Friday, January 3, 2020

As hybrid IT complexity ramps up, operators look to data-driven automation tools

The next edition of the BriefingsDirect Voice of the Innovator podcast series examines the role and impact of automation on IT management strategies.

Growing complexity from the many moving parts in today’s IT deployments are forcing managers to seek new productivity tools. Moving away from manual processes to bring higher levels of automation to data center infrastructure has long been a priority for IT operators, but now new tools and methods are making composability and automation better options than ever.

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

Here to help us learn more about the advancing role and impact from IT automation is Frances Guida, Manager of HPE OneView Automation and Ecosystem Product Management at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The interview is conducted by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What are the top drivers, Frances, for businesses seeking higher levels of automation and simplicity in their IT infrastructure?

Guida: It relates to what’s happening at a business level. It’s a truism that business today is moving faster than it ever has before. That puts pressure on all parts of a business environment -- and that includes IT. And so IT needs to deliver things more quickly than they used to. They can’t just use the old techniques; they need to move to much more automated approaches. And that means they need to take work out of their operational environments.

Gardner: What’s driving the complexity that makes such automation beneficial?

IT means business 

Guida: It again starts from the business. IT used to be a support function, to support business processes. So, it could go along on its own time scale. There wasn’t much that the business could or would do about it.

In 2020, technology is now part of the fabric of most of the products, services, and experiences that businesses offer. So when technology is part of an offering, all of a sudden technology is how a business is differentiated. As part of how a business is differentiated, business leaders are not going to take, “Oh, we will get to it in 18 months,” as an answer. If that’s the answer they get from the IT department, they are going to go look for other ways of getting things done.

And with the advances of public cloud technology, there are other ways of getting things done that don’t come from an internal IT department. So IT organizations need to be able to keep up with the pace of business change, because businesses aren’t going to accept their historical time scale.

Gardner: Does accelerating IT via automation require an ecosystem of partners, or is there one tool that rules them all?

Guida: This is not a one-size-fits-all world. I talk to customers in our HPE Executive Briefing Centers regularly. The first thing I ask them is, “Tell me about the toolsets you have in your environment.” I often ask them about what kinds of automation toolsets they have. Do you have Terraform or Ansible or Chef or Puppet or vRealize Orchestrator or something else? It’s not uncommon for the answer to be, “Yes.” They have all of them.

So even within a customer’s environment, they don’t have a single tool. We need to work with all the toolsets that the customers have in their IT environments.

Gardner: It almost sounds like you are trying to automate the automation. Is that fair?

Guida: We definitely are trying to take some of the hard work that has historically gone into automation and make it much simpler.
Complexity is Growing in the Data Center
What's the Solution?
Gardner: IT operations complexity is probably only going to increase, because we are now talking about pushing compute operations -- and even micro data centers -- out to the edge in places like factories, vehicles, and medical environments, for example. Should we brace ourselves now for a continuing ramp-up of complexity and diversity when it comes to IT operations?

Guida: Oh, absolutely. You can’t have a single technology that’s going to answer everything. Is the end user going to interface through a short message service (SMS) or are they going to use a smartphone? Are they going to be on a browser? Is it an endpoint that interacts with a system that’s completely independent of any user base technology? All of this means that IT has to be multifaceted.

Even if we look at data center technologies, for the last 15 years virtualization has been pretty much the standard way that IT deploys new systems. Now, increasingly, organizations are looking at a set of applications that don’t run in virtual machines (VMs), but rather are container-based. That brings a whole other set of complexity they have to think about in their environments.
Complexity is like entropy; it just keeps growing. When we started thinking about bringing a lot more flexibility to on-premises data center environments, we looked holistically at the problem ... at a deeper level.

Complexity is like entropy; it just keeps growing. When we started thinking about bringing a lot more flexibility to on-premises data center environments, we looked holistically at the problem. I don’t think the problem can only be addressed through better automation; in fact, it has to be addressed at a deeper level.

And so with our composable infrastructure strategies, we thought architecturally about how we could bring the same kind of flexibility you have in a public cloud environment to on-premises data centers. We realized we needed a way to liberate IT beyond the boundaries of physical infrastructure by being able to group that physical infrastructure into pools of resources that could be much more fluid and where the physical aspects could be changed.

Now, there is some hardware infrastructure technology in that, but a lot of that magic is done through software, using software to configure things that used to be done in a physical manner.
So we defined a layer of software-defined intelligence that captures all of the things you need to know about configuring physical hardware -- whether it’s firmware levels or biased headings or connections. We define and calculate all of that in software.

And automation is the icing on that cake. Once you have your infrastructure that can be defined in software, you can program it. That’s where the automation comes in, being able to use everyday automation tools that organizations are already using to automate other parts of their IT environment and apply that to the physical infrastructure without a whole bunch of unnatural acts that were previously required if you wanted to automate physical infrastructure.

Gardner: Are we talking about a fundamental shift in how infrastructure should be conceived or thought of here?

Consolidate complexity via automation 

Guida: There has been a saying in the IT industry for a while about moving from pets to cattle. Now we even talk about thinking about herds. You can brute-force that transition by trying to automate to all of the low-level application programing interfaces (APIs) in physical infrastructure today. Most infrastructure today is programmable, with rare exceptions.

But then you as the organization are doing the automation, and you must internalize that and make your automation account for all of the logic. For example, if you then make a change in the storage configuration, what does that mean for the way the network needs to be configured? What does that mean for firmware settings? You would have to maintain all of that in your own automation logic.
How to Simplify and Automate
Your Data Center
There are some organizations in the world that have the scale of automation engineering to be able to do that. But the vast majority of enterprises don’t have that capability. And so what we do with composable infrastructure, HPE OneView, and our partner ecosystem is we actually encapsulate all of that in our software to find intelligence. So all you have to do is take that configuration file and apply it to a set of physical hardware. It brings things that used to be extremely complex down to what a standard IT organization has the capabilities of doing today.

Gardner: And not only is that automation going to appeal to the enterprise IT organizations, it’s also going to appeal to the ecosystem of partners. They now have the means to use the composable infrastructure to create new value-added services.

How does HPE’s composability benefit both the end-user organizations and the development of the partner ecosystem?

Guida: When I began the composable ecosystem program, we actually had two or three partners. This was about four years ago. We have now grown to more than 30 different integrations in place today, with many more partners that we are talking to. And those range from the big, everyday names like VMware and Microsoft to smaller companies that may be present in only a particular geography.
But what gets them excited is that, all of a sudden, they are able to bring better value to their customers. They are able to deliver, for example, an integrated monitoring system. Or maybe they are already doing application monitoring, and all of a sudden they can add infrastructure monitoring. Or they may already be doing facilities management, managing the power and cooling, and all of a sudden they get a whole bunch of data that used to be hard to put in one place. Now they can get a whole bunch of data on the thermals, of what’s really going on at the infrastructure level. It’s definitely very exciting for them.

Gardner: What jumps out at you as a good example of taking advantage of what composable infrastructure can do?

Guida: The most frequent conversations I have with customers today begin with basic automation. They have many tools in their environment; I mentioned many of them earlier: Ansible, Terraform, Chef, Puppet, or even just PowerShell or Python; or in the VMware environment, vRealize Orchestrator.

They have these tools and really appreciate what we have been able to do with publishing these integrations on GitHub, for example, of having a community, and having direct support back to our engineers who are doing this work. They are able to pretty straightforwardly add that into their tools environment.
How a Software-Defined Data Center
Lets the Smartest People Work for You
And we at HPE have also done some of the work ourselves in the open source tools projects. Pretty much every automation tool that’s out there in mainstream use by IT -- we can handle it. That’s where a lot of the conversations we have with customers begin.

If they don’t begin there, they start back in basic IT operations. One of the ways people take advantage of the automation in HPE OneView -- but they don’t realize they are taking advantage of automation -- is in how OneView helps them integrate their physical infrastructure into a VMware vCenter or a Microsoft System Center environment.

Visualize everything, automatically 

For example, in a VMware vCenter environment, an administrator can use our plug-in and it automatically sucks in all of the data from their physical infrastructure that’s relevant to their VMware environment. They can see things in their vCenter environment that they otherwise couldn’t see.

They can see everything from a VM that’s sitting on the VM host that’s connected through the host bus adapters (HBAs) out to the storage array. There is the logical volume. And they can very easily visualize the entire logical as well as physical environment. That’s automation, but you are not necessarily perceiving it as automation. You are perceiving it as simply making an IT operations environment a lot easier to use.
The automation benefits -- instead of just going down into the IT operations -- can also go up to allow more cloud management. It affects infrastructure and applications.

For that level of IT operations integration, VMware and Microsoft environments are the poster children. But for other tools, like Micro Focus and some of the capacity planning tools, and event management tools like ServiceNow – those are another big use case category.

The automation benefits – instead of just going down into the IT operations – can also go up to allow more cloud management. Another way IT organizations take advantage of the HPE automation ecosystem means, “Okay, it’s great that you can automate a piece of physical infrastructure, but what I really need to do -- and what I really care about -- is automating a service. I want to be able to provision my SQL database server that’s in the cloud.”

That not only affects infrastructure pieces, it touches a bunch of application pieces, too. Organizations want it all done through a self-service portal. So we have a number of partners who enable that.

Morpheus comes to mind. We have quite a lot of engagements today with customers who are looking at Morpheus as a cloud management platform and taking advantage of how they can not only provision the logical aspects of their cloud, but also the physical ones through all of the integrations that we have done.
How to Simplify, Automate, and
Develop Faster
Gardner: How does HPE and the partner ecosystem automate the automation, given the complexity that comes with the newer hybrid deployment models? Is that what HPE OneView is designed to help do these days?

Automatic, systematic, cost-saving habit 

Guida: I want to talk about a customer who is an online retailer. If you think about the retail world -- obviously a highly dynamic world and technology is at the very forefront of the product that they deliver; technology is the product that they deliver.

They have a very creative marketing department that is always looking for new ways to connect to their customers. That marketing department has access to a set of application developers who are developing new widgets, new ways of connecting with customers. Some of those developers like to develop in VMs, which is more old school; some of the developers are more new school and they prefer container-based environments.

The challenge the IT department has is that from one week to the next they don’t fully know how much of their capacity needs to be dedicated to a VM versus a container environment. It all depends on which promotions or programs the business decides it wants to run at any time.

So the IT organization needed a way to quickly switch an individual VM host server to be reconfigured as a bare-metal container host. They didn’t want to pay a VM tax on their container host. They identified that if they were going to do that manually, there were dozens and dozens -- I think they had 36 or 37 -- steps that they needed to do. And they could not figure out a way to automate individually each one of those 37 steps.
When we brought them an HPE Synergy infrastructure -- managed by OneView, automated by Ansible -- they instantly saw how that was going to help solve their problems. They were able to change their environemnt from one personality to another in a completely automated fashion.

When we brought them an HPE Synergy infrastructure -- managed by OneView, automated with Ansible -- they instantly saw how that was going to help solve their problems. They were going to be able to change their environment from one personality to another personality in a completely automated fashion. And now they are able to do that changeover in just 30 minutes, and instead of needing dozens of manual steps. They have zero manual steps; everything is fully automated.

And that enables them to respond to the business requirements. The business needs to be able to run whatever programs and promotions it is that they want to run -- and they can’t be constrained by IT. Maybe that gives a picture of how valuable this is to our customers.

Gardner: Yes, it speaks to the business outcomes, which are agility and speed, and at the same time the IT economics are impacted there as well.

Speaking of IT economics and IT automation, we have been talking in terms of process and technology. But businesses are also seeking to simplify and automate the economics of how they acquire and spend on IT, perhaps more on a pay-per-use basis.

Is there alignment between what you are doing in automation and what HPE is doing with HPE GreenLake? Do the economics and automation reinforce one another?
How to Drive Innovation and
Automation in Your Data Center
Guida: Oh, absolutely. We bring physical infrastructure flexibility, and HPE GreenLake brings financial flexibility. Those go hand in hand. In fact, the example that I was just speaking about, the online retailer, they are very, very busy during the Christmas shopping season. They are also busy for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and back-to-school shopping. But they also have times where they are much less busy.

They have HPE GreenLake integrated into their environment so in addition to having the physical flexibility in their environment, they are financially aligning through a flexible capacity program and paying for technology -- in the way that their business model works. So, these things go hand-in-hand.

As I said earlier, I talk to a lot of HPE customers because I am based in the San Francisco Bay Area where we have our corporate headquarters. I am frequently in our Executive Briefing Center two to three times a week. There are almost no conversations I am part of that don’t lead eventually to the financial aspects, as well as the technical aspect, of how all the technology works.

Gardner: Because we have opened IT automation up to the programmatic level, a new breed of innovation can be further brought to bear. Once people get their hands on these tools and start to automate, what have you seen on the innovation side? What have people started doing with this that you maybe didn’t even think they would do when you designed the products?

Single infrastructure signals innovation 

Guida: Well, I don’t know that we didn’t think about this, but one of the things we have been able to do is make something that the IT industry has been talking about for a while in an on-premises IT environment.

There are lots of organizations that have IT capacity that is only used some of the time. A classic example is an engineering organization that provides a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) capability for engineers. These engineers need a bunch of analytics applications -- maybe it’s genomic engineering, seismic engineering, or fluid dynamics in the automotive industry. They have multiple needs. Typically they have been running those on different sets of physical infrastructures.

With our automation, we can enable them to collapse that all into one set of infrastructure, which means they can be much more financially efficient. Because they are more financially efficient on the IT side, they are able to then devote more of their dollars to driving innovation -- finding new ways of discovering oil and gas under the ground, new ways of making automobiles much more efficient, or uncovering new secrets within our DNA. By spending less on their IT infrastructure, they are able to spend more on what their core business innovation should be.

Gardner: Frances, I have seen other vendors approach automation with a tradeoff. They say, “Well, if you only use our cloud, it’s automated. If you only use our hypervisor, it’s automated. If you only use our database, it’s automated.”

But HPE has taken a different tack. You have looked at heterogeneity as the norm and the complexity as a result of heterogeneity as what automation needs to focus on. How far ahead is HPE on composability and automation? How differentiated are you from others who have put a tradeoff in place when it comes to solving automation?
We have had composable infrastructure on the market for three-plus years. Our HPE Synergy platform now has a $1 billion run rate. We have 3,600 customers around the world. It's been a tremendously successful business for us.

Guida: We have had composable infrastructure on the market for three-plus years now. Our HPE Synergy platform, for example, now has a more than $1 billion run rate for HPE. We have 3,600 customers and counting around the world. It’s been a tremendously successful business for us.

I find it interesting that we don’t see a lot of activity out there, of people trying to mimic or imitate what we have done. So I expect composability and automation will remain fundamentally differentiating for us from many of our traditional on-premises infrastructure competitors.

It positions us very well to provide an alternative for organizations who like the flexibility of cloud services but prefer to have them in their on-premises environments. It’s been tremendously differentiating for us. I am not seeing anyone else who has anything coming on hot in any way.

Gardner: Let’s take a look to the future. Increasingly, not only are companies looking to become data-driven, but IT organizations are also seeking to become data-driven. As we gather more data and inference, we start to be predictive in optimizing IT operations.

I am, of course, speaking of AIOps. What does that bring to the equation around automation and composability? How will AIOps change this in the coming couple of years?

Automation innovation in sight with AIOps 

Guida: That’s a real opportunity for further innovation in the industry. We are at the very early stages about how we take advantage in a symptomatic way of all of the insights that we can derive from knowing what is actually happening within our IT environments and mining those insights. Once we have mined those insights, it creates the possibility for us to take automation to another level.

We have been throwing around terms like self-healing for a couple of decades, but a lot of organizations are not yet ready for something like self-healing infrastructure. There is a lot of complexity within our environments. And when you put that into a broader heterogeneous data center environment, there is even more complexity. So there is some trepidation.
How to Accelerate to
A Self-Driving Data Center
Over time, for sure, the industry will get there. We will be forced to get there because we are going to be able to do that in other execution venues like the public cloud. So the industry will get there. The whole notion of what we have done with automation of composable infrastructure is absolutely a great foundation for us as we take our customers toward these next journeys around automation.

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

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Thursday, January 2, 2020

How MSP StoredTech brings comprehensive security services to diverse clients using Bitdefender

The choice of bedrock security technology can make or break managed service providers' (MSPs') ability to scale, grow rapidly while remaining efficient, and maintain top quality customer service.

The next edition of BriefingsDirect explores how by simultaneously slashing security-related trouble tickets and management costs by more than 75 percent, Stored Technology Solutions, or StoredTech, grew its business and quality of service at the same time.

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

Stay with us as we learn now how StoredTech adopted Bitdefender Cloud Security for Managed Service Providers to dramatically improve the security of their end users -- and develop enhanced customer loyalty.

Here to discuss the role of the latest Bitdefender security technology for making MSPs more like security services providers is Mark Shaw, President of StoredTech in Raleigh, North Carolina. The interview is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Mark, what trends are driving the need for MSPs like yourself to provide security that enhances the customer experience?

Shaw: A lot of things are different than they were back in the day. Attacks are very easy to implement. For a dollar, you can buy a malware kit on the Dark Web. Anyone with a desire to create havoc with malware, ransomware, or the like, can do it. It’s no longer a technical scenario, it’s simply a financial one.

At the same time, everyone is now a target. So back in the day, obviously, there were very needy targets. People would spend a lot of time, effort, and technical ability to hack large enterprises. But now, there is no business that’s too small.

If you have data and you don’t want to lose it, you’re a target. Of course, the worst part for us is that MSPs are now directly being targeted. So no matter what the size, if you are an MSP, they want access to your clients.

China has entire groups dedicated to hacking only MSPs. So the world landscape has dramatically shifted.

Gardner: And, of course, the end user doesn’t know where the pain point is. They simply want all security all the time -- and they want to point the finger at you as the MSP if things aren’t right.

Shaw: Oh, absolutely right; that’s what we get paid to do.

Gardner: So what were your pain points? What from past security providers and vendors created the pain that made you seek a higher level of capability?

Just-right layers of security prevent pain 

Shaw: We see a lot of pain points when it comes to too many layers. We talk about security being a layering process, which is fantastic. You want the Internet provider to be doing their part. You want the firewall to do its part.

When it comes to security, a lot of the time we see way too many security applications from different vendors running on a machine. That really decimates the performance. End users really don’t care; they do care about security -- but they aren’t going to sacrifice performance.
A lot of the time we see way too many security applications from different vendors running on a machine. That really decimates the performance. End users really don't care; they do care about security -- but they are not going to sacrifice performance.

We also see firms that spend all their time meeting all the industry and government regulations, and they are still completely exposed. What we tell people is, just because you check a box in security, that doesn’t mean you are in compliance. It doesn’t mean that you are secure.

For small business owners, we see all these pain points in how they handle their compliance and security needs. And, of course, in our world, we are seeing a lot of pain points because insurance for cybersecurity is becoming more prevalent and paying out through cryptovirus and ransomware attacks. That insurance is becoming more prevalent. And so we are seeing a chicken-and-egg thing, with a recent escalation in malware and ransom attacks [because of those payments].

Gardner: Tell us about StoredTech. What’s your MSP about?

The one throat to choke 

Shaw: We are both an MSP and a master MSP. We refer to ourselves as the “one throat to choke.” Our job is to provide solutions that have depth of scale. For us, it’s all about being able to scale.

We provide the core managed services that most MSPs provide, but we also provide telco services. We help people select and provide Internet services, and we spend a lot of time working with cameras and access control, which require an entirely different level of security and licensing.

If it’s technology-related, we don’t want customers pointing fingers and saying, “Well, that’s the telephone guys’ problem,” or, “That’s the guy with the cameras and the access control, that’s not us.”
We remove all of that finger-pointing. Our job is to delight our customers by finding ways to say, “Yes,” and to solve all of their technology needs.

Gardner: You have been in business for about 10 years. Do you focus on any particular verticals, size of company, or specialize?

Shaw: We really don’t, unlike the trends in the industry today. We are a product of our scars. When I worked for corporate America, we didn’t know we were getting laid off until we read it in the newspaper. So, I don’t want to have any one client. I don’t want to have anybody surprising us.

We have the perfect bell-curve distribution. We have clients who are literally one guy with a PC in his basement running an accounting firm, all the way up to global clients with 30,000 endpoints and employees.

We have diverse geographies as well as technical verticals among our clients -- everything from healthcare to manufacturing, retail, other technology companies; you name it. We resell them as well. For us, we are not siloed. We run the gamut. Everybody needs technology.

Gardner: True. So, one throat to choke is your value, and you are able to extend that and scale up to 30,000 employees or scale down to a single seat. You must have been very choosy about improving your security posture. Tell us about your security journey.

Shaw: Our history goes way back. We started with the old GFI LanGuard for Macs product, which was a remote monitoring and management (RMM) that tied to VIPRE. SolarWinds acquired that product and we got our first taste of the Bitdefender engine. We loved what Bitdefender did. When Kaseya was courting us to work with them, we told them, “Guys, we need to bring Bitdefender with us.”

At that point in time, we had no idea that Bitdefender also had an entire GravityZone platform with an MSP focus. So when we were able to get onto the Bitdefender GravityZone platform, it was just amazing for us.
We loved what Bitdefender did. When we were able to get the Bitdefender GravityZone platform with an MSP focus, it was just amazing for us. We actually use Bitdefender as a sales tool against other MSPs.

We actually used Bitdefender as a sales tool against other MSPs and their security platforms by saying, “Hey, listen. If we come in, we are going to put in a single agent that’s the security software, right? Your antivirus, your content filtering, your malware detection and prevention – and it’s going to be lighter and faster. We are going to speed up your computers by putting this software on.”

We went from VIPRE software to the Bitdefender engine, which really wasn’t the full Bitdefender, to then the full Bitdefender GravityZone when we finally moved with the Kaseya product. Bitdefender lit up our world. We were able to do deployments faster and quicker. We really just started to scale at that point.

Gardner: And just as you want to be one throat to choke to your customers, I am pretty sure that Bitdefender wants to be one throat to choke for you. How does Bitdefender help you protect yourselves as an MSP?

A single-point solution that’s scalable 

Shaw: For us, it’s really about being able to scale quickly and easily. It’s the ability to have customizable solutions whether we are deploying it on a Mac, SQL Server, or in a Microsoft Azure instance in the cloud, we need scalability. But at the same time, we need customizing, the ability to change and modify exactly what we want out there.

The Bitdefender platform gives us the capability to either ramp up or scale down the solution based on which applications are running and what the end user expects. It’s the best of both worlds. We have this 800-pound gorilla, one single point of security, and at the same time we can get so granular with it that we can solve almost any client’s needs without having to retool and without layering on multiple products.

In the past, we used to use other antivirus products, layered them on with the content filtering products. We just had layer after layer after layer, which for our engineers meant if you wanted to see what was wrong, you had to log into one of the four consoles. Today, it’s log-in to this one console and you can see the status of everything.
By making it simple, the old KISS method, we were able to dramatically scale and ramp up -- whether that’s 30,000 end points or one. We have a template for almost anything.

We have a great hashtag called automate-or-die. The concept is to automate so we can give every customer exactly what they need without having to retool the environment or add layer upon layer of products, all of which have an impact on the end user.

Gardner: You are a sophisticated enough organization that you want automation, but you also want customization. That’s often a difficult balance. What is it about Bitdefender Cloud Security for MSPs that gets that balance?

Shaw: Being able to see everything in one dashboard -- to have everything laid out in front of you – and be able to apply different templates and configurations to different types of machines based on a core functionality. That allows us to provide customization without large overhead from manual configuration every single time we have to do it.

To be able to add that value -- but not add those additional man hours -- really brings it all together. Having that single platform, which we never had before in the old days, gives us that. We can see it, deploy it, understand it, and report on it. Again, it’s exactly what we would tell our customers, come to us for one throat to choke.

And we basically demanded that Bitdefender have that same throat to choke for us. We want it all easy, customizable -- we want everything. We want the Holy Grail, the golden goose -- but we don’t want to put any effort into it.

Gardner: Sounds like the right mix to me. How well has Bitdefender been doing that for you? What are the results? Do you have some metrics to measure this?

The measure of success 

Shaw: We had some metrics that you mentioned. We understand by what we have to do, how much time we have to support and how quickly we can implement and deploy.

We have seen malware infections reduced by about 80 percent. We took weekly trouble tickets from previous antivirus and security vendors from 50, down to about 1 a week. We slashed administration costs by about 75 percent. Customer satisfaction has never been higher.

In the old days of multiple layers of security, we got calls, “My computer is running slow.” And we would find that an antivirus agent was scanning or a content filtering app was doing some sort of update.
We have one Bitdefender agent to deploy. We go out there, we deploy it, and it's super simple. We just have an easier time now managing that entire security apparatus versus what we used to do.

Now we are able to say, “You know what? This is really easy.” We have one Bitdefender agent to deploy. We go out there, we deploy it, and it’s super simple. We just have an easier time now managing that entire security apparatus versus what we used to do.

Gardner: Mark, you mentioned that you support a great variety of sizes of organizations and types of vertical industries. But nowadays there’s a great variety between on-premises, cloud, and a hybrid continuum. It’s difficult for some vendors to support that continuum.

How has Bitdefender risen to that challenge? Are you able to support your clients whether they are on-premises, in the cloud, or both?

No dark cloud on the horizon 

Shaw: If you look at the complexion of most customers nowadays that’s exactly what you see. You see a bunch of people who say, “I am never, ever taking my software off-premises. It’s going to stay right here. I don’t trust the cloud. I am never going to use it.” You have those “never” people.

You have some people who say, “I’d really love to go to the cloud 100 percent, but these four or five applications aren’t supported. So I still need servers, but I’d love to move everything else to the cloud.”

And then, of course, we have some clients who are literally born in the cloud: “I am starting a new company and everything is going to be cloud-enabled. If you can’t put it up in the cloud, if you can’t put it in Azure or something of this sort, don’t even talk to us about it.”
The nice part about that is, it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, we all make jokes. The cloud is just somebody else’s hardware. So, if we are responsible for either those virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) clients, or those servers, or those physical workstations -- whatever the case may be -- it doesn’t matter. If it’s an Exchange Server, a SQL Server, an app server, or an Active Directory server, we have a template. We can deploy it. It’s quick and painless.

Knowing that Bitdefender GravityZone is completely cloud-centric means that I don’t have to worry about loading anything on-premises. I don’t have to spin up a server to manage it – it just doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, whatever the complexion of the customer is we can absolutely tailor to their needs with a Bitdefender product without a lot of headaches.

Gardner: We have talked about the one throat and the streamlining from a technology and a security perspective. But, as a business, you also want to streamline operations, billing, licensing, and make sure that people aren’t being overcharged or undercharged. Is there anything about the Bitdefender approach, in the cloud, that’s allowed you to have less complexity when it comes to cost management?

Keep costs clean and simple 

Shaw: The nice part about it, at least for us is, we don’t put a client out there without Bitdefender. For us it’s almost a one-to-one. For every RMM agent deployed, it’s one Bitdefender deployed. It’s clean and simple, there is no fuss. If a client is working with us, they are going to be on our solutions and our processes.

Going back to that old KISS method, we want to just keep it simple and easy. When it comes to the back-office billing, if we have an RMM agent on there, it has a Bitdefender agent. Bitdefender has a great set of application programming interfaces (APIs). Not to get super-technical, but we have a developer on staff who can mine those APIs, pull that stuff out, make sure that we’re synchronized to our RMM product, and just go from there.

As long as we have a simple solution and a simple way of billing on the back end, clients don’t mind. Our accounting department really likes it because if there’s an RMM agent on there, there’s a Bitdefender agent, and it’s as simple as that.

Gardner: Mark, what comes next? Are there other layers of security you are looking at? Maybe full-disk encryption, or looking more at virtualization benefits? How can Bitdefender better support you?

Follow Bitdefender into the future 

Shaw: Bitdefender’s GravityZone Full Disk Encryption is fantastic; it’s exactly what we need. I trust Bitdefender to have our best interests in mind. Bitdefender is a partner of ours. We really mean that, they are not a vendor.

So when they talk to us about things that they are seeing, we want to make sure that we spend a lot of time and understand that. From our standpoint, encryption, absolutely. Right now we spend a lot of time with clients who have data that is not necessarily personally identifiable information (PII), but it is data that is subject to patents, or is their secret sauce -- and it can’t get out. So we use Bitdefender to do a lot of things like locking down universal serial bus (USB) drives and things like that.
As Bitdefender looks down the road to ML and AI, just make sure to be cutting edge -- but not bleeding edge -- because nobody wants wants to hemorrhage cash, time, and everything else.

I know there is a lot of talk about machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) out there. To me they are cool buzzwords, but I don’t know if they are there yet. If they get there, I believe and trust that Bitdefender is going to say, “We are there. We believe it’s the right thing to do.”

I have seen a lot of next-generation antivirus software that says, “We use only AI or we use ML only.” And what I see is they miss apparent threats. They slow the machines into a crawl, and they make the end-user experience miserable.

As Bitdefender looks down these roads of ML and AI, just make sure to be cutting edge here, but don’t be bleeding edge because nobody wants to hemorrhage cash, time, and everything else.

We are vested in the Bitdefender experience. The guys and girls at Bitdefender, they know what’s coming. They see it all time. We are happy to play along with that. Typically by the time it hits an end user or a customer in the enterprise space, it’s old hat. I think the real cutting edge, bleeding edge stuff happens well before an MSP tends to play in that space.

But there’s a lot of stuff coming out, a lot of security risk, on mobile devices, the Internet of everything, and televisions. Every day now you see how those are being hacked -- whether it’s a microphone, the camera, or whatever. There is a lot of opportunity and a lot of growth out there, and I am sure Bitdefender is on top of it.

Gardner: Before we close out, do you have any advice for organizations on how to manage security better as a culture, as an ongoing, never-ending journey? You mentioned that you peel back the onion, and you always hit another layer. There is something more you have to solve the next day. This is a nonstop affair.

What advice do you have for people so that they don’t lose track of that?

Listen and learn 

Shaw: From an MSP’s standpoint, whether you’re an engineer, in sales, or an account manager -- it’s about constant learning. Understand, listen to your clients. Your clients are going to tell you what they need. They are going to tell you what they are concerned about. They are going to tell you their feelings.

If you listen to your clients and you are in tune with them, they are going to help set the direction for your company. They are going to guide you to what’s most important to them, and then that should parlay into what’s most important for you.

In our world, we went from just data storage and MSP services into then heading to telco and telephones, structured cabling, cameras, and access control, because our clients asked us to. They kept saying these are pain points, can you help us?

And, for me, that’s the recipe to success. Listen to your clients, understand what they want, especially when it comes to security. We always tell everybody, eat your own dog food. If you are selling a security solution that you are putting out there for your clients, make sure your employees have it on all of their machines. Make sure your employees are using it at home. Get the same experience with the customers. If you are going through cyber security training, put your staff through cyber security training, too. Everyone, from the CEO right down on to the person managing the warehouse should go through the same training.

If we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and we listen to our customers -- no matter what it is, security, phones, computers, MSP, whatever it is -- you are going to be in tune with your customers. You’re going to have success.

We just try to find a way to say, “Yes,” and delight our customers. At the end of the day if you are doing that, if you are listening to their needs, that’s all that matters.

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

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