I recently sat down with John McGivern, Sr. Director of Cloud Optimization Services at Groupware Technology, to talk about the challenges he faced as an early adopter of the public cloud (and where the industry has room for further improvement), why we’re seeing such huge growth in the Managed Service Provider (MSP) market, and where cloud technology falls on the ‘trendiness’ spectrum.
Jackson: Hi John, thanks for sitting down with me today. You’ve spent the majority of your career in technology, the latter half of which has been intertwined with the emergence of the public cloud. But what many of us know as the public cloud today isn’t what you and many other pioneers in the space encountered 7-10 years ago. I want to start by going back a few years, before your time at Groupware, when the public cloud started gaining traction and executives in your organization came to you and your team and told you they were thinking of making the move to cloud. How did that play out for you?
John: Thanks Jackson. I appreciate this opportunity to talk to you. This is definitely a good place to start this discussion. The decision for my team and I at a previous organization to replatform was necessary in order for us to scale. That decision was non-negotiable. Then the conversation became: do we replatform an on-premise solution or do we move to the public cloud? And while we were having those discussions, the C-level team started to get involved. At that early stage, there were executives at the C-level who weren’t completely aware of the cloud, but thought of it as an emerging technology, like a buzzword-type trend.
So as we started to look into this about five or six years ago, we discovered there were very few people who actually knew the full capabilities of cloud computing. Our architects spent some time researching and we engaged numerous vendors and different partners so that we’d have some experts explain to us how we would even start thinking about migrating to cloud.
We asked some very basic questions like how does one gets resources into the cloud, how do you manage resources, what it would cost us and things like that. It’s almost humorous now when I think about the questions we were asking, but at that time cloud was uncharted territory for many people—it was a lot of self-teaching
Jackson: Do you believe public cloud users today, especially those who are new to the space, are finding the onboarding process to be their biggest challenge?
John: It really depends on how you’re onboarding. If you’re going for a lift and shift, you’ll have an easier go at it—there are a lot of tools available today for those using IaaS that make it fairly easy to migrate. A good example of this would be VMware on AWS. This process is much more robust than it was even a few years ago.
If you’re planning on using PaaS, which is the direction my team and I took, you’ll still need to learn how to architect for the cloud. Onboarding in this fashion still requires a lot of self-learning. The same onboarding challenges around re-architecture that I faced five or six years ago are going to be the same challenges someone would have onboarding today. There hasn’t been much progress in that space to make this method easier.
Jackson: So the rise of MSPs was to help SMBs and mid-market companies re-architecture?
John: Yes and no—I’m not sure we can be that definitive. The majority of customers that I see are still doing IaaS… AWS was really built on an IaaS model, where I think Azure, especially for existing Microsoft customers, lent itself to PasS— if you were willing to do the re-architecture.
That being said, I think the entire MSP world has grown out of an unbelievable need by so many people and organizations moving to the cloud to simply help them figure it all out. I don’t think it matters whether it’s IaaS or PaaS.
And so the growth we’re seeing has really just been that if MSPs are willing to step up and provide the service(s) that organizations out there need, either because organizations can’t hire for it or fear the risk of training internally and then having those resources leave shortly after, they’ll find success.
I think for the public cloud to keep growing the way it was, it needed a channel. Without a partner system to help people get in the cloud without messing things up too badly, cloud adoption rates today would look very different today than they do.
Jackson: What would you say are some of your customer’s biggest challenges?
John: For the customers Groupware has today, from a growth and cost perspective, they’re mainly lacking time and expertise. Once we get customers over their first hurdle—gaining visibility—they still struggle to find time in their day to work with my team and I directly.
But thinking back to my time as a cloud consumer, we were forced to make a decision as to whether or not we should continue forward with such a substantial project without fully understanding what we were getting for our money or resources… and making that decision was extremely difficult back then because there were not a lot of other organizations to look to for guidance.
Based on discussions I have frequently today, our customers are facing similar financial concerns because they are seeing that costs are not as low as they were advised. Now costs can certainly be low, but you have to know what you’re doing—and many organizations just don’t have the time or the expertise to know what they’re doing. So we have customers who are literally stopped in their migration journey because they don’t feel comfortable that they know what they’re doing and they’re afraid that by the time they finish their cloud journey, it will be far more expensive than they anticipated.
Jackson: For quite some time now, many people—especially those more removed from the IT space—considered the cloud to be this “trendy” new-age technology. As cloud providers continued to develop and expand their portfolio, the cloud started to be viewed more as an IT necessity. Do you think companies are still in the trendy phase of cloud or have they moved to the “we need cloud to succeed” phase?
John: That’s an interesting question. If you’re talking about IT professionals, I think most don’t believe cloud is a trend anymore—it’s imperative for scalability and success. The positives of the cloud are very clear and have substantial impact on day-to-day operations. When you get up to the C-suite, there is an opportunity for further awareness and education. I think it’s certainly moving in that direction, but I’m not sure many executives outside the IT space truly understand why the cloud is the way to go… they just know they should go there.
Jackson: I want to switch gears for my final question and talk about something we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years—data security. For many people, maybe those a bit less informed about the technology itself, issues surrounding data privacy and security have become synonymous with the cloud. Is security failure in the cloud a myth or are people’s concerns and hesitations about migrating to the cloud out of fear of poor security still valid?
John: For the last 15 years I had a major or primary role in PCI compliance… and it’s a never-ending headache. It’s every other day that an organization is prominently in the news because they’ve been hacked—it’s a very high profile place to be.
But even though the perception may be that the cloud is less secure, I don’t think it has anything to do with the technology itself. The cloud isn’t any more or less secure than any on-premise environment—I think it comes down to how it’s all managed.
I’m not a believer that security is based on the platform, but rather, based on the level of attention and care it gets within a given organization. Security in the cloud is a responsibility that falls primarily on the end user, so I don’t think whether you’re in the cloud or not in the cloud is a fair estimation of how secure you are.
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Want to hear more from John? He'll be presenting this fall at CloudLive alongside an entire line-up of speakers from across the cloud industry. To learn more about the industry's leading multicloud conference, click here.
John McGivern is the Senior Director of Cloud Optimization Services at Groupware Technology, a leading IT solutions provider based in Campbell, CA. In his role at Groupware, John works with customers to optimize their cloud platform for cost-effectiveness and manageability. He is a seasoned information technology executive with extensive experience in the design, development, operation and automation of large-scale data centers and fulfillment systems. John has managed all types of on-prem solutions during his career including hybrid-cloud design and deployment.