But the biggest draw for the company was being able to show prospective customers how its software platform works in a real environment: in this case, by pulling data from the infrastructure running not only the company’s customer-facing solutions, but also internal processes such as Active Directory, virtual infrastructure and firewalls.

The results for the company’s demo delivery are huge. Sales meetings have gone from artificial demo data to live, real-world data. The company can accurately demonstrate how it manages its own server environment. That’s a convincing use case that amplifies the ability to execute successful technical sales — only without the capital and operating expenses of having all that gear on-premises. 

That ease of management is especially beneficial given the IT department’s relatively small size. “They didn’t want to manage this environment themselves,” says David Greenberg, a CDW field account executive who worked with Titherington.

Reliability with Affordability
The company chose CDW partly because the managed services model provided reliability at a lower cost. The demo team deploys and configures dozens of servers every day. They needed the flexibility to change those configurations on the fly — for example, to accommodate a customer’s request to see how its software would work in a specific environment. And in all cases, the sales team needed maximum uptime to prevent an outage mid-demo. 

To get that stability with its previous cloud provider, the company had to configure duplicate instances across multiple zones, so that if one went down, the demo could switch to a redundant instance. But this approach came at a steep price, an expense it could reduce by choosing CDW.

“Because it’s a converged infrastructure, there’s complete redundancy built into the platform, so there’s no single point of failure at any piece of their infrastructure,” Huber says. “And because it’s all dedicated to them, they have a set amount of resources to do anything they want. If they want to run multiple instances of the same thing, the pricing is no different than if they’re running a single server.”

The company also shifted some internal applications to CDW, where it’s reaping similar benefits. For example, IT managers were able to eliminate more than half of the Active Directory infrastructure servers. That cut costs and complexity and allowed for greater flexibility in provisioning resources. For example, CDW’s use of VMware makes it easy for the company to find a maintenance window, adjust the CPU or memory, and then start the server back up.
 
A Smooth, Speedy Migration
The contract that the company signed at the end of September required everything to be up and running by Halloween.

That was a tall order, considering that such projects typically take eight to 12 weeks. “It was a very tight timeline,” says Stuart McKirdy, CDW channel manager for managed services. “We had a lot of late nights.”

To ensure a smooth migration, CDW gave the company a dedicated, high-bandwidth virtual private network between its existing facilities and CDW’s Virginia data center. That sped up the migration of the company’s data from the public servers and, in turn, reduced costs. 

Those benefits demonstrate why this option is worth considering for any major migration, especially in markets where broadband providers offer big pipes on a short-term basis. The migration, originally scheduled to take 30 days, was completed in just five. According to program managers, that faster-than-expected migration was the only surprise in a project that was organized and executed smoothly.

Room to Expand
The demos and other applications fared so well, the company has already expanded the contract for its security team, which needed low-level access for testing. It still runs a few applications on its former cloud services provider, a decision that complements its CDW-enabled strategy. The program manager determined that the best fit was a mixture of onsite resources — with physical servers hosted by CDW — and a public cloud provider that could fill in gaps for redundancy, disaster recovery and coverage for certain offshore locations. 

For organizations that have IT expertise in-house, yet also want the benefits of managed services, a hybrid approach can be the best way to take advantage of cloud savings, security and flexibility.

CDW’s Solution: An Overview
CDW worked with the company to design a hosted private cloud environment on an all-flash FlexPod platform, combined with CDW managed services solutions. The FlexPod platform is hosted in a CDW data center, with a management console through CDW’s Enterprise Command Center. This model gives the company’s sales engineers individual access and full control to customize demos that fit each prospective customer’s environment and needs. The FlexPod infrastructure can scale as needed, a level of flexibility that meets the company’s varying requirements. It also offers better performance than the public cloud provided and at a lower cost.

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