Virtualization and the Cloud the Easy Way

Rahul Bakshi of SunGard Availability Services doles out managed services.

Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard recently interviewed Rahul Bakshi, VP of Solution Design for Managed Services at SunGard Availability Services. They talked about the demand for virtualization and cloud services.

VR: How does SunGard Availability Services view the relationship between virtualization and cloud computing?
Bakshi: Virtualization is an absolute component of cloud computing. I think we'll agree there's a ton of hype behind cloud and what cloud is and what cloud isn't, and things like that. But we've been delivering managed services for well over 10 years at this point, and as new technologies come out, we embrace them and take advantage of them to deliver services more effectively and efficiently for our customers. So we see virtualization as an absolute requirement and necessity from a foundational perspective for delivering cloud-based services.

VR: Do you think virtualization is on the cusp of becoming a commodity that's important, but loses its identity?
Bakshi: I would absolutely agree with that. The balance is that there are additional complexities associated with virtualization and you can use it in more efficient and effective ways, but with that comes more responsibility. You need to be tighter on capacity management; you need to have the right support structure for that more-complex level of the infrastructure.

"Virtualization is an absolute component of cloud computing."

Rahul Bakshi, VP of Solution Design for Managed Services, SunGard Availability Services

VR: Do you have VMware, Citrix and Microsoft customers coming to you and saying that those three companies were unable to meet their virtualization and cloud computing needs?
Bakshi: There are a couple of different ways we engage with customers. They know what they have, and they're looking for us to help be more effective and or efficient. The way we see it, it's really about taking advantage of all that virtualization has to offer. It's one thing just to say, "OK. I do ESX on a box and I'm going to slice up a bunch of hosts on it." It's another thing to say, "OK. I'm really going to take advantage of not just vMotion and the inherent foundational aspects of VMware, but really figure out how to plug APIs into it and get the value into the application layer." That's where I think a lot of software vendors and ISVs are moving to SaaS [Software as a Service] models. They want to know how to take what they have in virtualization and advance the ball so it's plugging into the application more natively.

VR: What are the biggest challenges you face in providing managed services?
Bakshi: The biggest challenge we face is we have to deliver enterprise-quality, enterprise-grade services to thousands of customers. Everything is multi-tenanted when we look at the world. I think that one of the biggest challenges we face is having flexible, adaptive processes that can be customized on a per-customer basis and still maintain the quality of service as well as the cost efficiency.

VR: Give some examples of your most satisfied customers and how you teamed up with them to instigate their success.
Bakshi: I've been in the States for almost 11 years now. I started in January 2000 in the managed services space. One of the things we quickly identified was that ISVs that used to deliver their software on-premises wanted to shift to a hosted model. Then there's the whole craze of ASP and how it's evolved into the concept of Software as a Service. Some of our most successful relationships have been with the software vendors, whether they're delivering software for health clubs or for billing systems -- whatever application or set of applications they serve. We help them modify their businesses into a by-the-drink model and grow with them so we can both learn. As their needs expand, we develop new processes or new products to support their requirements. I've had a lot of fun, and we've had a lot of success working with software vendors by helping them shift to the SaaS model. Other customer types we've worked with really well are those that are looking to get out of the datacenter business. They say, "I have 100, 200, 300 servers running various apps. Let's get all of this out of my facility and into your datacenter." What they're looking to do is transform their architecture over time to become a more efficient service. The interesting thing with that is, first you get through the process -- you get the plan out, you get them migrated into your facility, you get to know the architecture and the environment. Then over the next couple of years, you're able to introduce new ways of delivering the service, re-architecting the footprint and really helping customers gain efficiencies, whether it's being able to provision services more effectively and rapidly, or getting better use of capex [capital expenditure] by converting it into opex [operating expenditure]. It's great for us to bring to the table all the experience and exposure we see serving all these different types of customers, and help them with their specific needs.

VR: How many of the customers who are moving all their data from their datacenters to yours want to throw a bunch of it up in the cloud?
Bakshi: A lot of the customers we have and a lot of the customers that are getting onto our cloud are saying, "What can I use it for? What makes sense to go onto a cloud fabric?" So we're having a lot of dialogue like that. There's one specific customer that I've worked with three times now, which is really great because he's moved to three different companies, and every time he's come back just to do business with us, which we take a lot of pride in. Most recently, he said, "Look, Rahul, I've got a real small footprint of apps and even though my ERP [enterprise resource planning] runs on HP-UX, it's completely isolated from these other apps. All these things are coming up to end of life; it's all Microsoft, Linux, and it all works on virtual footprints. Can we just move it all to your cloud offering?" I said, "Absolutely, not a problem." So we're starting to see a lot of interest picking up over the last 12 months, and we're estimating maybe 25 percent of our customer base at renewal -- and/or at the time of adding new apps -- are going to be looking at taking advantage of our cloud offering. I've said it in some of my other conversations with other folks: It's really just an evolution and an expansion of our service capability. We're still delivering the same set of services, just a lot more efficiently or more effectively, and on shared fabrics. The benefit should be enhancing the value proposition of what we used to do.

VR: A lot is being made of virtualizing datacenters. What's the future of datacenters as cloud computing becomes increasingly pervasive?
Bakshi: I agree that cloud computing is going to exponentially increase in usage and demand, but it's not everything for everyone, so there's always going to be the need for customers to either have co-location requirements or managed services on non-cloud fabrics. And then there's going to be a large quantity of customers that prefer to keep their applications in their own internal facilities. So the way I'm looking at it, we're continuing to get to a point where we need to have these disparate platforms integrated and talking among themselves. Whether it's Windows Azure talking to Force.com, or talking to SunGard, or talking to a customer's legacy datacenter where they keep their mainframe -- when those pieces come together at the level of maturity that's required, all of these platforms will start talking together.

VR: Your infrastructure is impressive. How are you using it to service your internal IT requirements?
Bakshi: We've got many employees and we're international, so we have to look at consolidating infrastructure where appropriate, and then benefit from taking advantage of newer capabilities such as virtualization and shared fabrics. As a result, there are a lot of benefits from effectively treating ourselves as our own customer. The engineers that are supporting our customers are also supporting our own internal IT, so there's a lot of carry-over and a lot of thought that comes into it. For example, when we're rolling out newer back-up technologies or when we were introducing de-duplication, we absolutely leveraged that for internal IT as well as our customer base.

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.

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