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Get To Know an MSP: Kalleo Technologies

May 5, 2015 Comments off

Kalleo TechnologiesKalleo Technologies
Managed IT Support Services
Paducah, KY
(270) 908-4136
info@kalleo.net
sales@kalleo.net

CEO – Doug Truitt

Kalleo Technologies (Kalleo) CEO, Doug Truitt, and I had a good conversation about his company, its history, the company philosophy, and its services. First, is Kalleo’s interesting location: Paducah, Kentucky. Paducah is a centrally located city that’s surrounded by universities and other industries. Paducah was a strategic location during the American Civil War and remains as a significant railroad hub today.

I can’t really relay Doug’s philosophy better than he can:

After many years of being involved with IT organizations large and small we found that the traditional IT vendor to client relationship was fundamentally flawed. That relationship, typically referred to as a “break-fix” model of IT support, provides little incentive for the IT vendor to prevent clients from experiencing problems.  When something breaks, the client pays the vendor to fix the problem.

We believed – and have subsequently proven – that proactively managing your network always costs less, always improves systems’ uptime, and always improves the IT vendor to client relationship. Kalleo Technologies’ proactive, flat rate approach to IT support ensures our goals and incentives match those of our clients. Because we charge a flat rate for service, we make the same amount of money whether things are running smoothly or whether they are breaking. If things are breaking, our costs go up and our profit goes down, incentivizing us, as your partner, to keep things running smoothly.

Next, is Kalleo’s flat rate philosophy. I really like the Kalleo flat rate approach. It means that you pay a flat rate to engage Kalleo Technologies’ support, but only pay that flat rate whether or not things are broken. For example, you pay a flat rate for January and nothing goes wrong, but in February, there’s major patching to be done or there’s a new virus out that require a lot of hands-on time–you pay the flat rate again for February.

It’s a win-win situation, because regardless of your situation, you know how much you’ll be charged each month for service. And just because you’re being charged without anything being “broken” doesn’t mean that Kalleo isn’t doing anything. They still work in the background, making sure that your systems are updated, patched, and functioning normally.

Peace of mind and proactive maintenance are invaluable to any company. You must realize how important and significant this “behind the scenes” work really is to the smooth operation of your company and its computing assets.

Kalleo’s Support Model:

1. Proactive Maintenance
2. Help Desk Support
3. Rented A/V
4. IT Toolset
5. Vendor Management

Finally, Doug’s team isn’t interested in taking over your IT department, they’re there as staff augmentation, which means that they serve your company on-demand. For example, let’s say that you have a project that requires 20 FTEs working for two weeks–a desktop operating system upgrade for 500 employees. You have four employees in your IT staff. As a managed services provider, Kalleo’s team could come in and execute that migration without disturbing your employees or your full-time staff.

And Kalleo isn’t just a regional provider either, it has customers all around the country including Hawaii. Obviously Kalleo is setup for remote support, so that you don’t have to wait for someone to drive or fly to your location for break/fix, patching, or regular maintenance.

Kalleo Technologies focuses its efforts on three primary verticals:

  • Medical
  • Government
  • Transportation

Kalleo can handle large company IT augmentation and large projects as well as day-to-day support issues.

You can stay connected to Kalleo Technologies through social media at:

Among Kalleo’s extensive list of services, it offers proactive maintenance to ensure your users are up and running all the time, 24 hour monitoring, automated maintenance, remote multi-level Help Desk support, anti-virus support, optimized support tools, and vendor management.

Managed services providers (MSPs), such as Kalleo Technologies, offer companies a leveraged IT sourcing model that is often less expensive, more responsive, and better equipped to handle large projects, special support issues, break/fix, and after hours support than an internal staff is. MSPs employ a variety of IT experts, from help desk personnel up to architect-level professionals, to assist your company in migrations, projects, upgrades, and regular maintenance activities.

IBM_logo

This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.

MSPs, How Do You Get The Word Out?

April 19, 2015 Comments off

Get the Word Out!At the recent (March 26 and 27, 2015) MSPWorld keynote, Charles Weaver, CEO of MSPAlliance (The International Association of Cloud and Managed Service Providers, established 2000), discussed how alliance members should beef up their marketing efforts. And if the CEO of the MSPAlliance recognizes that there’s a gap, there’s clearly a gap in getting the word out to potential customers about their services. Traditionally marketing to potential customers meant direct mail, targeted campaigns, cold calling, email distribution lists, billboard ads, referrals, magazine ads, and online ads; but MSPs have found that generally speaking most of these methods are ineffectual. Historically MSPs have mostly relied on word-of-mouth referrals to bring new customers into the fold.

What does work for MSPs in getting the word out about their services?

Of the many different marketing strategies, referrals, blogs, email marketing, Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and cross selling offer the best returns to MSPs. Although referrals are very good in converting connections into sales, the number of them is very low. For an MSP to be successful, it has to launch a multi-front marketing campaign.

Referrals

Referrals from current customers seems to be the number one method of attracting new business for MSPs. The reason that MSPs hold referrals in such high regard is that this type of business prospecting has a high rate of return and has a very low cost to the MSP in terms of financial outlay and time required for the sales process.

Making a referral network work is a fairly easy task. Ask your customers if they could refer your services to at least one company in their customer base or within their sphere of influence. As your network grows through referrals, continue to ask for referrals from each new customer.

However effective, this type of organic growth is slow and requires some relationship nurturing to assist and to fuel the process.

Blogs

Blogs, especially guest posts in a corporate blog by customers, are effective in increasing customer base. Potential customers can read about how other companies have solved similar problems using your services and expertise. That gives the reader an immediate connection to your business and your solutions that can help them.

Sphere of Influence – a business network where companies or their officers or principals have some expressed or implied influence over others because of mutual trust, a working relationship, a partnership, or out of respect between the parties.

What you don’t want a blog to be is a pure sales pitch or a marketing tool. You want to be sure to inform and educate your reader about how your services have increased sales, streamlined processes, made it easier to buy, increased customer service, or boosted profits.

Make your blog entries about the customer and not about you. Provide real data and real customer testimonials where possible. Numbers speak louder than marketing fluff. Keep posts concise by telling a compelling story in 750 words or fewer. Post new blog entry URLs to all social media outlets to gain a diverse readership.

Email Marketing

Email distribution lists, whether created from correspondences or acquired by rental from a list broker are often a good source of prospective customers. The return rate is typically not what one would expect from such a contemporary medium. The rate of conversion is even lower. Expected rates of return are in the single digits and conversion rates are in the single digits of those returns.

The upside to email marketing is that it’s inexpensive, even if you rent or buy lists. It’s also an excellent method of getting your name in front of a lot of business influencers whether or not they buy anything from you. It often takes several iterations of a message to receive one positive return.

Rather than creating generic email messages touting your products, it’s often more effective to create a newsletter and distribute it via those lists. Newsletters aren’t seen as spam and potential customers read them with enthusiasm. To make your newsletters a welcome Inbox addition, include industry news, links to your blog entries, and information about your company and its services. Don’t make it to “salesy.” You want people to see it as having value and not just as an opportunity to deliver unwanted pitches for your services.

Optionally you can setup an opt-in/opt-out mailing list for your customers or website visitors.

Requests for Proposals

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) can be used to acquire new business by entering into competitive bid situations. RFPs often require some moderate amount of effort to create a sale because of the bidding process and submission of detailed information about your company, its leadership, its capabilities, delivery times, Service Level Agreements, and related information.

Sometimes the bidding process is lengthy (months), but the dollar amounts are also higher for these types of agreements.

Cross Selling

Cross selling is one of the most effective methods of gaining new business for MSPs. It involves selling additional services to existing customers or entering into cross promotional agreements with other vendors. Cross selling is a low cost marketing method because you’re selling to a customer who’s already bought into your services. Return on investment is very high.

Cross selling deepens the vendor-customer relationship and builds loyalty for both parties.

Social Media

Although relatively new to the marketing scene, social media selling has become one of the hottest new marketing strategies for all businesses. MSPs can ride this wave by engaging its current and its potential customers in conversations via social media. Feedback, ratings, and testimonials are all very powerful drivers of new business.

Tweet blog post URLs, post to your Facebook page often, ask for guest posts on your blog and Facebook page, engage your customers via LinkedIn, post your blog URLs to LinkedIn, and to all LinkedIn groups of which you’re a member. You have to use social media to your advantage. Check in when you’re out to lunch with a customer and tag him or her on Facebook to let everyone know that you’re entertaining a customer.

Start a conversation on Twitter with your customers. The easiest way to start a conversation is to ask a question. Gain followers by using relevant hashtags and posting often to all of your social media sites. Follow all of your customers and their customers. Follow influencers, thought leaders, and technology journalists.

Media

Use media connections and technology journalists to your advantage by scheduling interviews to be posted on their outlet sites. Use social media to promote those posts once their published. Public Relations and brand marketing firms can help you connect with the correct people for your business.

Upstream Partnerships

Your upstream partners can also send a steady flow of traffic to your site and to your attention. Your upstream partner should give you qualified leads that will help expand and extend your business. A good partner will offer you training, significant hardware and software discounts, marketing assistance, and some visibility as to who your customer base is. Leverage your partner’s resources to grow your business. Remember that a partnership works in both directions. The more you engage your partner, the more your partner will engage you and your business.

If you’re an MSP that offers top notch services to your customers, you need to get the word out. First, start in your network by asking for those referrals and then expand by putting some simple, time-tested marketing techniques to work for you. You can continue to grow your business year over year by applying marketing pressure in the right places. And don’t forget to engage your upstream partner to help with your growth because it benefits both of you.

IBM_logo

This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.

Using an MSP is not the same as outsourcing

March 23, 2015 1 comment

Managed Service ProviderThere is a common misconception circulating that using a managed service provider (MSP) is outsourcing. It isn’t. A good working definition of outsourcing is, “To surrender an aspect of your company’s functionality to a third party.” For example, if you hire an outside firm to take care of your computer support, you have outsourced computer support because no one in your company participates in that activity.

However, MSPs do share some common benefits with outsourcing, so the confusion is understandable. Some of the shared benefits are:

  • Cost savings
  • Ability to focus on core business
  • More competitive
  • Faster expansion

The most often quoted reason for using an MSP or outsourcing is to “save money.” Using a third party for certain types of work does lead to some cost savings because you have fewer employees, you don’t purchase hardware, you don’t pay for power, and you don’t have to worry about physical security of purchased assets.

Outsourcing [from Wikipedia]

In business, outsourcing involves the contracting out of a business process to another party (compare business process outsourcing). The term “outsourcing” dates back to at least 1981. Outsourcing sometimes involves transferring employees and assets from one firm to another, but not always. Outsourcing is also the practice of handing over control of public services to for-profit corporations.

Products and services purchased from third party vendors allow you to focus on your core business, which is probably not maintaining and supporting racks of servers, network equipment, and patching operating systems and applications. You can focus more on manufacturing, selling, and marketing your actual products and services. Unless you’re in the IT business, using a third party vendor makes sense.

You can be more competitive in the market by concentrating your resources on your priorities, your research, your development, and your competition. Global markets change rapidly. Business requirements change rapidly. And your business must change rapidly too. To change with business tides, your business needs to be as agile and as lean as possible. MSPs and outsourcing make this agility possible.

Now, that you have a feel for how MSPs and outsourcing are similar, it’s time to explore the differences so that you can clearly see that using an MSP is not outsourcing.

The features that differentiate MSPs from outsourcing

  • Control
  • Fixed costs
  • Pay-as-you-go/grow
  • Extension of your business
  • Increased flexibility

Outsourcing is a release of control, whereas an MSP allows you to exert a great deal of control over your leased infrastructure and services. Control is one of the major benefits of using an MSP over outsourcing. If you require too much control, outsourcing becomes cumbersome and the trend toward bringing the work back in-house is usually the next step in regaining control. The reason is that exerting control over a third party service or personnel is very difficult to do in that the personnel performing the work are not your employees and therefore you have little enforceable control over them.

Outsourcing usually affords you a set of services for an amount of labor. Depending on the contract that you have with the outsourcing company, you might never know what your monthly charges are going to be due to changing needs. For example, if you outsource your desktop support, then you’re charged an hourly rate based on the visits and work performed by the outsourcing company’s employees. There’s no way to predict from one month to the next how much service you’ll need. MSPs charge a subscription that changes only when you add or remove services or products from your inventory. You can predict what your fees will be for the foreseeable future.

Having a fixed set of costs also allows you to plan for growth in your projects and in your budget predictions. It’s easier to plan your business needs around these fixed costs and pay as you grow. The pay-as-you-go/grow plan is exciting for businesses because it allows you to better manage growth and to expand when ready.

An MSP is an extension of your business, not simply a service that you call on an as-needed basis. The MSP is always there, working in the background to maintain your systems, to keep its service levels high, and to retain your business. The MSP’s success is tied directly to your success and its ability to perform helps your business to succeed. The MSP and your business are not mutually exclusive to one another. The relationship is a symbiotic one where both parties benefit from the other’s successes.

Finally, the MSP is highly flexible. You can augment your in-house infrastructure by using the MSP as a disaster recovery setup and you can phase in its use as your internal systems go off lease or are ready for a refresh. The MSP is there and ready to take on your capacity at will in an on-demand fashion. When you’re ready to go “all in,” you can do so without hesitation. The MSP will also help with your transition by providing consulting and other services to make the move smooth and without significant downtime.

Using an MSP is not outsourcing.  An MSP acts an extension of your business, allowing you to better manage your budget, to leverage a modern infrastructure, and to efficiently handle business expansion.

IBM_logoThis post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

Is your company MSP material?

March 18, 2015 Comments off

Creating a PartnershipIf you think that your company has what it takes to become a managed service provider (MSP), then you should consider it as a business growth option. Not only can you generate recurring revenue from getting involved in the MSP channel and the “As a Service” business model, but you can also grow your business toward the future. “Remain flexible” and “create strategic partnerships that benefit you and your customers” are the best advice tidbits gleaned from listening to experienced MSP CXOs.

Although not always the case, most businesses that transition into the MSP business do so because they already offer direct managed services to their customers. And those who already provide a service are considering or are working toward providing more services, mostly as a result of customer needs. Many MSP customers or potential MSP customers all report the same three primary pain points:

  • A desire to offload infrastructure management
  • A need to maintain a predictable technology budget
  • A requirement to respond quickly to changing business needs

A managed service provider (MSP) delivers network, application, system and e-management services across a network to multiple enterprises, using a “pay as you go” pricing model. A “pure play” MSP focuses on management services as its core offering. In addition, the MSP market includes offerings from other providers — including application service providers (ASPs), Web hosting companies and network service providers (NSPs) — that supplement their traditional offerings with management services.

A potential MSP needs to be mindful of two specific fears that businesses have when considering offloading their support to a third party: control–or lack thereof and response time. Anyone who’s ever dealt with third party vendors can testify that response is often lackluster and sometimes downright inexcusable.

To alleviate those fears, you have to ask yourself two questions before you decide to become an MSP:

Does your staff possess the desire and ability to respond quickly to customer needs?

Do you plan to allow the customer to exert a moderate amount of control over his or her environment?

If you can’t answer a confident “Yes” to both questions, you need to reconsider your choice to become an MSP.

Having stated that, you can train and motivate your employees and you can make the decision to allow the customer a moderate amount of control. The company that you choose as your upstream partner has a lot to do with how successful you’ll be, so choose carefully and thoughtfully.

You should also consider how you’re going to meet service level agreements (SLAs) with your customers. Regardless of what your contracts state, customers expect 100 percent availability from you. To meet those expectations and SLAs, you have to purchase reliable hardware and software, you have to provide outstanding customer service, you have to backup customer data, and you have to provide monitoring and alerting services. If you fail to provide any one of those major cornerstone services to your customers, your business will likely also fail. Remember the number one rule of customer feedback: If you make a customer happy, that customer might tell one other person, but if you make a customer unhappy, that customer will tell everyone. And these days with rating services, online feedback forums, and social media, your business is only a few negative tweets or one star reviews away from failure.

In the MSP business, customers assume that you have excellent, redundant, unbreakable systems underlying your services, but what they’re really after is a competitive price point and top notch customer service. They also want a fair amount of control over their leased infrastructure. What’s that old saying? Build a better MouSetraP and the world will be a path to your door. Count on it.

If you’re looking to enter the MSP channel and you’re also looking for a partner, check out what IBM can do for you as your upstream partner. IBM supports MSPs with training, technical support, marketing resources, sales resources, and the finest available hardware. Find out how you and IBM can accelerate your business through a valuable strategic partnership.

IBM_logoThis post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

IBM makes it easy for Managed Service Providers

March 6, 2015 Comments off

Managed Service ProvidersIBM’s Technical resources for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) makes it easy for MSPs to stay up to date with the latest technology and trends in the marketplace. Midmarket companies continue to turn to MSPs to manage their infrastructures and IBM’s Partner Program supports the ever-growing number of clients and the increasing complexity of supporting those clients.

IBM has setup a Managed Service Provider area to assist MSPs grow their businesses and their offerings.

Featured resources for MSPs:

  • Power Development Platform (fka Virtual Loaner Program)
  • PartnerWorld University
  • Training
  • Virtual appliance factory
  • IBM Innovation Centers
  • IBM technical validations

The Power Development Platform (PDP) and the Power Development Cloud enables developers by offering no-charge, remote access to IBM hardware, including IBM POWER8, IBM POWER7+, and IBM POWER7 processor-based systems. Developers also have their choice of Linux, IBM’s AIX, and IBM’s i operating systems. However, developers please note that the PDP is for development, porting, and functionality testing only.

Develop, test, and certify your applications free of charge on IBM Power Systems.

The goal of the PDP is to allow developers access to try Linux on Power Systems to create scripting or interpreted language-based applications demonstrating that applications will run as is with no code changes. And 95 percent of Linux x86 applications written in C or C++ port to Linux on Power Systems with no code changes.

With the PDP LPar, you get full root access, vCPU, disk, and networking to fully test your applications on live systems.

IBM’s PartnerWorld University is an online collection of educational materials for IBM partners that includes Solutions, Systems, Sales & Finance, Services, Software, and Industry Solutions Colleges. To gain access to the site, you have to register with your IBM ID and password.

For example, in the Software College, you can access a collection of IBM software product information such as Lotus, Rational, Tivoli, WebSphere, business analytics, information management, and other IBM branded industry solutions. Access more than 1,000 web lectures that cover IBM products and services.

As stated above, IBM partners have access to a huge repository of resources for IBM products and services. However, there are times when an MSP requires a deeper dive into a particular technology. For those needs, IBM provides deeply discounted training and certification tracks to its partners. Some of these opportunities include IBM’s Think Academy, a professional certification center, and Innovation Centers.

You can earn industry valued certifications on IBM software, hardware, PureSystems, solutions, and associated technologies. Check out the list of certification products available to you through the program.

IBM’s 40+ Innovation Centers offer many no-charge seminars, workshops, and training sessions conducted by subject matter experts in its worldwide locations.

Take deep dives into topics such as: Cloud, Big Data and Analytics, Mobile, and Social.

The Virtual Appliance Factory (VAF) is a process and methodology along with tools to help independent software vendors (ISVs) prepackage application solutions for deployment in KVM and IBM PowerVM virtualized environments. The VAF is a set of Web 2.0 tools for you to use to create your virtual appliances. Additionally, you also receive educational materials and access to other resources to accelerate your appliance creation and deployment.

The VAF features several benefits including minimal investment for entry into cloud computing, the capability to create virtual appliances that are readily deployable into DMTF OVF compatible data centers, and enables your business to take advantage of the cloud’s automation, self-service, and agility features.

The IBM technical validation area offers its partners the ability to test your products using IBM solutions, integration assistance, and development assistance during the validation process. You also gain valuable exposure to other IBM partners and may earn the right to display IBM marks in your packaging and marketing materials.

Partnering with IBM helps MSPs capitalize on new market opportunities, offer new services, provide excellent support, and have access to IBM’s expertise and resources making it easy for MSPs to grow and to be successful.

IBM_logoThis post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

MSPs and you: When service levels meet requirements

March 2, 2015 Comments off

“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” –Mr. Spock, The Wrath of Khan

Managed ServicesAs Managed Service Providers (MSPs) move more into the mainstream, business customers will have to learn to strike a balance between service requests, service levels, and service requirements. There doesn’t have to be a communication breakdown between parties, but there often is when service levels collide with requirements. Most MSPs distinguish themselves from standard hosting companies by providing several avenues for the business customer to submit requests, troubleshoot problems, and resolve outages that affect business continuity.

Most MSPs have Network Operations Centers (NOCs) that monitor and manage outages and alerts on a 24x7x365 basis as part of their overall service level agreement with the customer. Many have Help Desks that are staffed around the clock or during extended business hours. And in the case of maintenance windows, planned outages, and patching, MSPs notify customers in advance. However, emergency patching, unplanned outages, and loss of service are part of any IT-related business.

The MSP Alliance defines managed services in the following way:

“Managed Services is the proactive management of an IT (Information Technology) asset or object, by a third party typically known as a MSP, on behalf of a customer. The operative distinction that sets apart a MSP is the proactive delivery of their service, as compared to reactive IT services, which have been around for decades.”

As stated in the definition, it is the proactive service delivery that often creates problems between MSPs and their customers. Proactive delivery can mean downtime for customers to apply critical patches or to perform required maintenance.

This post uses the following definitions for service requests, service levels, and service requirements:

  • Service requests – requests by the customer for some type of service from the MSP.
  • Service levels – expected, and agreed to, response times and activities that are part of the paid for service.
  • Service requirements – regular maintenance, planned down times, patching, security requirements, regulatory compliance, and confidentiality.

For example, if your service experiences a security breach, the MSP may take your service offline until the situation is resolved. Typically the MSP will notify you of the breach and of the in-progress repair. The MSP has other business customers that can’t be put at risk by your compromised service.

The MSP has a service agreement with every customer and you have to realize that your service is no more or less critical than any other, that is, unless you’re paying for a premium level of service with guaranteed response and delivery. Does this all mean that the MSP can ignore your needs or service requests? Certainly not, but you have to understand that the MSP is your business ally, your business partner, and your business advocate. But, they also work for the good of all their customers.

When comparing MSPs, find out which upstream partnerships they’ve formed. In other words, educate yourself on who’s responsible for assisting your MSP with their infrastructure. Who are their partners? What are their service levels? What is their guaranteed response time from vendors during an outage?

Whether you’re looking for Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, or Software-as-a-Service, find the right partner for you.
IBM_logoThis post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

Cloud is Reshaping the World of Business for SMBs

June 29, 2014 Comments off

Cloud: Reshaping the World of BusinessOn Thursday, June 26, I participated in an hour-long IBM Business Insider Spreecast titled, “Cloud: Reshaping the World of Business,” where host Paul Gillin led the panel through a series of questions and thought points concerning Cloud and small to medium-sized businesses. There was also an associated Twitter Chat that used hashtag, #SMB4Cloud, that I participated in during the event. Though you can’t attend the live event now, you can click the link above and connect to the Spreecast and gain insight into the discussion that we had.

There were a few major highlights that sprang from the panel and participants. First, is the concept that mature businesses move slower to adopt new technologies than their newer counterparts do. Startups are especially onboard with new technologies, such as cloud computing, cloud storage, and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Startups don’t always have the capital to purchase infrastructure and data center space that can run into the millions of dollars for the kind of computing power required to run high capacity applications, to store big data, to maintain a potentially huge number of customers, to supply adequate bandwidth, and to provide 24×7 service uptimes.

Startups have to leverage cloud computing, IaaS, and new technologies in order to get into the market and compete effectively against established businesses.

Second, cloud computing allows companies, at any stage of development, to get to market faster than is possible with traditional computing infrastructure. Provisioning times with IaaS is measured in minutes rather than in weeks or in months.

Third, using a cloud provider or managed service provider (MSP) allows a company to use expertise that might not be available within the company. MSPs also allows companies to leverage these skills that might be out of their salary range. SMBs can effectively compete on a scale and at a speed that wasn’t possible just a few years ago. Only large companies could move infrastructure, people, and skills fast enough and on a large enough scale to take on significant contracts. Cloud computing has opened up new possibilities and expanded business opportunities for SMBs.

Fourth, cloud computing offers a high level of simplicity for SMBs. There are services available that are very easy to use. If the business doesn’t require a lot of customization or specialized services, then cloud usage can be as simple as a few mouse clicks, which allows SMBs to use current employee skillsets to step into cloud services without the complexity.

Finally, the cloud transforms IT people into business people. Fixing computers and troubleshooting problems now shifts to a provider. IT people are now becoming more focused on business outcomes, customer satisfaction, and business growth rather than day-to-day break/fix and operational objectives of running an IT shop.

Panelists:

Paul Gillin – Paul Gillin Communications, Host.
John Mason – General Manager, Midmarket at IBM.
Laurie McCabe – Co-founder and Partner, The SBM Group.
Subbu Balakrishnan – CTO and Co-founder, Good.co.

One of the panelists noted that, “Cloud works for DIY and “Do It For Me” businesses alike.”

That statement covers the gamut of what cloud computing can do for businesses at whatever comfort or expertise level they have at their disposal. Although it’s difficult for some IT people, even CIOs, to see is that if your company isn’t an IT company, then there’s no reason to be in the IT business. Cloud makes it possible to be in the business you’re in, but have the computing power you need to run your business without becoming an IT business.

The conclusions from the Spreecast and the Twitter Chat can be summarized as the following:

  • Established businesses must embrace cloud computing to remain relevant
  • Startups and young businesses use new technologies and adapt faster
  • Cloud computing enables a faster startup and faster presence for new services
  • Cloud computing is transforming IT from a service to a business quality organization
  • IaaS significantly shortens infrastructure provisioning times
  • Cloud computing allows businesses to focus on business rather than on IT

Cloud computing, for some, is quite controversial, but few would argue that cloud isn’t transformative and a paradigm shift from business as usual. Businesses that want to remain relevant and those that want to become agile, or even virtual, should examine the possibilities of what cloud can offer them.

If you’re considering cloud computing for your business, check out IBM’s Cloud Computing Marketplace.
IBM_logoThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

IBM’s Entry into Software-Defined Storage: Elastic Storage

May 30, 2014 Comments off

StorageBy now, everyone has heard of the hot new buzzword: software-defined data center (SDDC). SDDC is the new data center paradigm where everything is software-defined: network, computers, and storage. Yes, there’s underlying hardware making the whole thing possible but what do software-defined resources really do for us? The answer is simple: It abstracts hardware into pooled resources that users can partake of in discreet slices for cloud applications and for cloud workloads.

But the real story here is IBM’s venture into software-defined storage that it calls Elastic Storage. On May 12, 2014, IBM announced a portfolio of software defined storage products that deliver improved economics at the same time they enable organizations to access and process any type of data, on any type of storage device, anywhere in the world. Elastic Storage offers unprecedented performance, infinite scale, and is capable of reducing storage costs up to 90 percent by automatically moving data onto the most economical storage device.

For example, if a company has data that’s accessed infrequently, that data will be moved to tape or to low cost disk systems for archiving. Alternatively, data that’s accessed regularly or that requires high speed access will be moved to flash storage. Data redistribution is based on policy-driven rules and data analytics. This type of automated data movement shows cost savings of up to 90 percent.

“Born in IBM Research Labs, this new, patented breakthrough technology allows enterprises to exploit – not just manage – the exploding growth of data in a variety of forms generated by countless devices, sensors, business processes, and social networks. The new storage software is ideally suited for the most data-intensive applications, which require high-speed access to massive volumes of information – from seismic data processing, risk management and financial analysis, weather modeling, and scientific research, to determining the next best action in real-time retail situations.”

Elastic Storage features and benefits:

As for performance, IBM’s Elastic Storages boasts the capability of scanning over 10 billion files on just one cluster in less than 45 minutes. This type of performance as extreme implications for analytics and big data applications. IBM’s Elastic Storage solution is built for performance for big data and is based on the same technologies used in the Watson computer.

“Elastic Storage offers unprecedented performance, infinite scale, and is capable of reducing storage costs up to 90 percent by automatically moving data onto the most economical storage device.”

 

Part of Elastic Storage’s performance enhancement is due to IBM’s parallel data access technology: (General Parallel File System (GPFS). It eliminates the performance bottlenecks and so-called “choke” points of other data access algorithms and technologies.

What it all means is that now you have the same capability to access, analyze, and report on huge data sets in a fraction of the time it used to take to perform these analyses as large companies have. Elastic Storage puts the data where it needs to be to best serve you and your data requirements at a tremendous cost savings.

IBM Elastic Storage supports OpenStack Cinder and Swift interfaces. IBM is a platinum sponsor of OpenStack Foundation and is now its second most prolific contributor. It also supports other open APIs, such as POSIX and Hadoop.

IBM_logoThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

The Story of Storlets: IBM’s Computational Storage Model

May 21, 2014 Comments off

Fast Data Forum - IBMCloud storage vendors generally use commodity servers as the underlying storage nodes that serve large data sets to users. IBM leverages storage node processing capabilities to execute computational modules, namely storlets, close to where the data is stored. The Storlet Engine provides cloud storage with the capability to dynamically upload storlets and execute them in sandboxes that insulate the storlets from the rest of the system and from other storlets.

Interestingly, IBM proposes that a Storlets Marketplace can be used as a repository of storlets from different vendors. An application on top of the storage can mash-up and use various storlets from the marketplace to create its logic and functionality.

Storlet Benefits:

  • Reduced WAN bandwidth used from fewer bytes transferred
  • Enhanced security through decreased data exposure
  • Cost savings from reduced amount of infrastructure
  • Compliance support from improved provenance tracking

The definition of a storlet is a bit elusive but can best be described as a unit of computation where required computations are brought to the data, instead of the other way around. Storlets can analyze each object and extract its metadata, including size, subject, resolution, format, and more. Storlets are dynamically loaded code. Perhaps the primary researcher and developer of storlets, Michael Factor, Distinguished Engineer and expert on Storage Systems at IBM Research in Haifa, Israel can explain in his own words:

“A new method of storing information is called object storage. This approach stores information as objects. Each object contains the data (the bits and bytes of our documents, movies, images, and so forth), together with metadata that holds user- and system-defined tags. These smart data objects include rich information – or metadata – that describes the content of the data, how the object is related to other objects, how the data should be handled, replicated, or backed up, and more.

Although object storage can store objects, manage them, protect them, and so on – it doesn’t by itself dramatically increase the rate at which we can extract value from objects. But what if we could turn a software-defined object store into a smart storage platform?

Storlets bring the computation to the data

A new research prototype called “storlets” holds the promise of greatly increasing the value we get out of storage and the speed at which we can access what we need. A new software-defined mechanism, storlets allow object storage to move the computation to the data, instead of the system having to move the data to a server to carry out the computation.”

The significance of storlets might not be immediately apparent but the real value is that the technology allows you to process data where it’s stored. This means that there’s no over-the-network data transfer, which saves both time and money.

“Our vision is to reduce costs, increase flexibility and improve security by turning the object store into a platform, and allowing the functionality of the object store to be extended using software.”

Also known as “computational storage,” storlets introduce stored procedures for storage cloud which provide the ability to run computations (“storlets”) safely and securely, close to the data in the cloud. Storlets typically run in a sandbox, loaded as objects and triggered by events on objects (e.g., put/get) or on their associated metadata attributes.

IBM researchers in Haifa, Israel have been working on prototyping storlets for several years in the context of European Union Research projects such as ENSUREVISION Cloud, and Forget IT.

You can view the entire 1:31 hour video that covers IBM’s software-defined storage offerings and research.

IBM_logoThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Categories: Articles, IBM

Watson’s Mobile Challenge: What could it mean?

March 28, 2014 Comments off

WatsonBy now you’ve probably read all about IBM’s Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, but what you might not know is what the long term implications of such a challenge are. The primary implication is that mobile developers will be able to tap into the power of Watson via mobile applications or apps. I know it sounds like a cliché, but the implications of the mobile to Watson connection are only limited by developer ability and imagination.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Carlos Paez, IBM’s Lead Mobile Developer, MobileFirst Global Center of Competency. Carlos will be developing some reference applications to help challengers get started on creating mobile apps. You can watch the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge Virtual Roundtable video (below) to get a full explanation of what’s going into the challenge and how it works.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQCfzYNHqow%5D

The video is 32:31 minutes long and also features Jen Knecht, Director for IBM MobileFirst Marketing, Sridhar Sudarsan, CTO for IBM Watson Ecosystem, Ron Norman, Chief Architect for IBM Mobile Innovation Labs.

And now back to the implications of this challenge and what it could mean for developers and users alike.

One significant implication is for driver-assisted navigation. For example, if you’re travelling by car, you could ask the app about weather reports, road conditions, hotels, gas stations, restaurants, rest areas, and points of interest without ever looking away from your steering wheel.

For television watching, not only could the app learn your watching habits, but it could also steer you toward shows and series that you want to watch based on a question such as, “I’d like to watch a comedy starring Steve Martin.” In seconds, the app would display a list of those comedies in order according to your watching habits and preferences.

Emergency responders could use an app to diagnose and treat trauma patients in car accidents, in fires, or in natural disasters. More lives could be saved and shorter recovery times might be possible by giving the proper treatment to patients in the field.

In education, a Watson-powered app could be used to drill students prior to an exam or to assist students in learning a new language. Teachers could use an app to create adaptive tests for students to assess their level of achievement on a particular topic.

“The power of Watson in the palm of your hand is a game-changing proposition, so we’re calling on mobile developers around the world to start building cognitive computing apps infused with Watson’s intelligence,” said Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President, IBM Watson Group.” Imagine a new class of apps that deliver deep insights to consumers and business users instantly — wherever they are — over the cloud. It’s about changing the essence of decision making from ‘information at your fingertips’ to actual insights.”

But not every example of a Watson-based app has to be so practical. One could design an app to help predict March Madness outcomes or to narrow down the possibilities in a dream team challenge.

I see this new era of computing as expanding the possibilities for intelligent applications. It will allow humans to interact with computers in a natural way, via spoken or unspoken language. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone could write an app that would watch a deaf person using sign language and interpret those gestures into spoken words to a listener on the other end of a telephone conversation?

The Watson Mobile Challenge is an opportunity for creative thinkers to really show the power of their own innovative ability plus unleash the power of a supercomputer via a mobile app.

From IBM:

The IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge is part of the IBM MobileFirst strategy to help businesses of all sizes adopt mobile technology to better engage with customers and extend their businesses to new markets. The news also represents the latest milestone in the newly formed IBM Watson Group to fuel an ecosystem of developers, start-ups, tech companies and venture capitalists building Watson powered apps as part of the Watson Developers Cloud

To date, more than 1,500 individuals and organizations have contacted IBM to share their ideas for creating cognitive computing applications that redefine how businesses and consumers make decisions. In fact, global developers have created and plan to go to market in 2014 with Watson apps across a variety of industries.

IBM_logoThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Categories: Articles, IBM Tags: , , ,
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