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Inside story on HPC’s AI role in Bridges 'strategic reasoning' research at CMU

The next BriefingsDirect high performance computing (HPC) success interview examines how strategic reasoning is becoming more common and capable -- even using imperfect information.

We’ll now learn how Carnegie Mellon University and a team of researchers there are producing amazing results with strategic reasoning thanks in part to powerful new memory-intense systems architectures.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript ordownload a copy. 

To learn more about strategic reasoning advances, please join me in welcoming Tuomas Sandholm, Professor and Director of the Electronic Marketplaces Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us about strategic reasoning and why imperfect information is often the reality that these systems face?

Sandholm: In strategic reasoning we take the word “strategic” very seriously. It means game theoretic, so in multi-agent settings where you have more than one player, you can't just optimize as if you were the only actor -- because the other players are going to act strategically. What you do affects how they should play, and what they do affects how you should play.

Sandholm

Sandholm

That's what game theory is about. In artificial intelligence (AI), there has been a long history of strategic reasoning. Most AI reasoning -- not all of it, but most of it until about 12 years ago -- was really about perfect information games like Othello, Checkers, Chess and Go.

And there has been tremendous progress. But these complete information, or perfect information, games don't really model real business situations very well. Most business situations are of imperfect information.

Know what you don’t know

So you don't know the other guy's resources, their goals and so on. You then need totally different algorithms for solving these games, or game-theoretic solutions that define what rational play is, or opponent exploitation techniques where you try to find out the opponent's mistakes and learn to exploit them.

So totally different techniques are needed, and this has way more applications in reality than perfect information games have.

Gardner: In business, you don't always know the rules. All the variables are dynamic, and we don't know the rationale or the reasoning behind competitors’ actions. People sometimes are playing offense, defense, or a little of both.

Before we dig in to how is this being applied in business circumstances, explain your proof of concept involving poker. Is it Five-Card Draw?

Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold'em has become the leading benchmark in the AI community.

Sandholm: No, we’re working on a much harder poker game called Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold'em as the benchmark. This has become the leading benchmark in the AI community for testing these application-independent algorithms for reasoning under imperfect information.

The algorithms have really nothing to do with poker, but we needed a common benchmark, much like the IC chip makers have their benchmarks. We compare progress year-to-year and compare progress across the different research groups around the world. Heads-Up No-limit Texas Hold'em turned out to be great benchmark because it is a huge game of imperfect information.

It has 10 to the 161 different situations that a player can face. That is one followed by 161 zeros. And if you think about that, it’s not only more than the number of atoms in the universe, but even if, for every atom in the universe, you have a whole other universe and count all those atoms in those universes -- it will still be more than that.

Gardner: This is as close to infinity as you can probably get, right?

Sandholm: Ha-ha, basically yes.

Gardner: Okay, so you have this massively complex potential data set. How do you winnow that down, and how rapidly does the algorithmic process and platform learn? I imagine that being reactive, creating a pattern that creates better learning is an important part of it. So tell me about the learning part.

Three part harmony

Sandholm: The learning part always interests people, but it's not really the only part here -- or not even the main part. We basically have three main modules in our architecture. One computes approximations of Nash equilibrium strategies using only the rules of the game as input. In other words, game-theoretic strategies.

That doesn’t take any data as input, just the rules of the game. The second part is during play, refining that strategy. We call that subgame solving.

Then the third part is the learning part, or the self-improvement part. And there, traditionally people have done what’s called opponent modeling and opponent exploitation, where you try to model the opponent or opponents and adjust your strategies so as to take advantage of their weaknesses.

However, when we go against these absolute best human strategies, the best human players in the world, I felt that they don't have that many holes to exploit and they are experts at counter-exploiting. When you start to exploit opponents, you typically open yourself up for exploitation, and we didn't want to take that risk. In the learning part, the third part, we took a totally different approach than traditionally is taken in AI.

We are letting the opponents tell us where the holes are in our strategy. Then, in the background, using supercomputing, we are fixing those holes.

We said, “Okay, we are going to play according to our approximate game-theoretic strategies. However, if we see that the opponents have been able to find some mistakes in our strategy, then we will actually fill those mistakes and compute an even closer approximation to game-theoretic play in those spots.”

One way to think about that is that we are letting the opponents tell us where the holes are in our strategy. Then, in the background, using supercomputing, we are fixing those holes.

All three of these modules run on the Bridges supercomputer at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), for which the hardware was built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

HPC from HPE

Overcomes Barriers

To Supercomputing and Deep Learning

Gardner: Is this being used in any business settings? It certainly seems like there's potential there for a lot of use cases. Business competition and circumstances seem to have an affinity for what you're describing in the poker use case. Where are you taking this next?

Sandholm: So far this, to my knowledge, has not been used in business. One of the reasons is that we have just reached the superhuman level in January 2017. And, of course, if you think about your strategic reasoning problems, many of them are very important, and you don't want to delegate them to AI just to save time or something like that.

Now that the AI is better at strategic reasoning than humans, that completely shifts things. I believe that in the next few years it will be a necessity to have what I call strategic augmentation. So you can't have just people doing business strategy, negotiation, strategic pricing, and product portfolio optimization.

You are going to have to have better strategic reasoning to support you, and so it becomes a kind of competition. So if your competitors have it, or even if they don't, you better have it because it’s a competitive advantage.

Gardner: So a lot of what we're seeing in AI and machine learning is to find the things that the machines do better and allow the humans to do what they can do even better than machines. Now that you have this new capability with strategic reasoning, where does that demarcation come in a business setting? Where do you think that humans will be still paramount, and where will the machines be a very powerful tool for them?

Human modeling, AI solving

Sandholm: At least in the foreseeable future, I see the demarcation as being modeling versus solving. I think that humans will continue to play a very important role in modeling their strategic situations, just to know everything that is pertinent and deciding what’s not pertinent in the model, and so forth. Then the AI is best at solving the model.

That's the demarcation, at least for the foreseeable future. In the very long run, maybe the AI itself actually can start to do the modeling part as well as it builds a better understanding of the world -- but that is far in the future.

Gardner: Looking back as to what is enabling this, clearly the software and the algorithms and finding the right benchmark, in this case the poker game are essential. But with that large of a data set potential -- probabilities set like you mentioned -- the underlying computersystems must need to keep up. Where are you in terms of the threshold that holds you back? Is this a price issue that holds you back? Is it a performance limit, the amount of time required? What are the limits, the governors to continuing?

Sandholm: It's all of the above, and we are very fortunate that we had access to Bridges; otherwise this wouldn’t have been possible at all.  We spent more than a year and needed about 25 million core hours of computing and 2.6 petabytes of data storage.

This amount is necessary to conduct serious absolute superhuman research in this field -- but it is something very hard for a professor to obtain. We were very fortunate to have that computing at our disposal.

Gardner: Let's examine the commercialization potential of this. You're not only a professor at Carnegie Mellon, you’re a founder and CEO of a few companies. Tell us about your companies and how the research is leading to business benefits.

Superhuman business strategies

Sandholm: Let’s start with Strategic Machine, a brand-new start-up company, all of two months old. It’s already profitable, and we are applying the strategic reasoning technology, which again is application independent, along with the Libratus technology, the Lengpudashi technology, and a host of other technologies that we have exclusively licensed to Strategic Machine. We are doing research and development at Strategic Machine as well, and we are taking these to any application that wants us.

HPC from HPE

Overcomes Barriers 

To Supercomputing and Deep Learning

Such applications include business strategy optimization, automated negotiation, and strategic pricing. Typically when people do pricing optimization algorithmically, they assume that either their company is a monopolist or the competitors’ prices are fixed, but obviously neither is typically true.

We are looking at how do you price strategically where you are taking into account the opponent’s strategic response in advance. So you price into the future, instead of just pricing reactively. The same can be done for product portfolio optimization along with pricing.

Let's say you're a car manufacturer and you decide what product portfolio you will offer and at what prices. Well, what you should do depends on what your competitors do and vice versa, but you don’t know that in advance. So again, it’s an imperfect-information game.

Gardner: And these are some of the most difficult problems that businesses face. They have huge billion-dollar investments that they need to line up behind for these types of decisions. Because of that pipeline, by the time they get to a dynamic environment where they can assess -- it's often too late. So having the best strategic reasoning as far in advance as possible is a huge benefit.

If you think about machine learning traditionally, it's about learning from the past. But strategic reasoning is all about figuring out what's going to happen in the future.

Sandholm: Exactly! If you think about machine learning traditionally, it's about learning from the past. But strategic reasoning is all about figuring out what's going to happen in the future. And you can marry these up, of course, where the machine learning gives the strategic reasoning technology prior beliefs, and other information to put into the model.

There are also other applications. For example, cyber security has several applications, such as zero-day vulnerabilities. You can run your custom algorithms and standard algorithms to find them, and what algorithms you should run depends on what the other opposing governments run -- so it is a game.

Similarly, once you find them, how do you play them? Do you report your vulnerabilities to Microsoft? Do you attack with them, or do you stockpile them? Again, your best strategy depends on what all the opponents do, and that's also a very strategic application.

And in upstairs blocks trading, in finance, it’s the same thing: A few players, very big, very strategic.

Gaming your own immune system

The most radical application is something that we are working on currently in the lab where we are doing medical treatment planning using these types of sequential planning techniques. We're actually testing how well one can steer a patient's T-cell population to fight cancers, autoimmune diseases, and infections better by not just using one short treatment plan -- but through sophisticated conditional treatment plans where the adversary is actually your own immune system.

Gardner: Or cancer is your opponent, and you need to beat it?

Sandholm: Yes, that’s right. There are actually two different ways to think about that, and they lead to different algorithms. We have looked at it where the actual disease is the opponent -- but here we are actually looking at how do you steer your own T-cell population.

Gardner: Going back to the technology, we've heard quite a bit from HPE about more memory-driven and edge-driven computing, where the analysis can happen closer to where the data is gathered. Are these advances of any use to you in better strategic reasoning algorithmic processing?

Algorithms at the edge

Sandholm: Yes, absolutely! We actually started running at the PSC on an earlier supercomputer, maybe 10 years ago, which was a shared-memory architecture. And then with Bridges, which is mostly a distributed system, we used distributed algorithms. As we go into the future with shared memory, we could get a lot of speedups.

We have both types of algorithms, so we know that we can run on both architectures. But obviously, the shared-memory, if it can fit our models and the dynamic state of the algorithms, is much faster.

Gardner: So the HPE Machine must be of interest to you: HPE’s advanced concept demonstration model, with a memory-driven architecture, photonics for internal communications, and so forth. Is that a technology you're keeping a keen eye on?

HPC from HPE

Overcomes Barriers 

To Supercomputing and Deep Learning

Sandholm: Yes. That would definitely be a desirable thing for us, but what we really focus on is the algorithms and the AI research. We have been very fortunate in that the PSC and HPE have been able to take care of the hardware side.

We really don’t get involved in the hardware side that much, and I'm looking at it from the outside. I'm trusting that they will continue to build the best hardware and maintain it in the best way -- so that we can focus on the AI research.

Gardner: Of course, you could help supplement the cost of the hardware by playing superhuman poker in places like Las Vegas, and perhaps doing quite well.

Sandholm: Actually here in the live game in Las Vegas they don't allow that type of computational support. On the Internet, AI has become a big problem on gaming sites, and it will become an increasing problem. We don't put our AI in there; it’s against their site rules. Also, I think it's unethical to pretend to be a human when you are not. The business opportunities, the monetary opportunities in the business applications, are much bigger than what you could hope to make in poker anyway.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript ordownload a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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Philips teams with HPE on ecosystem approach to improve healthcare informatics-driven outcomes

The next BriefingsDirect healthcare transformation use-case discussion focuses on how an ecosystem approach to big data solutions brings about improved healthcare informatics-driven outcomes.

We'll now learn how a Philips Healthcare Informatics and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) partnership creates new solutions for the global healthcare market and provides better health outcomes for patients by managing data and intelligence better.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript ordownload a copy.

Joining us to explain how companies tackle the complexity of solutions delivery in healthcare by using advanced big data and analytics is Martijn Heemskerk, Healthcare Informatics Ecosystem Director for Philips, based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.


Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Why are partnerships so important in healthcare informatics? Is it because there are clinical considerations combined with big data technology? Why are these types of solutions particularly dependent upon an ecosystem approach?

Heemskerk: It’s exactly as you say, Dana. At Philips we are very strong at developing clinical solutions for our customers. But nowadays those solutions also require an IT infrastructure layer

Heemskerk

Heemskerk

underneath to solve the total equation. As such, we are looking for partners in the ecosystem because we at Philips recognize that we cannot do everything alone. We need partners in the ecosystem that can help address the total solution -- or the total value proposition -- for our customers.

Gardner: I'm sure it varies from region to region, but is there a cultural barrier in some regard to bringing cutting-edge IT in particular into healthcare organizations? Or have things progressed to where technology and healthcare converge?

Heemskerk: Of course, there are some countries that are more mature than others. Therefore the level of healthcare and the type of solutions that you offer to different countries may vary. But in principle, many of the challenges that hospitals everywhere are going through are similar.

Some of the not-so-mature markets are also trying to leapfrog so that they can deliver different solutions that are up to par with the mature markets.

Gardner: Because we are hearing a lot about big data and edge computing these days, we are seeing the need for analytics at a distributed architecture scale. Please explain how big data changes healthcare.

Big data value add

Heemskerk: What is very interesting for big data is what happens if you combine it with value-based care. It's a very interesting topic. For example, nowadays, a hospital is not reimbursed for every procedure that it does in the hospital – the value is based more on the total outcome of how a patient recovers.

This means that more analytics need to be gathered across different elements of the process chain before reimbursement will take place. In that sense, analytics become very important for hospitals on how to measure on how things are being done efficiently, and determining if the costs are okay.

Gardner: The same data that can used to be more efficient can also be used for better healthcare outcomes and understanding the path of the disease, or for the efficacy of procedures, and so on. A great deal can be gained when data is gathered and used properly.

Heemskerk: That is correct. And you see, indeed, that there is much more data nowadays, and you can utilize it for all kind of different things.

Learn About HPE

Digital Solutions

That Drive Healthcare and Life Sciences

Gardner: Please help us understand the relationship between your organization and HPE. Where does your part of the value begin and end, and how does HPE fill their role on the technology side?

Healthy hardware relationships 

Heemskerk: HPE has been a highly valued supplier of Philips for quite a long time. We use their technologies for all kinds of different clinical solutions. For example, all of the hardware that we use for our back-end solutions or for advanced visualization is sourced by HPE. I am focusing very much on the commercial side of the game, so to speak, where we are really looking at how can we jointly go to market.

As I said, customers are really looking for one-stop shopping, a complete value proposition, for the challenges that they are facing. That’s why we partner with HPE on a holistic level.

Gardner: Does that involve bringing HPE into certain accounts and vice versa, and then going in to provide larger solutions together?

Heemskerk: Yes, that is exactly the case, indeed. We recognized that we are not so much focusing on problems related to just the clinical implications, and we are not just focusing on the problems that HPE is facing -- the IT infrastructure and the connectivity side of the value chain. Instead, we are really looking at the problems that the C-suite-level healthcare executives are facing.

You can think about healthcare industry consolidation, for example, as a big topic. Many hospitals are now moving into a cluster or into a network and that creates all kinds of challenges, both on the clinical application layer, but also on the IT infrastructure. How do you harmonize all of this? How do you standardize all of your different applications? How do you make sure that hospitals are going to be connected? How do you align all of your processes so that there is a more optimized process flow within the hospitals?

By addressing these kinds of questions and jointly going to our customers with HPE, we can improve user experiences for the customers, we can create better services, we have optimized these solutions, and then we can deliver a lot of time savings for the hospitals as well.

Learn About HPE

Digital Solutions

That Drive Healthcare and Life Sciences

Gardner: We have certainly seen in other industries that if you try IT modernization without including the larger organization -- the people, the process, and the culture -- the results just aren’t as good. It is important to go at modernization and transformation, consolidation of data centers, for example, with that full range of inputs and getting full buy-in.

Who else makes up the ecosystem? It takes more than two players to make an ecosystem.

Heemskerk: Yes, that's very true, indeed. In this, system integrators also have a very important role. They can have an independent view on what would be the best solution to fit a specific hospital.

Of course, we think that the Philips healthcare solutions are quite often the best, jointly focused with the solutions from HPE, but from time to time you can be partnering with different vendors.

Besides that, we don't have all of the clinical applications. By partnering with other vendors in the ecosystem, sometimes you can enhance the solutions that we have to think about; such as 3D solutions and 3D printing solutions.

Gardner: When you do this all correctly, when you leverage and exploit an ecosystem approach, when you cover the bases of technology, finance, culture, and clinical considerations, how much of an impressive improvement can we typically see?

Saving time, money, and people

Heemskerk: We try to look at it customer by customer, but generically what we see is that there are really a lot of savings.

First of all, addressing standardization across the clinical application layer means that a customer doesn't have to spend a lot of money on training all of its hospital employees on different kinds of solutions. So that's already a big savings.

Secondly, by harmonizing and making better effective use of the clinical applications, you can drive the total cost of ownership down.

Thirdly, it means that on the clinical applications layer, there are a lot of efficiency benefits possible. For example, advanced analytics make it possible to reduce the time that clinicians or radiologists are spending on analyzing different kinds of elements, which also creates time savings.

Gardner: Looking more to the future, as technologies improve, as costs go down, as they typically do, as hybrid IT models are utilized and understood better -- where do you see things going next for the healthcare sector when it comes to utilizing technology, utilizing informatics, and improving their overall process and outcomes?

Learn About HPE

Digital Solutions

That Drive Healthcare and Life Sciences

Heemskerk: What for me would be very interesting is to see is if we can create some kind of a patient-centric data file for each patient. You see that consumers are increasingly engaged in their own health, with all the different devices like Fitbit, Jawbone, Apple Watch, etc. coming up. This is creating a massive amount of data. But there is much more data that you can put into such a patient-centric file, with the chronic diseases information now that people are being monitored much more, and much more often.

If you can have a chronological view of all of the different touch points that the patient has in the hospital, combined with the drugs that the patient is using etc., and you have that all in this patient-centric file -- it will be very interesting. And everything, of course, needs to be interconnected. Therefore, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will become more important. And as the data is growing, you will have smarter algorithms that can also interpret that data – and so artificial intelligence (AI) will become much more important.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript ordownload a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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Inside story: How Ormuco abstracts the concepts of private and public cloud across the globe

The next BriefingsDirect cloud ecosystem strategies interview explores how a Canadian software provider delivers a hybrid cloud platform for enterprises and service providers alike.

We'll now learn how Ormuco has identified underserved regions and has crafted a standards-based hybrid cloud platform to allow its users to attain world-class cloud services just about anywhere.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript ordownload a copy.

Here to help us explore how new breeds of hybrid cloud are coming to more providers around the globe thanks to the Cloud28+ consortium is Orlando Bayter, CEO and Founder of Ormuco in Montréal, and Xavier Poisson Gouyou Beachamps, Vice President of Worldwide Indirect Digital Services at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), based in Paris. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Let’s begin with this notion of underserved regions. Orlando, why is it that many people think that public cloud is everywhere for everyone when there are many places around the world where it is still immature? What is the opportunity to serve those markets?

Bayter: There are many countries underserved by the hyperscale cloud providers. If you look at Russia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), around the world, they want to comply with regulations on security, on data sovereignty, and they need to have the clouds locally to comply.

Bayter

Bayter

Ormuco targets those countries that are underserved by the hyperscale providers and enables service providers and enterprises to consume cloud locally, in ways they can’t do today.

Gardner: Are you allowing them to have a private cloud on-premises as an enterprise? Or do local cloud providers offer a common platform, like yours, so that they get the best of both the private and public hybrid environment?

Bayter: That is an excellent question. There are many workloads that cannot leave the firewall of an enterprise. With that, you now need to deliver the economies, ease of use, flexibility, and orchestration of a public cloud experience in the enterprise. At Ormuco, we deliver a platform that provides the best of the two worlds. You are still leaving your data center and you don't need to worry whether it’s on-premises or off-premises.

It's a single pane of glass. You can move the workloads in that global network via established providers throughout the ecosystem of cloud services.

It’s a single pane of glass. You can move the workloads in that global network via established providers throughout the ecosystem of cloud services.

Gardner: What are the attributes of this platform that both your enterprise and service provider customers are looking for? What’s most important to them in this hybrid cloud platform?

Bayter: As I said, there are some workloads that cannot leave the data center. In the past, you couldn’t get the public cloud inside your data center. You could have built a private cloud, but you couldn’t get an Amazon Web Services (AWS)-like solution or a Microsoft Azure-like solution on-premises.

We have been running this now for two years and what we have noticed is that enterprises want to have the ease-of-use, sales, service, and orchestration on-premises. Now, they can connect to a public cloud based on the same platform and they don’t have to worry about how to connect it or how it will work. They just decide where to place this.

They have security, can comply with regulations, and gain control -- plus 40 percent savings compared with VMware, and up to 50 percent to 60 percent compared with AWS.

Gardner: I’m also interested in the openness of the platform. Do they have certain requirements as to the cloud model, such as OpenStack?  What is it that enables this to be classified as a standard cloud?

Bayter: At Ormuco, we went out and checked what are the best solutions and the best platform that we can bring together to build this experience on-premises and off-premises.

We saw OpenStack, we saw Docker, and then we saw how to take, for example, OpenStack and make it like a public cloud solution. So if you look at OpenStack, the way I see it is as concrete, or a foundation. If you want to build a house or a condo on that, you also need the attic. Ormuco builds that software to be able to deliver that cloud look and feel, that self-service, all in open tools, with the same APIs both on private and public clouds.

Learn How Cloud 28+

Provides an Open Community

Of Cloud Service Providers

Gardner: What is it about the HPE platform beneath that that supports you? How has HPE been instrumental in allowing that platform to be built?

Community collaboration

Bayter: HPE has been a great partner. Through Cloud28+ we are able to go to markets in places that HPE has a presence. They basically generate that through marketing, through sales. They were able to bring deals to us and help us grow our business.

From a technology perspective, we are using HPE Synergy. With Synergy, we can provide composability, and we can combine storage and compute into a single platform. Now we go together into a market, we win deals, and we solve the enterprise challenges around security and data sovereignty.

Gardner: Xavier, how is Cloud28+ coming to market, for those who are not familiar with it? Tell us a bit about Cloud28+ and how an organization like Ormuco is a good example of how it works.

Poisson: Cloud28+ is a community of IT players -- service providers, technology partners, independent software vendors (ISVs), value added resellers, and universities -- that have decided to join forces to enable digital transformation through cloud computing. To do that, we pull our resources together to have a single platform. We are allowing the enterprise to discover and consume cloud services from the different members of Cloud28+.

We launched Cloud28+ officially to the market on December 15, 2016. Today, we have more than 570 members from across the world inside Cloud28+. Roughly 18,000 distributed services may be consumed and we also have system integrators that support the platform. We cover more than 300 data centers from our partners, so we can provide choice.

In fact, we believe our customers need to have that choice. They need to know what is available for them. As an analogy, if you have your smartphone, you can have an app store and do what you want as a consumer. We wanted to do the same and provide the same ease for an enterprise globally anywhere on the planet. We respect diversity and what is happening in every single region.

Ormuco has been one of the first technology partners. Docker is another one. And Intel is another. They have been working together with HPE to really understand the needs of the customer and how we can deliver very quickly a cloud infrastructure to a service provider and to an enterprise in record time. At the same time, they can leverage all the partners from the catalog of content and services, propelled by Cloud28+, from the ISVs.

Global ecosystem, by choice 

Because we are bringing together a global ecosystem, including the resellers, if a service provider builds a project through Cloud28+, with a technology partner like Ormuco, then all the ISVs are included. They can push their services onto the platform, and all the resellers that are part of the ecosystem can convey onto the market what the service providers have been building.

We have a lot of collaboration with Ormuco to help them to design their solutions. Ormuco has been helping us to design what Cloud28+ should be, because it's a continuous improvement approach on Cloud28+ and it’s via collaboration.

If you want to join Cloud28+ to take, don't come. If you want to give, and take a lot afterward, yes, please come, because we all receive a lot.

As I like to say, “If you want to join Cloud28+ to take, don't come. If you want to give, and take a lot afterward, yes, please come, because we all receive a lot.”

Gardner: Orlando, when this all works well, whatdo your end-users gain in terms of business benefits? You mentioned reduction in costs, that's very important, of course. But is there more about your platform from a development perspective and an operational perspective that we can share to encourage people to explore it?

Bayter: So imagine yourself with an ecosystem like Cloud28+. They have 500 members. They have multiple countries, many data centers.

Now imagine that you can have the Ormuco solution on-premises in an enterprise and then be able to burst to a global network of service providers, across all those regions. You get the same performance, you get the same security, and you get the same compliance across all of that.

For an end-customer, you don’t need to think anymore where you’re going to put your applications. They will go to the public cloud, they will go to the private cloud. It is agnostic. You basically place it where you want it to go and decide the economies you want to get. You can compare with the hyperscale providers.

That is the key, you get one platform throughout our ecosystem of partners that can deliver to you that same functionality and experience locally. With a community such as Cloud28+, we can accomplish something that was not possible before.

Gardner: So, just hoping to delineate between the development and then the operations in production. Are you offering the developer an opportunity to develop there and seamlessly deploy, or are you more focused on the deployment after the applications are developed, or both?

Development to deployment 

Bayter: With our solution, same as AWS or Azure allows, a developer can develop their app via APIs, automated, use a database of choice (it could be MySQL, Oracle), and the load balancing and the different features we have in the cloud, whether it’s Kubernetes or Docker, build all that -- and then when the application is ready, you can decide in which region you want to deploy the application.

So you go from development, to deployment technology of your choice, whether it’s Docker or Kubernetes, and then you can deploy to the global network that we’re building on Cloud28+. You can go to any region, and you don’t have to worry about how to get a service provider contract in Russia, or how do I get a contract in Brazil? Who is going to provide me with the service? Now you can get that service locally through a reseller, a distributor, or have an ISV deploythe software worldwide.

Gardner: Xavier, what other sorts of organizations should be aware of the Cloud28+ network?

Learn How Cloud 28+

Provides an Open Community

Of Cloud Service Providers

Poisson: We have the technology partners like Ormuco, and we are thankful for what they have brought to the community. We have service providers, of course, software vendors, because you can publish your software in Cloud28+ and provision it on-premises or off-premises. We accelerate go-to-market for startups, they gain immediate global reach with Cloud28+. So to all the ISVs, I say, “Come on, come on guys, we will help you reach out to the market.”

System integrators also, because we see this is an opportunity for the large enterprises and governments with a lot of multi-cloud projects taking care, having requirements forsecurity. And you know what is happening with security today, it's a hot topic. So people are thinking about how they can have a multi-cloud strategy. System integrators are now turning to Cloud28+ because they find here a reservoir of all the capabilities to find the right solution to answer the right question.

Universities are another kind of member we are working with. Just to explain, we know that all the technologies are created first at the university and then they evolve. All the startups are starting at the university level. So we have some very good partnerships with some universities in several regions in Portugal, Germany, France, and the United States. These universities are designing new projects with members of Cloud28+, to answer questions of the governments, for example, or they are using Cloud28+ to propel the startups into the market.

Ormuco is also helping to change the business model of distribution. So distributors now also are joining Cloud28+. Why? Because a distributor has to make a choice for its consumers. In the past, a distributor had software inventory that they were pushing to the resellers. Now they need to have an inventory of cloud services.

There is more choice. They can purchase hyperscale services, resell, or maybe source to the different members of Cloud28+, according to the country they want to deliver to. Or they can own the platform using the technology of Ormuco, for example, and put that in a white-label model for the reseller to propel it into the market. This is what Azure is doing in Europe, typically. So new kinds of members and models are coming in.

Digital transformation

Lastly, an enterprise can use Cloud28+ to make their digital transformation. If they have services and software, they can become a supplier inside of Cloud28+. They source cloud services inside a platform, do digital transformation, and find a new go-to-market through the ecosystem to propel their offerings onto the global market.

Gardner: Orlando, do you have any examples that you could share with us of a service provider, ISV or enterprise that has white-labeled your software and your capabilities as Xavier has alluded to? That’s a really interesting model.

Bayter: We have been able to go-to-market to countries where Cloud28+ was a tremendous help. If you look at Western Europe, Xavier was just speaking about Microsoft Azure. They chose our platform and we are deploying it in Europe, making it available to the resellers to help them transform their consumption models.

They provide public cloud and they serve many markets. They provide a community cloud for governments and they provide private clouds for enterprises -- all from a single platform.

If you look at the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, we have one of the largest managed service providers. They provide public cloud and they serve many markets. They provide a community cloud for governments and they provide private clouds for enterprises -- all from a single platform.

We also have several of the largest telecoms in Latin America (LATAM) and EMEA. We have a US presence, where we have Managed.com as a provider. So things are going very well and it is largely thanks to what Cloud28+ has done for us.

Gardner: While this consortium is already very powerful, we are also seeing new technologies coming to the market that should further support the model. Such things as HPE New Stack, which is still in the works, HPE Synergy’s composability and auto-bursting, along with security now driven into the firmware and the silicon -- it’s almost as if HPE’s technology roadmap is designed for this very model, or very much in alignment. Tell us how new technology and the Cloud28+ model come together.

Bayter: So HPE New Stack is becoming the control point of multi-cloud. Now what happens when you want to have that same experience off-premises and on-premises? New Stack could connect to Ormuco as a resource provider, even as it connects to other multi-clouds.

With an ecosystem like Cloud28+ all working together, we can connect those hybrid models with service providers to deliver that experience to enterprises across the world.

Learn How Cloud 28+

Provides an Open Community

Of Cloud Service Providers

Gardner: Xavier, anything more in terms of how HPE New Stack and Cloud28+ fit? 

Partnership is top priority

Poisson: It’s a real collaboration. I am very happy with that because I have been working a long time at HPE, and New Stack is a project that has been driven by thinking about the go-to-market at the same time as the technology. It’s a big reward to all the Cloud28+ partners because they are now de facto considered as resource providers for our end-user customers – same as the hyperscale providers, maybe.

At HPE, we say we are in partnership first -- with our partners, or ecosystem, or channel. I believe that what we are doing with Cloud28+, New Stack, and all the other projects that we are describing – this will be the reality around the world. We deliver on-premises for the channel partners.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript ordownload a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

You may also be interested in:

·       How IoT capabilities open new doors for Miami Telecoms Platform Provider Identidad

·       DreamWorks Animation crafts its next era of dynamic IT infrastructure

·       How Enterprises Can Take the Ecosystem Path to Making the Most of Microsoft Azure Stack Apps

·       Hybrid Cloud ecosystem readies for impact from Microsoft Azure Stack

·       Converged IoT systems: Bringing the data center to the edge of everything

·       IDOL-powered appliance delivers better decisions via comprehensive business information searches

·        OCSL sets its sights on the Nirvana of hybrid IT—attaining the right mix of hybrid cloud for its clients

·       Fast acquisition of diverse unstructured data sources makes IDOL API tools a star at LogitBot

·       How lastminute.com uses machine learning to improve travel bookings user experience

·       HPE takes aim at customer needs for speed and agility in age of IoT, hybrid everything

How Nokia refactors the video delivery business with new time-managed IT financing models

The next BriefingsDirect IT financing and technology acquisition strategies interview examines how Nokia is refactoring the video delivery business. Learn both about new video delivery architectures and the creative ways media companies are paying for the technology that supports them.

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

Here to describe new models of Internet Protocol (IP) video and time-managed IT financing is Paul Larbey, Head of the Video Business Unit at Nokia, based in Cambridge, UK. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: It seems that the video-delivery business is in upheaval. How are video delivery trends coming together to make it necessary for rethinking architectures? How are pricing models and business models changing, too? 

Larbey: We sit here in 2017, but let’s look back 10 years to 2007. There were a couple key events in 2007 that dramatically shaped how we all consume video today and how, as a company, we use technology to go to market.

Larbey

Larbey

It’s been 10 years since the creation of the Apple iPhone. The iPhone sparked whole new device-types, moving eventually into the iPad. Not only that, Apple underneath developed a lot of technology in terms of how you stream video, how you protect video over IP, and the technology underneath that, which we still use today. Not only did they create a new device-type and avenue for us to watch video, they also created new underlying protocols.

It was also 10 years ago that Netflix began to first offer a video streaming service. So if you look back, I see one year in which how we all consume our video today was dramatically changed by a couple of events.

If we fast-forward, and look to where that goes to in the future, there are two trends we see today that will create challenges tomorrow. Video has become truly mobile. When we talk about mobile video, we mean watching some films on our iPad or on our iPhone -- so not on a big TV screen, that is what most people mean by mobile video today.

The future is personalized 

When you can take your video with you, you want to take all your content with you. You can’t do that today. That has to happen in the future. When you are on an airplane, you can’t take your content with you. You need connectivity to extend so that you can take your content with you no matter where you are.

Take the simple example of a driverless car. Now, you are driving along and you are watching the satellite-navigation feed, watching the traffic, and keeping the kids quiet in the back. When driverless cars come, what you are going to be doing? You are still going to be keeping the kids quiet, but there is a void, a space that needs to be filled with activity, and clearly extending the content into the car is the natural next step.

And the final challenge is around personalization. TV will become a lot more personalized. Today we all get the same user experience. If we are all on the same service provider, it looks the same -- it’s the same color, it’s the same grid. There is no reason why that should all be the same. There is no reason why my kids shouldn’t have a different user interface.

There is no reason why I should have 10 pages of channels that I have to through to find something that I want to watch.

The user interface presented to me in the morning may be different than the user interface presented to me in the evening. There is no reason why I should have 10 pages of channels that I have to go through to find something that I want to watch. Why aren’t all those channels specifically curated for me? That’s what we mean by personalization. So if you put those all together and extrapolate those 10 years into the future, then 2027 will be a very different place for video.

Gardner: It sounds like a few things need to change between the original content’s location and those mobile screens and those customized user scenarios you just described. What underlying architecture needs to change in order to get us to 2027 safely?

Larbey: It’s a journey; this is not a step-change. This is something that’s going to happen gradually.

But if you step back and look at the fundamental changes -- all video will be streamed. Today, the majority of what we view is via broadcasting, from cable TV, or from a satellite. It’s a signal that’s going to everybody at the same time.

If you think about the mobile video concept, if you think about personalization, that is not going be the case. Today we watch a portion of our video streamed over IP. In the future, it will all be streamed over IP.

And that clearly creates challenges for operators in terms of how to architect the network, how to optimize the delivery, and how to recreate that broadcast experience using streaming video. This is where a lot of our innovation is focused today.

Gardner: You also mentioned in the case of an airplane, where it's not just streaming but also bringing a video object down to the device. What will be different in terms of the boundary between the stream and a download?

IT’s all about intelligence

Larbey: It’s all about intelligence. Firstly, connectivity has to extend and become really ubiquitous via technology such as 5G. The increase in fiber technology will dramatically enable truly ubiquitous connectivity, which we don’t really have today. That will resolve some of the problems, but not all.

But, by the fact that television will be personalized, the network will know what’s in my schedule. If I have an upcoming flight, machine learning can automatically predict what I’m going to do and make sure it suggests the right content in context. It may download the content because it knows I am going to be sitting in a flight for the next 12 hours.

Gardner: We are putting intelligence into the network to be beneficial to the user experience. But it sounds like it’s also going to give you the opportunity to be more efficient, with just-in-time utilization -- minimal viable streaming, if you will.

How does the network becoming more intelligent also benefit the carriers, the deliverers of the content, and even the content creators and owners? There must be an increased benefit for them on utility as well as in the user experience?

Larbey: Absolutely. We think everything moves into the network, and the intelligence becomes the network. So what does that do immediately? That means the operators don’t have to buy set-top boxes. They are expensive. They are very costly to maintain. They stay in the network a long time. They can have a much lighter client capability, which basically just renders the user interface.

The first obvious example of all this, that we are heavily focused on, is the storage. So taking the hard drive out of the set-top box and putting that data back into the network. Some huge deployments are going on at the moment in collaboration with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) using the HPE Apollo platform to deploy high-density storage systems that remove the need to ship a set-top box with a hard drive in it.

HPE Rethinks

How to Acquire, Pay For

And Use IT

Now, what are the advantages of that? Everybody thinks it’s costly, so you’ve taken the hard drive out, you have the storage in the network, and that’s clearly one element. But actually if you talk to any operator, their biggest cause of subscriber churn is when somebody’s set-top box fails and they lose their personalized recordings.

The personal connection you had with your service isn’t there any longer. It’s a lot easier to then look at competing services. So if that content is in the network, then clearly you don’t have that churn issue. Not only can you access your content from any mobile device, it’s protected and it will always be with you.

Taking the CDN private

Gardner: For the past few decades, part of the solution to this problem was to employ a content delivery network (CDN) and use that in a variety of ways. It started with web pages and the downloading of flat graphic files. Now that's extended into all sorts of objects and content. Are we going to do away with the CDN? Are we going to refactor it, is it going to evolve? How does that pan out over the next decade?

Larbey: The CDN will still exist. That still becomes the key way of optimizing video delivery -- but it changes. If you go back 10 years, the only CDNs available were CDNs in the Internet. So it was a shared service, you bought capacity on the shared service.

Even today that's how a lot of video from the content owners and broadcasters is streamed. For the past seven years, we have been taking that technology and deploying it in private network -- with both telcos and cable operators -- so they can have their own private CDN, and there are a lot of advantages to having your own private CDN.
You get complete control of the roadmap. You can start to introduce advanced features such as targeted ad insertion, blackout, and features like that to generate more revenue. You have complete control over the quality of experience, which you don't if you outsource to a shared service.

There are a lot of advantages to having your own private CDN. You have complete control over the quality of experience which you don't if you outsource to a shared service.

What we’re seeing now is both the programmers and broadcasters taking an interest in that private CDN because they want the control. Video is their business, so the quality they deliver is even more important to them. We’re seeing a lot of the programmers and broadcasters starting to look at adopting the private CDN model as well.

The challenge is how do you build that? You have to build for peak. Peak is generally driven by live sporting events and one-off news events. So that leaves you with a lot of capacity that’s sitting idle a lot of the time. With cloud and orchestration, we have solved that technically -- we can add servers in very quickly, we can take them out very quickly, react to the traffic demands and we can technically move things around.

But the commercial model has lagged behind. So we have been working with HPE Financial Services to understand how we can innovate on that commercial model as well and get that flexibility -- not just from an IT perspective, but also from a commercial perspective.

Gardner:  Tell me about Private CDN technology. Is that a Nokia product? Tell us about your business unit and the commercial models.

Larbey: We basically help as a business unit. Anyone who has content -- be that broadcasters or programmers – they pay the operators to stream the content over IP, and to launch new services. We have a product focused on video networking: How to optimize a video, how it’s delivered, how it’s streamed, and how it’s personalized.

It can be a private CDN product, which we have deployed for the last seven years, and we have a cloud digital video recorder (DVR) product, which is all about moving the storage capacity into the network. We also have a systems integration part, which brings a lot of technology together and allows operators to combine vendors and partners from the ecosystem into a complete end-to-end solution.

HPE Rethinks

How to Acquire, Pay For

And Use IT

Gardner: With HPE being a major supplier for a lot of the hardware and infrastructure, how does the new cost model change from the old model of pay up-front?

Flexible financial formats

Larbey: I would not classify HPE as a supplier; I think they are our partner. We work very closely together. We use HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen9 Servers, the HPE Apollo platform, and the HPE Moonshot platform, which are, as you know, world-leading compute-storage platforms that deliver these services cost-effectively. We have had a long-term technical relationship.

We are now moving toward how we advance the commercial relationship. We are working with the HPE Financial Services team to look at how we can get additional flexibility. There are a lot of pay-as-you-go-type financial IT models that have been in existence for some time -- but these don’t necessarily work for my applications from a financial perspective.

 Our goal is to use 100 percent of the storage all of the time to maximize the cache hit-rate.

In the private CDN and the video applications, our goal is to use 100 percent of the storage all of the time to maximize the cache hit-rate. With the traditional IT payment model for storage, my application fundamentally breaks that. So having a partner like HPE that was flexible and could understand the application is really important.

We also needed flexibility of compute scaling. We needed to be able to deploy for the peak, but not pay for that peak at all times. That’s easy from the software technology side, but we needed it from the commercial side as well.

And thirdly, we have been trying to enter a new market and be focused on the programmers and broadcasters, which is not our traditional segment. We have been deploying our CDN to the largest telcos and cable operators in the world, but now, selling to that programmers and broadcasters segment -- they are used to buying a service from the Internet and they work in a different way and they have different requirements.

So we needed a financial model that allowed us to address that, but also a partner who would take some of the risk, too, because we didn’t know if it was going to be successful. Thankfully it has, and we have grown incredibly well, but it was a risk at the start. Finding a partner like HPE Financial Services who could share some of that risk was really important. 

Gardner: These video delivery organizations are increasingly operating on subscription basis, so they would like to have their costs be incurred on a similar basis, so it all makes sense across the services ecosystem.

Our tolerance just doesn't exist anymore for buffering and we demand and expect the highest-quality video.

Larbey: Yes, absolutely. That is becoming more and more important. If you go back to the very first the Internet video, you watched of a cat falling off a chair on YouTube. It didn’t matter if it was buffering, that wasn't relevant. Now, our tolerance just doesn’t exist anymore for buffering and we demand and expect the highest-quality video.

If TV in 2027 is going to be purely IP, then clearly that has to deliver exactly the same quality of experience as the broadcasting technologies. And that creates challenges. The biggest obvious example is if you go to any IP TV operator and look at their streamed video channel that is live versus the one on broadcast, there is a big delay.

So there is a lag between the live event and what you are seeing on your IP stream, which is 30 to 40 seconds. If you are in an apartment block, watching a live sporting event, and your neighbor sees it 30 to 40 seconds before you, that creates a big issue. A lot of the innovations we’re now doing with streaming technologies are to deliver that same broadcast experience.

HPE Rethinks

How to Acquire, Pay For

And Use IT

Gardner: We now also have to think about 4K resolution, the intelligent edge, no latency, and all with managed costs. Fortunately at this time HPE is also working on a lot of edge technologies, like Edgeline and Universal IoT, and so forth. There’s a lot more technology being driven to the edge for storage, for large memory processing, and so forth. How are these advances affecting your organization? 

Optimal edge: functionality and storage

Larbey: There are two elements. The compute, the edge, is absolutely critical. We are going to move all the intelligence into the network, and clearly you need to reduce the latency, and you need to able to scale that functionality. This functionality was scaled in millions of households, and now it has to be done in the network. The only way you can effectively build the network to handle that scale is to put as much functionality as you can at the edge of the network.

The HPE platforms will allow you to deploy that computer storage deep into the network, and they are absolutely critical for our success. We will run our CDN, our ad insertion, and all that capability as deeply into the network as an operator wants to go -- and certainly the deeper, the better.

The other thing we try to optimize all of the time is storage. One of the challenges with network-based recording -- especially in the US due to the content-use regulations compliance -- is that you have to store a copy per user. If, for example, both of us record the same program, there are two versions of that program in the cloud. That’s clearly very inefficient.

The question is how do you optimize that, and also support just-in-time transcoding techniques that have been talked about for some time. That would create the right quality of bitrate on the fly, so you don’t have to store all the different formats. It would dramatically reduce storage costs.

The challenge has always been that the computing processing units (CPUs) needed to do that, and that’s where HPE and the Moonshot platform, which has great compute density, come in. We have the Intel media library for doing the transcoding. It’s a really nice storage platform. But we still wanted to get even more out of it, so at our Bell Labs research facility we developed a capability called skim storage, which for a slight increase in storage, allows us to double the number of transcodes we can do on a single CPU.

That approach takes a really, really efficient hardware platform with nice technology and doubles the density we can get from it -- and that’s a big change for the business case.

Gardner: It’s astonishing to think that that much encoding would need to happen on the fly for a mass market; that’s a tremendous amount of compute, and an intense compute requirement. 

Content popularity

Larbey: Absolutely, and you have to be intelligent about it. At the end of the day, human behavior works in our favor. If you look at most programs that people record, if they do not watch within the first seven days, they are probably not going to watch that recording. That content in particular then can be optimized from a storage perspective. You still need the ability to recreate it on the fly, but it improves the scale model.

Gardner: So the more intelligent you can be about what the users’ behavior and/or their use patterns, the more efficient you can be. Intelligence seems to be the real key here.

Larbey: Yes, we have a number of algorithms even within the CDN itself today that predict content popularity. We want to maximize the disk usage. We want the popular content on the disk, so what’s the point of us deleting a piece of a popular content just because a piece of long-tail content has been requested. We do a lot of algorithms looking at and trying to predict the content popularity so that we can make sure we are optimizing the hardware platform accordingly.

Gardner: Perhaps we can deepen our knowledge about this all through some examples. Do have some examples that demonstrate how your clients and customers are taking these new technologies and making better business decisions that help them in their cost structure -- but also deliver a far better user experience?

In-house control

Larbey: One of our largest customers is Liberty Global, with a large number of cable operators in a variety of countries across Europe. They were enhancing an IP service. They started with an Internet-based CDN and that’s how they were delivering their service. But recognizing the importance of gaining more control over costs and the quality experience, they wanted to take that in-house and put the content on a private CDN.

We worked with them to deliver that technology. One of things that they noticed very quickly, which I don’t think they were expecting, was a dramatic reduction in the number of people calling in to complain because the stream had stopped or buffered. They enjoyed a big decrease in call-center calls as soon as they switched on our new CDN technology, which is quite an interesting use-case benefit.

When they deployed a private CDN, they reached costs payback in less than 12 months.

We do a lot with Sky in the UK, which was also looking to migrate away from an Internet-based CDN service into something in-house so they could take more control over it and improve the users’ quality of experience. 

One of our customers in Canada, TELUS, when they deployed a private CDN, they reached costs payback in less than 12 months in terms of both the network savings and the Internet CDN costs savings.

Gardner: Before we close out, perhaps a look to the future and thinking about some of the requirements on business models as we leverage edge intelligence. What about personalization services, or even inserting ads in different ways? Can there be more of a two-way relationship, or a one-to-one interaction with the end consumers? What are the increased benefits from that high-performing, high-efficiency edge architecture? 

VR vision and beyond

Larbey: All of that generates more traffic -- moving from standard-definition to high-definition to 4K, to beyond 4K -- it all generates more network traffic. You then take into account a 360-degree-video capability and virtual reality (VR) services, which is a focus for Nokia with our Ozo camera, and it’s clear that the data is just going to explode.

So being able to optimize, and continue to optimize that, in terms of new codec technology and new streaming technologies -- to be able to constrain the growth of video demands on the network – is essential, otherwise the traffic would just explode.

There is lot of innovation going on to optimize the content experience. People may not want to watch all their TV through VR headsets. That may not become the way you want to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones. However, maybe there will be a uniquely created piece of content that’s an add-on in 360, and the real serious fans can go and look for it. I think we will see new types of content being created to address these different use-cases.

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

You may also be interested in:

·       How IoT capabilities open new doors for Miami Telecoms Platform Provider Identidad

·       DreamWorks Animation crafts its next era of dynamic IT infrastructure

·       How Enterprises Can Take the Ecosystem Path to Making the Most of Microsoft Azure Stack Apps

·       Hybrid Cloud ecosystem readies for impact from Microsoft Azure Stack

·       Converged IoT systems: Bringing the data center to the edge of everything

·       IDOL-powered appliance delivers better decisions via comprehensive business information searches

·        OCSL sets its sights on the Nirvana of hybrid IT—attaining the right mix of hybrid cloud for its clients

·       Fast acquisition of diverse unstructured data sources makes IDOL API tools a star at LogitBot

·       How lastminute.com uses machine learning to improve travel bookings user experience

·       HPE takes aim at customer needs for speed and agility in age of IoT, hybrid everything

Pella Increases Infrastructure Performance and Scalability—and Saves on Oracle Costs

Pella Increases Infrastructure Performance and Scalability—and Saves on Oracle Costs

See how window manufacturer Pella significantly reduced Oracle costs by modernizing its ERP environment with mission-critical HPE Integrity Superdome X and HPE 3PAR StoreServ flash storage.

Founded in 1925, Pella Corporation manufactures premium-quality windows and doors at 10 locations across the United States. This industry innovator produces both standardized and made-to-order products according to lean manufacturing principles. Following a continuous improvement process model, Pella delivers high-quality products to customers while squeezing out waste as efficiently as possible. I’d like to share Pella’s IT innovation story with you.

IoT capabilities open new doors for Miami telecoms platform provider Identidad IoT

The next BriefingsDirect Internet of Things (IoT) strategies insights interview focuses on how a Miami telecommunications products provider has developed new breeds of services to help manage complex edge and data scenarios.

We will now learn how IoT platforms and services help to improve network services, operations, and business goals -- for carriers and end users alike.

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

Here to help us explore what is needed to build an efficient IoT support business is Andres Sanchez, CEO of Identidad IoT in Miami. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: How has your business changed in the telecoms support industry and why is IoT such a big opportunity for you?

Sanchez: With the new OTT (Over the Top content) technology, and the way that it came into the picture and took part of the whole communications chain of business, the business is basically getting very tough in telecoms. When we begin evaluating what IoT can do and seeing the possibilities, this is a new wave. We understand that it's not about connectivity, it's not about the 10 percent of the value chain -- it's more about the solutions.

Sanchez

Sanchez

We saw a very good opportunity to start something new and to take the experience we have with the technology that we have in telecoms, and get new people, get new developers, and start building solutions, and that's what we are doing right now.

Gardner: So as the voice telecoms business trails off, there is a new opportunity at the edge for data and networks to extend for a variety of use cases. What are some the use cases that you are seeing now in IoT that is a growth opportunity for your business?

Sanchez: IoT is everywhere. The beauty of IoT is that you can find solutions everywhere you look. What we have found is that when people think about IoT, they think about connected home, they think about connected car, or the smart parking where it's just a green or red light when the parking is occupied or not. But IoT is more than that.

There are two ways to generate revenue in IoT. One is by having new products. The second is understanding what it is on the operational level that we can do better. And it’s in this way that we are putting in sensors, measuring things, and analyzing things. You can basically reduce your operational cost, or be more effective in the way that you are doing business. It's not only getting the information, it's using that information to automate processes that it will make your company better.

Gardner: As organizations recognize that there are new technologies coming in that are enabling this smart edge, smart network, what is it that’s preventing them from being able to take advantage of this?

Manage your solutions

with the HPE

Universal IoT Platform

Sanchez: Companies think that they just have to connect the sensors, that they only have to digitize their information. They haven’t realized that they really have to go through a digital transformation. It's not about connecting the sensors that are already there; it's building a solution using that information. They have to reorganize and to reinvent their organizations.

For example, it's not about taking a sensor, putting the sensor in the machine and just start taking information and watching it on a screen. It’s taking the information and being able to see and check special patterns, to predict when a machine is going to break, when a machine at certain temperatures starts to work better or worse. It's being able to be more productive without having to do more work. It’s just letting the machines do the work by themselves.

Gardner: A big part of that is bringing more of an IT mentality to the edge, creating a standard network and standard platforms that can take advantage of the underlying technologies that are now off-the-shelf.

Sanchez: Definitely. The approach that Identidad IoT takes is we are not building solutions based on what we think is good for the customer. What we are doing is building proof of concepts (PoCs) and tailored solutions for companies that need digital transformation.

I don’t think there are two companies doing the same thing that have the same problems. One manufacturer may have one problem, and another manufacturer using the same technology has another completely different problem. So the approach we are taking is that we generate a PoC, check exactly what the problems are, and then develop that application and solution.

But it's important to understand that IoT is not an IT thing. When we go to a customer, we don’t just go to an IT person, we go to the CEO, because this is a change of mentality. This is not just a change of process. This is not purely putting in new software. This is trying to solve a problem when you may not even know the problem is there. It's really digital transformation.

Gardner: Where is this being successful? Where are you finding that people really understand it and are willing to take the leap, change their culture, rethink things to gain advantages?

One solution at a time

Sanchez: Unfortunately, people are afraid of what is coming, because people don't understand what IoT is, and everybody thinks it's really complicated. It does need expertise. It does need to have security -- that is a very big topic right now. But it's not impossible.

When we approach a company and that CEO, CIO or CTO understands that the benefits of IoT will be shown once you have that solution built -- and that probably the initial solution is not going to be the final solution, but it's going to be based on iterations -- that’s when it starts working.

If people think it’s just an out-of-the-box solution, it's not going to work. That's the challenge we are having right now. The opportunity is when the head of the company understands that they need to go through a digital transformation.

Manage your solutions

with the HPE

Universal IoT Platform

Gardner: When you work with a partner like Hewlett PackardEnterprise (HPE), they have made big investments and developments in edge computing, such as Universal IoT Platform and Edgeline Systems. How does that help you as a solutions provider make that difficult transition for your customers easier, and encourage them to understand that it's not impossible, that there are a lot of solutions already designed for their needs?

Sanchez: Our relationship with HPE has been a huge success for Identidad IoT. When we started looking at platforms, when we started this company, we couldn't find the right platform to fulfill our needs. We were looking for a platform that we could build solutions on and then extrapolate that data with other data, and build other solutions over those solutions.

When we approached HPE, we saw that they do have a unique platform that allows us to generate whatever applications, for whatever verticals, for whatever organizations – whether a city or company. Even if you wanted to create a product just for end-users, they have the ability to do it.

Also, it's a platform that is so robust that you know it’s going to work, it’s reliable, and it’s very secure. You can build security from the device right on up to the platform and the applications. Other platforms, they don't have that.

Our business model correlates a lot with the HPE business model. We think that IoT is about relationships and partnerships -- it’s about an ecosystem. The approach that HPE has to IoT and to ecosystem is exactly the same approach that we have. They are building this big ecosystem of partners. They are helping each other to build relationships and in that way, they build a better and more robust platform.

Gardner: For companies and network providers looking to take advantage of IoT, what would you suggest that they do in preparation? Is there a typical on-ramp to an IoT project? 

A leap of faith

Sanchez: There's no time to be prepared right now. I think they have to take a leap of faith and start building the IoT applications. The pace of the technology transformation is incredible.

When you see the technology right now, today -- probably in four months it's going to be obsolete. You are going to have even better technology, a better sensor. So if you wait --most likely the competition is not going to wait and they will have a very big advantage.

Our approach at Identidad IoT is about platform-as-a-service (PaaS). We are helping companies take that leap without having to create very big financial struggles. And the companies will know that by our using the HPE platform, they are using the state-of-the-art platform. They are not using just a mom-and pop-platform built in a garage. It's a robust PaaS -- so why not to take that leap of faith and start building it? Now is the time.

Gardner: Once you pick up that success, perhaps via a PoC, that gives you ammunition to show economic and productivity benefits that then would lead to even more investment. It seems like there is a virtuous adoption cycle potential here.

Sanchez: Definitely! Once we start a new solution, usually the people who are seeing that solution, they start seeing things that they are not used to seeing. They can pinpoint problems that they have been having for years – but they didn't understand why.

For example, there's one manufacturer of T-shirts in Colombia. They were having issues with one specific machine. That machine used to break after two or three weeks. There was just this small piece that was broken. When we installed the sensor and we started gathering their information, after two or three breaks, we understood that it was not the amount of work -- it was the temperature at which the machine was working.

So what they did is once the temperature reached a certain point, we automatically started some fans to normalize the temperature, and then they haven't had any broken pieces for months. It was a simple solution, but it took a lot of study and gathering of information to be able to understand that break point -- and that's the beauty of IoT.

Gardner: It's data-driven, it's empirical, it’s understood, but you can't know what you don't know until you start measuring things, right?

Listen to things

Sanchez: Exactly! I always say that the “things” are trying to say something, and we are not listening. IoT enables the people, the companies, and the organization to start listening to the things, and not only to start listening, but to make the things to work for us. We need the applications to be able to trigger something to fix the problem without any human intervention -- and that's also the beauty of IoT.

Gardner: And that IoT philosophy even extends to healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, any place where you have complexity, it is pertinent.

Manage your solutions

with the HPE

Universal IoT Platform

Sanchez: Yes, the solution for IoT is everywhere. You can think about healthcare or tracking people or tracking guns or building solutions for cities in which the city can understand what is triggering certain pollution levels that they can fix. Or it can be in manufacturing, or even a small thing like finding your cellphone.

It’s everything that you can measure. Everything that you can put a sensor on, you can measure -- that's IoT. The idea is that IoT will help people live better lives without having to take care of the “thing;” things will have to take care of themselves.

Gardner: You seem quite confident that this is a growth industry. You are betting a significant amount of your future growth on it. How do you see it increasing over the next couple of years? Is this a modest change or do you really see some potential for a much larger market?

Sanchez: That's a really good question. I do see that IoT is the next wave of technology. There are several studies that say that by 2020 there are going to be 50 billion devices connected. I am not that futuristic, but I do see that IoT will start working now and probably within the next two or three years we are going to start seeing an incremental growth of the solutions. Once people understand the capability of IoT, there's going to be an explosion of solutions. And I think the moment to start doing it is now. I think that next year it’s going to be too late.

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

You may also be interested in:

·     Inside story on developing the ultimate SDN-enabled hybrid cloud object storage environment 

·     How IoT and OT collaborate to usher in the data-driven factory of the future 

·     DreamWorks Animation crafts its next era of dynamic IT infrastructure

·     How Enterprises Can Take the Ecosystem Path to Making the Most of Microsoft Azure Stack Apps

·     Hybrid Cloud ecosystem readies for impact from Microsoft Azure Stack

·     Converged IoT systems: Bringing the data center to the edge of everything

·     IDOL-powered appliance delivers better decisions via comprehensive business information searches

·     OCSL sets its sights on the Nirvana of hybrid IT—attaining the right mix of hybrid cloud for its clients

·     Fast acquisition of diverse unstructured data sources makes IDOL API tools a star at LogitBot

·     How lastminute.com uses machine learning to improve travel bookings user experience

Inside story on developing the ultimate SDN-enabled hybrid cloud object storage environment

The next BriefingsDirect inside story interview explores how a software-defined data center (SDDC)-focused systems integrator developed an ultimate open-source object storage environment.

We’re now going to learn how Key Information Systems crafted a storage capability that may have broad extensibility into such realms as hybrid cloud and multi-cloud support. 

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

Here to help us better understand a new approach to open-source object storage is Clayton Weise, Director of Cloud Services at Key Information Systems in Agoura Hills, California. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What prompted you to improve on the way that object storage is being offered as a service? How might this become a new business opportunity for you?

Weise: About a year ago, at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Discover, I was wandering the event floor. We had just gotten out of a meeting with SwitchNAP, which is a major data center in Las Vegas. We had been talking to them about some preferred concepts and deployments for storage for their clients.

Weise

Weise

That discussion evolved into realizing that there are number of clients inside of Switch and their ecosystem that could make use of storage that was more locally based, that needed to be closer at hand. There were cost savings that could be gained if you have a connection within the same data center, or within the same fiber network.

Pulling data in and out of a cloud

Under this model, there would be significantly less expensive ways of pulling data in and out of a cloud, since you wouldn’t have transfer fees as you normally would. There would also be an advantage to privacy, and to cutting latency, and other beneficial things because of a private network all run by Switch and through their fiber network. So we looked at this and thought this might be interesting.

In discussions with the number of groups within HPE while wandering the floor at Discover, we found that there were some pretty interesting ways that we could play games with the network to allow clients to not have to uproot the way they do things, or force them to do things, for lack of a better term, “Our way.”  

If you go to Amazon Web Services or you go to Microsoft Azure, you do it the Microsoft way, or you do it the Amazon way. You don’t really have a choice, since you have to follow their guidelines.

Where we saw value is, there are times in the mid-market space for clients -- ranging from a couple of hundred million dollars up to maybe a couple of billion dollars in annual revenue -- where they generally use object storage as kind of an inexpensive way to store archival, or less-frequently accessed, data. So [the cloud storage] became an alternative to tape and long-term storage.

We've had this massive explosion of unstructured data, files, and all sorts of things. We have a number of clients in medical and finance, and they have just seen this huge spike in data.

The challenge is: To deploy your own object storage is a fairly complex operation, and it requires a minimum number of petabytes to get started. In that mid-market, they are not typically measuring their storage in that petabytes level.

These customers are more typically in the tens to hundreds of terabytes range, and so they need an inexpensive way to offload that data and put it somewhere where it makes sense. In the medical industry particularly, there's a lot of concern about putting any kind of patient data up in a public cloud environment -- even with encryption.

We thought that if we are in the same data center, and it is a completely private operation that exists within these facilities, that will fulfill the total need -- and we can encrypt the data.

But we needed a way to support such private-cloud object storage that would be multitenant. Also, we just have had better luck working with open standards. The challenge with dealing with proprietary systems is you end up locked into a standard, and if you pick wrong, you find yourself having to reinvent everything later on.

I come from a networking background; I was an Internet plumber for many years. We saw the transition then on our side when routing protocols first got introduced. There were proprietary routing protocols, and there were open standards, and that’s what we still use today.

Transition to

Cloud-first

HPE Data Center Networking

So we took a similar approach in object storage as a private-cloud service. We went down the open source path in terms of how we handled the provisioning. We needed something that integrated well with that. We needed a system that had the multitenancy, that understood the tenancy, and that is provided by OpenStack. We found a solution from HPE called Distributed Cloud Networking (DCN) that allows us to carve up the network in all sorts of interesting ways, and that way we don't have to dictate to the client how to run it.

Many clients are still running traditional networks. The adoption of Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN) and other types of SDDC within the network is still pretty low, especially in the mid-market space. So to go to a client and dictate that they have to change how they run the network it is not going to work.

And we wanted it to be as simple as possible. We wanted to treat this as much as we could as a flat network. By using a combination of DCN, Altoline switches from HPE, and some of other software, we were able to give clients a complete network carrying regular Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) across it. We then could tie this together in a hybrid fashion, whereby the customers can actually treat our cloud environment as a natural extension of their existing networks, of their existing data centers.

Gardner: You are calling this hybrid storage as a service. It’s focused on object storage at this point, and you can take this into different data center environments. What are some of the sweet spots in the market?

Weise: The areas where we are seeing the most interest have been backup and archive. It’s an alternative to tape. The object service becomes a very inexpensive way to store large amounts of data, and unlike tape -- where it's inconvenient to access the data -- with object as a service everything is accessible very, very easily.

For customers that cannot directly integrate into that object service as supported by their backup software, we can make use of object gateways to provide a method that's more like traditional access. It looks like a file, or file share, and you edit the file share to be written to the object storage, and so it acts as a go-between. For backup and archive, it makes a really, really great solution.

The other two areas where we seen the most interest have been in the medical space, specifically for large medical image files and archival. We’re working now specifically to build that type of solution, with HIPAA compliance. We have gone through the audits and compliance verification.

The second use-case has been in the media and entertainment industry. In fact, they are the very first to consume this new system and put in hundreds of terabytes worth of storage -- they are an entertainment industry client in Burbank, California. A lot of these guys are just shuffling along on external drives.

For them it’s often external arrays, and it's a lot more Mac OS users. They needed something that was better, and so hybrid object storage as a service has created a great opportunity for them and allows them to collaborate.

They have a location in Burbank, and then they brought up another office in the UK. There is yet another office for them coming up in Europe. The object storage approach allows a kind of central repository, an inexpensive place to place the data -- but it also allows them to be more collaborative as well.

Gardner: We have had a weak link in cloud computing storage, which has been the network -- and you solved some of those issues. You found a prime use-case with backup and archival, but it seems to me that given the storage capabilities that we've seen that this has extensibility. So where it might go next in terms of a storage-as-a service that hybrid cloud providers would use? Where can this go?

Carving up the network 

Weise: It’s an interesting question because one of the challenges we have all faced in the world of cloud is we have virtualized servers and virtualized storage, meaning there is disaggregation; there is a separation between the workload that’s running and the actual hardware it’s running on.

In many cases, and for almost all clients in the mid-market, that level of virtualization has not occurred at the network level. We are still nailed to things. We are all tied down to the cable, to the switch port, and to the human that can figure those things out. It’s not as flexible or as extensible as some of the other solutions that are out there.

In our case, when we build this out, the real magic is with the network. That improved connection might be a cost savings for a client -- especially from a bandwidth standpoint. But as you get a private cross-connect into that environment to make use of, in this case, storage as a service, we can now carve that up in a number of different ways and allow the client to use it for other things.

For example, if they want to have burst capability within the environments, they can have it -- and it’s on the same network as their existing system. So that’s where it gets really interesting: Instead of having to have complex virtual guest package configurations, and tiny networks, and dealing with some the routing of other pieces, you can literally treat our cloud environment as if it's a network cable thrown over the wall -- and it becomes just an extension of the existing network.

That opens up some additional possibilities. Some things to work on eventually would be block storage, file storage, right there existing on the same network. We can secure that traffic and ensure that there is high-performance, low-latency and complete separation of tenancy. So if you have Coke and Pepsi as clients, they will never see each other.

Gardner: Very cool. You can take this object storage benefit -- and by the way, the cost of that can be significantly lower because you don’t have egress charges and some of the other unfriendly aspects of economics of public cloud providers. But you also have an avenue into a true hybrid cloud environment, where you can move data but also burst workloads and manage that accordingly. Now, what about making this work toward a multi-cloud capability?

Transition to

Cloud-first

HPE Data Center Networking

Weise: Right. So this is where HPE’s DCN software-defined networking (SDN) really starts to shine and separates itself from the pack. We can tie environments together regardless of where they are. If there is a virtual endpoint or physical appliance; if it's at a remote location that can be deployed, which can act as a gateway -- that links everything together.

We can take a client network that's going from their environment into our environment, we can deploy a small virtual machine inside of a public cloud, and it will tie the networks together and allow them to treat it all as the same. The same policy enforcement engine and things that they use to segregate traffic in microsegmentation and service chaining can be done just as easily in the public cloud environment.

One of the reasons we went to Switch was because they have multiple locations. So in the case of our object storage, we deployed the objects across all three of their data center sites. So a single repository that’s written the data is distributed among three different regions. This protects against a possible regional outage that could mean data is inaccessible, and this is the kind of recent thing that we in the US have seen, where clients were down anywhere from 6 to 16 hours.

One big network, wherever you are

This eliminates that. But the nice thing is because of the network technology that theywere using from HPE, it allowed us to treat that all as one big network -- and we can carve that up and virtualize it. So clients inside of the data center -- maybe they need resources for disaster recovery or for additional backups or those things -- it's all part of that. We can tie-in from a network standpoint and regardless of where you want to exist -- if you are in Vegas, you may want to recover in Reno, or you may want to recover in Grand Rapids. We can make that network look exactly the same in your location.

You want to recover in AWS? You want to recover in Azure? We can tie it in that way, too. So it opens up these great possibilities that allows this true hybrid cloud -- and not as a completely separate entity.

Gardner: Very cool. Now there’s nothing wrong, of course, with Switch, but there are other fiber and data center folks out there. Some names that begin with “E” come to mind that you might want to drop in this and that should even increase the opportunity for distribution.

Weise: That’s right. So this initial deployment is focused on Switch, but we do a grand scheme to work this into other data centers. There are a handful of major data center operators out there, including the one that starts with an “E” along with another that starts with a “D.” We do have plans to expand this, or use this as a success use-case.

As this continues to grow, and we get some additional momentum and some good feedback, and really refine the offering to make sure we know exactly what everything needs to be, then we can work with those other data center providers.

From the data center operators’ perspective, if you're one of those facilities, you are at war with AWS or with Azure. Because whenever clients deploy their workloads in those public clouds, that means there is equipment that has not been collocated inside one of your facilities.

So they have a vested interest in doing this, and there is a benefit to the clients inside of those facilities too because they get to live inside of the ecosystem that exists within those data centers, and the private networks that they carry in there deliver the same benefits to all in that ecosystem.

We do plan to use this hybrid cloud object storage as a service capability as a model to deploy in several other data center environments. There is not only a private cloud, but also a multitenant private cloud that could be operative for clients that have a large enough need. You can talk about this in a multi-petabyte scale, or you talk about thousands of virtual machines. Then it's a question of should you do a private cloud deployment just for you? The same technology, fulfilling the same requirements, and the same solutions could still be used. 

Partners in time

Gardner: It sounds like it makes sense, on the back of a napkin basis, for you and HPE to get together and brand something along these lines and go to market together with it.

Weise: It certainly does. We've had some great discussions with them. Actually there is a group that was popular in Europe that is now starting to take its growth here in US called Cloud28+.

We had some great discussions with them. We are going to be joining that, and it’s a great thing as well.

The goal is building out this sort of partner network, and working with HPE to do that has been extremely supportive. In addition to these crazy ideas, I also have a really crazy timeline for deployment. When we initially met with HPE and talked about what we wanted to do, they estimated that I should reserve about 6 to 8 weeks for planning and then another 1.5 months for deployment.

Transition to

Cloud-first

HPE Data Center Networking

I said, “Great we have 3 weeks to do the whole thing,” and everyone thought we were crazy. But we actually had it completed in a little over 2.5 weeks. So we have a huge amount of thanks to HPE, and to their technical services group who were able to assist us in getting this going extremely quickly.

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

You may also be interested in:

·       DreamWorks Animation crafts its next era of dynamic IT infrastructure

·       How Enterprises Can Take the Ecosystem Path to Making the Most of Microsoft Azure Stack Apps

·       Hybrid Cloud ecosystem readies for impact from Microsoft Azure Stack

·       Converged IoT systems: Bringing the data center to the edge of everything

·       IDOL-powered appliance delivers better decisions via comprehensive business information searches

·        OCSL sets its sights on the Nirvana of hybrid IT—attaining the right mix of hybrid cloud for its clients

·       Fast acquisition of diverse unstructured data sources makes IDOL API tools a star at LogitBot

·       How lastminute.com uses machine learning to improve travel bookings user experience

·       Veikkaus digitally transforms as it emerges as new combined Finnish national gaming company

·       HPE takes aim at customer needs for speed and agility in age of IoT, hybrid everything

How IoT and OT collaborate to usher in the data-driven factory of the future

The next BriefingsDirect Internet of Things (IoT) technology trends interview explores how innovation is impacting modern factories and supply chains.

We’ll now learn how a leading-edge manufacturer, Hirotec, in the global automotive industry, takes advantage of IoT and Operational Technology (OT) combined to deliver dependable, managed, and continuous operations.

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

Here to help us to find the best factory of the future attributes is Justin Hester, Senior Researcher in the IoT Lab at Hirotec Corp. in Hiroshima, Japan. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What's happening in the market with business and technology trends that’s driving this need for more modern factories and more responsive supply chains?

Hester: Our customers are demanding shorter lead times. There is a drive for even higher quality, especially in automotive manufacturing. We’re also seeing a much higher level of customization requests coming from our customers. So how can we create products that better match the unique needs of each customer?

As we look at how we can continue to compete in an ever-competitive environment, we are starting to see how the solutions from IoT can help us.

Gardner: What is it about IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT) that allows you to do things that you could not have done before?

Hester: Within the manufacturing space, a lot of data has been there for years; for decades. Manufacturing has been very good at collecting data. The challenges we've had, though, is bringing in that data in real-time, because the amount of data is so large. How can we act on that data quicker, not on a day-by-day basis or week-by-week basis, but actually on a minute-by-minute basis, or a second-by-second basis? And how do we take that data and contextualize it?

Hester

Hester

It's one thing in a manufacturing environment to say, “Okay, this machine is having a challenge.” But it’s another thing if I can say, “This machine is having a challenge, and in the context of the factory, here's how it's affecting downstream processes, and here's what we can do to mitigate those downstream challenges that we’re going to have.” That’s where IoT starts bringing us a lot of value.

The analytics, the real-time contextualization of that data that we’ve already had in the manufacturing area, is very helpful.

Gardner: So moving from what may have been a gather, batch, analyze, report process -- we’re now taking more discrete analysis opportunities and injecting that into a wider context of efficiency and productivity. So this is a fairly big change. This is not incremental; this is a step-change advancement, right?

A huge step-change 

Hester: It’s a huge change for the market. It's a huge change for us at Hirotec. One of the things we like to talk about is what we jokingly call the Tuesday Morning Meeting. We talk about this idea that in the morning at a manufacturing facility, everyone gets together and talks about what happened yesterday, and what we can do today to make up for what happened yesterday.

Instead, now we’re making that huge step-change to say,  “Why don't we get the data to the right people with the right context and let them make a decision so they can affect what's going on, instead of waiting until tomorrow to react to what's going on?” It’s a huge step-change. We’re really looking at it as how can we take small steps right away to get to that larger goal.

In manufacturing areas, there's been a lot of delay, confusion, and hesitancy to move forward because everyone sees the value, but it's this huge change, this huge project. At Hirotec, we’re taking more of a scaled approach, and saying let's start small, let’s scale up, let’s learn along the way, let's bring value back to the organization -- and that's helped us move very quickly.

Gardner: We’d like to hear more about that success story but in the meantime, tell us about Hirotec for those who don't know of it. What role do you play in the automotive industry, and how are you succeeding in your markets?

Hester: Hirotec is a large, tier-1 automotive supplier. What that means is we supply parts and systems directly to the automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), like Mazda, General Motors, FCA, Ford, and we specialize in door manufacturing, as well as exhaust system manufacturing. So every year we make about 8 million doors, 1.8 million exhaust systems, and we provide those systems mainly to Mazda and General Motors, but also we provide that expertise through tooling.

For example, if an automotive OEM would like Hirotec’s expertise in producing these parts, but they would like to produce them in-house, Hirotec has a tooling arm where we can provide that tooling for automotive manufacturing. It's an interesting strategy that allows us to take advantage of data both in our facilities, but then also work with our customers on the tooling side to provide those lessons learned and bring them value there as well.

Gardner: How big of a distribution are we talking about? How many factories, how many countries; what’s the scale here?

Hester: We are based in Hiroshima, Japan, but we’re actually in nine countries around the world, currently with 27 facilities. We have reached into all the major continents with automotive manufacturing: we’re in North America, we’re in Europe, we’re all throughout Asia, in China and India. We have a large global presence. Anywhere you find automotive manufacturing, we’re there supporting it.

Discover How the

IoT Advantage

Works in Multiple Industries

Gardner: With that massive scale, very small improvements can turn into very big benefits. Tell us why the opportunity in a manufacturing environment to eke out efficiency and productivity has such big payoffs.

Hester: So especially in manufacturing, what we find when we get to those large scales like you're alluding to is that a 1 percent or 2 percent improvement has huge financial benefits. And so the other thing is in manufacturing, especially automotive manufacturing, we tend to standardize our processes, and within Hirotec, we’ve done a great job of standardizing that world-class leadership in door manufacturing.

And so what we find is when we get improvements not only in IoT but anywhere in manufacturing, if we can get 1 percent or 2 percent, not only is that a huge financial benefit but because we standardized globally, we can move that to our other facilities very quickly, doubling down on that benefit.

Gardner: Well, clearly Hirotec sees this as something to really invest in, they’ve created the IoT Lab. Tell me a little bit about that and how that fits into this?

The IoT Lab works

Hester: The IoT Lab is a very exciting new group, it's part of our Advanced Engineering Center (AEC). The AEC is a group out of our global headquarters and this group is tasked with the five- to 10-year horizon. So they're able to work across all of our global organizations with tooling, with engineering, with production, with sales, and even our global operations groups. Our IoT group goes and finds solutions that can bring value anywhere in the organization through bringing in new technologies, new ideas, and new solutions.

And so we formed the IoT Lab to find how can we bring IoT-based solutions into the manufacturing space, into the tooling space, and how actually can those solutions not only help our manufacturing and tooling teams but also help our IT teams, our finance teams, and our sales teams.

Gardner: Let's dig back down a little bit into why IT, IoT and Operational Technology (OT) are into this step-change opportunity, looking for some significant benefits but being careful in how to institute that. What is required when you move to a more an IT-focused, a standard-platform approach -- across all the different systems -- that allows you to eke these great benefits?

Tell us about how IoT as a concept is working its way into the very edge of the factory floor.

Discover How the

IoT Advantage

Works in Multiple Industries

Hester: One of the things we’re seeing is that IT is beginning to meld, like you alluded to, with OT -- and there really isn't a distinction between OT and IT anymore. What we're finding is that we’re starting to get to these solution levels by working with partners such as PTC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to bring our IT group and our OT group all together within Hirotec and bring value to the organization.

What we find is there is no longer a need in OT that becomes a request for IT to support it, and also that IT has a need and so they go to OT for support. What we are finding is we have organizational needs, and we’re coming to the table together to make these changes. And that actually within itself is bringing even more value to the organization.

Instead of coming last-minute to the IT group and saying, “Hey, we need your support for all these different solutions, and we’ve already got everything set, and you are just here to put it in,” what we are seeing, is that they bring the expertise in, help us out upfront, and we’re finding better solutions because we are getting experts both from OT and IT together.

We are seeing this convergence of these two teams working on solutions to bring value. And they're really moving everything to the edge. So where everyone talks about cloud-based computing -- or maybe it’s in their data center -- where we are finding value is in bringing all of these solutions right out to the production line.

We are doing data collection right there, but we are also starting to do data analytics right at the production line level, where it can bring the best value in the fastest way.

Gardner: So it’s an auspicious time because just as you are seeking to do this, the providers of technology are creating micro data centers, and they are creating Edgeline converged systems, and they are looking at energy conservation so that they can do this in an affordable way -- and with storage models that can support this at a competitive price.

What is it about the way that IT is evolving and providing platforms and systems that has gotten you and The IoT Lab so excited?

Excitement at the edge  

Hester: With IoT and IT platforms, originally to do the analytics, we had to go up to the cloud -- that was the only place where the compute power existed. Solution providers now are bringing that level of intelligence down to the edge. We’re hearing some exciting things from HPE on memory-driven computing, and that's huge for us because as we start doing these very complex analytics at the edge, we need that power, that horsepower, to run different applications at the same time at the production line. And something like memory-driven solutions helps us accomplish that.

It's one thing to have higher-performance computing, but another thing to gain edge computing that's proper for the factory environment. In a manufacturing environment it's not conducive to a standard servers, a standard rack where it needs dust protection and heat protection -- that doesn't exist in a manufacturing environment.

The other thing we're beginning to see with edge computing, that HPE provides with Edgeline products, is that we have computers that have high power, high ability to perform the analytics and data collection capabilities -- but they're also proper for the environment.

I don't need to build out a special protection unit with special temperature control, humidity control – all of which drives up energy costs, which drives up total costs. Instead, we’re able to run edge computing in the environment as it should be on its own, protected from what comes in a manufacturing environment -- and that's huge for us.

Gardner: They are engineering these systems now with such ruggedized micro facilities in mind. It's quite impressive that the very best of what a data center can do, can now be brought to the very worst types of environments. I'm sure we'll see more of that, and I am sure we'll see it get even smaller and more powerful.

Do you have any examples of where you have already been able to take IoT in the confluence of OT and IT to a point where you can demonstrate entirely new types of benefits? I know this is still early in the game, but it helps to demonstrate what you can do in terms of efficiency, productivity, and analytics. What are you getting when you do this well?

IoT insights save time and money

Hester: Taking the stepped strategy that we have, we actually started at Hirotec very small with only eight machines in North America and we were just looking to see if the machines are on, are they running, and even from there, we saw a value because all of a sudden we were getting that real-time contextualized insight into the whole facility. We then quickly moved over to one of our production facilities in Japan, where we have a brand-new robotic inspection system, and this system uses vision sensors, laser sensors, force sensors -- and it's actually inspecting exhaust systems before they leave the facility.

We very quickly implemented an IoT solution in that area, and all we did was we said, “Hey, we just want to get insight into the data, so we want to be able to see all these data points. Over 400 data points are created every inspection. We want to be able to see this data, compared in historical ways -- so let’s bring context to that data, and we want to provide it in real-time.”

Discover How the

IoT Advantage

Works in Multiple Industries

What we found from just those two projects very quickly is that we're bringing value to the organization because now our teams can go in and say, “Okay, the system is doing its job, it's inspecting things before they leave our facility to make sure our customers always get a high-quality product.” But now, we’re able to dive in and find different trends that we weren't able to see before because all we were doing is saying, “Okay, this system leaves the facility or this system doesn't.”

And so already just from that application, we’ve been able to find ways that our engineers can even increase the throughput and the reliability of the system because now they have these historical trends. They were able to do a root-cause analysis on some improvements that would have taken months of investigation; it was completed in less than a week for us.

And so that's a huge value -- not only in that my project costs go down but now I am able to impact the organization quicker, and that's the big thing that Hirotec is seeing. It’s one thing to talk about the financial cost of a project, or I can say, “Okay, here is the financial impact,” but what we are seeing is that we’re moving quicker.

And so, we're having long-term financial benefits because we’re able to react to things much faster. In this case, we’re able to reduce months of investigation down to a week. That means that when I implement my solution quicker, I'm now bringing that impact to the organization even faster, which has long-term benefits. We are already seeing those benefits today.

Gardner: You’ll obviously be able to improve quality, you’ll be able to reduce the time to improving that quality, gain predictive analytics in your operations, but also it sounds like you are going to gain metadata insights that you can take back into design for the next iteration of not only the design for the parts but the design for the tooling as well and even the operations around that. So that intelligence at the edge can be something that is a full lifecycle process, it goes right back to the very initiation of both the design and the tooling.

Data-driven design, decisions 

Hester: Absolutely, and so, these solutions, they can't live in a silo. We're really starting to look at these ideas of what some people call the Digital Thread, the Digital Twin. We’re starting to understand what does that mean as you loop this data back to our engineering teams -- what kind of benefits can we see, how can we improve our processes, how can we drive out into the organization?

And one of the biggest things with IoT-based solutions is that they can't stay inside this box, where we talked about OT to IT, we are talking about manufacturing, engineering, these IoT solutions at their best, all they really do is bring these groups together and bring a whole organization together with more contextualized data to make better decisions faster.

And so, exactly to your point, as we are looping back, we’re able to start understanding the benefit we’re going to be seeing from bringing these teams together.

Gardner: One last point before we close out. It seems to me as well that at a macro level, this type of data insight and efficiency can be brought into the entire supply chain. As you're providing certain elements of an automobile, other suppliers are providing what they specialize in, too, and having that quality control and integration and reduced time-to-value or mean-time-to-resolution of the production issues, and so forth, can be applied at a macro level.

So how does the automotive supplier itself look at this when it can take into consideration all of its suppliers like Hirotec are doing?

Start small 

Hester: It's a very early phase, so a lot of the suppliers are starting to understand what this means for them. There is definitely a macro benefit that the industry is going to see in five to 10 years. Suppliers now need to start small. One of my favorite pictures is a picture of the ocean and a guy holding a lighter. It [boiling the ocean] is not going to happen. So we see these huge macro benefits of where we’re going, but we have to start out somewhere.

Discover How the

IoT Advantage

Works in Multiple Industries

A lot of suppliers, what we’re recommending to them, is to do the same thing we did, just start small with a couple of machines, start getting that data visualized, start pulling that data into the organization. Once you do that, you start benefiting from the data, and then start finding new use-cases.

As these suppliers all start doing their own small projects and working together, I think that's when we are going to start to see the macro benefits but in about five to 10 years out in the industry.

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

You may also be interested in:

·       DreamWorks Animation crafts its next era of dynamic IT infrastructure

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·       Hybrid Cloud ecosystem readies for impact from Microsoft Azure Stack

·       Converged IoT systems: Bringing the data center to the edge of everything

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 ·       HPE takes aim at customer needs for speed and agility in age of IoT, hybrid everything

Diving in to HPE Apollo Servers

Diving in to HPE Apollo Servers

On my continuing quest to learn more about our compute portfolio, today I have a couple of videos looking at our HPE Apollo servers.  I have two other posts looking at Gen10:

As I said, today we're going to look at the Apollo server platform. From the  Apollo server hpe.com page, here's how we describe the family: 

HPE x86 vs. IBM Power: 4 Facts to Consider Before Your SAP HANA Migration

 HPE x86 vs. IBM Power: 4 Facts to Consider Before Your SAP HANA Migration

Planning a SAP HANA migration? Consider these facts first.

With the need to evolve rapidly to stay competitive, choosing an IT platform has never been so critical.

Enabling the digital enterprise requires that you transform to a hybrid IT infrastructure with the right mix of traditional IT, private cloud, and public cloud to meet your business and IT goals. It must allow you to:

  • Integrate new technologies when needed
  • Maintain legacy systems where appropriate to accelerate time to market
  • Increase control over IT
  • Enhance flexibility and responsiveness
  • Manage risk and security requirements
  • Improve total cost of ownership (TCO)

DreamWorks Animation crafts its next era of dynamic IT infrastructure

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer thought leader interview examines how DreamWorks Animation is building a multipurpose, all-inclusive, and agile data center capability.

Learn here why a new era of responsive and dynamic IT infrastructure is demanded, and how one high-performance digital manufacturing leader aims to get there sooner rather than later. 

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

Here to describe how an entertainment industry innovator leads the charge for bleeding-edge IT-as-a-service capabilities is Jeff Wike, CTO of DreamWorks Animation in Glendale, California. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us why the older way of doing IT infrastructure and hosting apps and data just doesn't cut it anymore. What has made that run out of gas?

Wike: You have to continue to improve things. We are in a world where technology is advancing at an unbelievable pace. The amount of data, the capability of the hardware, the intelligence of the infrastructure are coming. In order for any business to stay ahead of the curve -- to really drive value into the business – it has to continue to innovate.

Gardner: IT has become more pervasive in what we do. I have heard you all refer to yourselves as digital manufacturing. Are the demands of your industry also a factor in making it difficult for IT to keep up?

Wike: When I say we are a digital manufacturer, it’s because we are a place that manufacturers content, whether it's animated films or TV shows; that content is all made on the computer. An artist sits in front of a workstation or a monitor, and is basically building these digital assets that we put through simulations and rendering so in the end it comes together to produce a movie.

Wike

Wike

That's all about manufacturing, and we actually have a pipeline, but it's really like an assembly line. I was looking at a slide today about Henry Ford coming up with the first assembly line; it's exactly what we are doing, except instead of adding a car part, we are adding a character, we’re adding a hair to a character, we’re adding clothes, we’re adding an environment, and we’re putting things into that environment.

We are manufacturing that image, that story, in a linear way, but also in an iterative way. We are constantly adding more details as we embark on that process of three to four years to create one animated film.

Gardner: Well, it also seems that we are now taking that analogy of the manufacturing assembly line to a higher plane, because you want to have an assembly line that doesn't just make cars -- it can make cars and trains and submarines and helicopters, but you don't have to change the assembly line, you have to adjust and you have to utilize it properly.

So it seems to me that we are at perhaps a cusp in IT where the agility of the infrastructure and its responsiveness to your workloads and demands is better than ever.

Greater creativity, increased efficiency

Wike: That's true. If you think about this animation process or any digital manufacturing process, one issue that you have to account for is legacy workflows, legacy software, and legacy data formats -- all these things are inhibitors to innovation. There are a lot of tools. We actually write our own software, and we’re very involved in projects related to computer science at the studio.

We’ll ask ourselves, “How do you innovate? How can you change your environment to be able to move forward and innovate and still carry around some of those legacy systems?”

How HPE Synergy

Automates

Infrastructure Operations

And one of the things we’ve done over the past couple of years is start to re-architect all of our software tools in order to take advantage of massive multi-core processing to try to give artists interactivity into their creative process. It’s about iterations. How many things can I show a director, how quickly can I create the scene to get it approved so that I can hand it off to the next person, because there's two things that you get out of that.

One, you can explore more and you can add more creativity. Two, you can drive efficiency, because it's all about how much time, how many people are working on a particular project and how long does it take, all of which drives up the costs. So you now have these choices where you can add more creativity or -- because of the compute infrastructure -- you can drive efficiency into the operation.

So where does the infrastructure fit into that, because we talk about tools and the ability to make those tools quicker, faster, more real-time? We conducted a project where we tried to create a middleware layer between running applications and the hardware, so that we can start to do data abstraction. We can get more mobile as to where the data is, where the processing is, and what the systems underneath it all are. Until we could separate the applications through that layer, we weren’t really able to do anything down at the core.

Core flexibility, fast

Now that we have done that, we are attacking the core. When we look at our ability to replace that with new compute, and add the new templates with all the security in it -- we want that in our infrastructure. We want to be able to change how we are using that infrastructure -- examine usage patterns, the workflows -- and be able to optimize.

Before, if we wanted to do a new project, we’d say, “Well, we know that this project takes x amount of infrastructure. So if we want to add a project, we need 2x,” and that makes a lot of sense. So we would build to peak. If at some point in the last six months of a show, we are going to need 30,000 cores to be able to finish it in six months, we say, “Well, we better have 30,000 cores available, even though there might be times when we are only using 12,000 cores.” So we were buying to peak, and that’s wasteful.

What we wanted was to be able to take advantage of those valleys, if you will, as an opportunity -- the opportunity to do other types of projects. But because our infrastructure was so homogeneous, we really didn't have the ability to do a different type of project. We could create another movie if it was very much the same as a previous film from an infrastructure-usage standpoint.

By now having composable, or software-defined infrastructure, and being able to understand what the requirements are for those particular projects, we can recompose our infrastructure -- parts of it or all of it -- and we can vary that. We can horizontally scale and redefine it to get maximum use of our infrastructure -- and do it quickly.

Gardner: It sounds like you have an assembly line that’s very agile, able to do different things without ripping and replacing the whole thing. It also sounds like you gain infrastructure agility to allow your business leaders to make decisions such as bringing in new types of businesses. And in IT, you will be responsive, able to put in the apps, manage those peaks and troughs.

Does having that agility not only give you the ability to make more and better movies with higher utilization, but also gives perhaps more wings to your leaders to go and find the right business models for the future?

Wike: That’s absolutely true. We certainly don't want to ever have a reason to turn down some exciting project because our digital infrastructure can’t support it. I would feel really bad if that were the case.

In fact, that was the case at one time, way back when we produced Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Because it was such a big movie from a consumer products standpoint, we were asked to make another movie for direct-to-video. But we couldn't do it; we just didn’t have the capacity, so we had to just say, “No.” We turned away a project because we weren’t capable of doing it. The time it would take us to spin up a project like that would have been six months.

The world is great for us today, because people want content -- they want to consume it on their phone, on their laptop, on the side of buildings and in theaters. People are looking for more content everywhere.

Yet projects for varied content platforms require different amounts of compute and infrastructure, so we want to be able to create content quickly and avoid building to peak, which is too expensive. We want to be able to be flexible with infrastructure in order to take advantage of those opportunities.

HPE Synergy

Automates

Infrastructure Operations

Gardner: How is the agility in your infrastructure helping you reach the right creative balance? I suppose it’s similar to what we did 30 years ago with simultaneous engineering, where we would design a physical product for manufacturing, knowing that if it didn't work on the factory floor, then what's the point of the design? Are we doing that with digital manufacturing now?

Artifact analytics improve usage, rendering

Wike: It’s interesting that you mention that. We always look at budgets, and budgets can be money budgets, it can be rendering budgets, it can be storage budgets, and networking -- I mean all of those things are commodities that are required to create a project.

Artists, managers, production managers, directors, and producers are all really good at managing those projects if they understand what the commodity is. Years ago we used to complain about disk space: “You guys are using too much disk space.” And our production department would say, “Well, give me a tool to help me manage my disk space, and then I can clean it up. Don’t just tell me it's too much.”

One of the initiatives that we have incorporated in recent years is in the area of data analytics. We re-architected our software and we decided we would re-instrument everything. So we started collecting artifacts about rendering and usage. Every night we ran every digital asset that had been created through our rendering, and we also collected analytics about it. We now collect 1.2 billion artifacts a night.

And we correlate that information to a specific asset, such as a character, basket, or chair -- whatever it is that I am rendering -- as well as where it’s located, which shot it’s in, which sequence it’s in, and which characters are connected to it. So, when an artist wants to render a particular shot, we know what digital resources are required to be able to do that.

One of the things that’s wasteful of digital resources is either having a job that doesn't fit the allocation that you assign to it, or not knowing when a job is complete. Some of these rendering jobs and simulations will take hours and hours -- it could take 10 hours to run.

At what point is it stuck? At what point do you kill that job and restart it because something got wedged and it was a dependency? And you don't really know, you are just watching it run. Do I pull the plug now? Is it two minutes away from finishing, or is it never going to finish?

Just the facts

Before, an artist would go in every night and conduct a test render. And they would say, “I think this is going to take this much memory, and I think it's going to take this long.” And then we would add a margin of error, because people are not great judges, as opposed to a computer. This is where we talk about going from feeling to facts.

So now we don't have artists do that anymore, because we are collecting all that information every night. We have machine learning that then goes in and determines requirements. Even though a certain shot has never been run before, it is very similar to another previous shot, and so we can predict what it is going to need to run.

Now, if a job is stuck, we can kill it with confidence. By doing that machine learning and taking the guesswork out of the allocation of resources, we were able to save 15 percent of our render time, which is huge.

I recently listened to a gentleman talk about what a difference of 1 percent improvement would be. So 15 percent is huge, that's 15 percent less money you have to spend. It's 15 percent faster time for a director to be able to see something. It's 15 percent more iterations. So that was really huge for us.

Gardner: It sounds like you are in the digital manufacturing equivalent of working smarter and not harder. With more intelligence, you can free up the art, because you have nailed the science when it comes to creating something.

Creative intelligence at the edge

Wike: It's interesting; we talk about intelligence at the edge and the Internet of Things (IoT), and that sort of thing. In my world, the edge is actually an artist. If we can take intelligence about their work, the computational requirements that they have, and if we can push that data -- that intelligence -- to an artist, then they are actually really, really good at managing their own work.

It's only a problem when they don't have any idea that six months from now it's going to cause a huge increase in memory usage or render time. When they don't know that, it's hard for them to be able to self-manage. But now we have artists who can access Tableau reports everyday and see exactly what the memory usage was or the compute usage of any of the assets they’ve created, and they can correct it immediately.

On Megamind, a film DreamWorks Animation released several years ago, it was prior to having the data analytics in place, and the studio encountered massive rendering spikes on certain shots. We really didn't understand why.

After the movie was complete, when we could go back and get printouts of logs to analyze, we determined that these peaks in rendering resources were caused by his watch. Whenever the main character’s watch was in a frame, the render times went up. We looked at the models, and well-intended artists had taken a model of a watch and every gear was modeled, and it was just a huge, heavy asset to render.

But it was too late to do anything about it. But now, if an artist were to create that watch today, they would quickly find out that they had really over-modeled that watch. We would then need to go in and reduce that asset down, because it's really not a key element to the story. And they can do that today, which is really great.

HPE Synergy

Automates

Infrastructure Operations

Gardner: I am a big fan of animated films, and I am so happy that my kids take me to see them because I enjoy them as much as they do. When you mention an artist at the edge, it seems to me it’s more like an army at the edge, because I wait through the end of the movie, and I look at the credits scroll -- hundreds and hundreds of people at work putting this together.

So you are dealing with not just one artist making a decision, you have an army of people. It's astounding that you can bring this level of data-driven efficiency to it.

Movie-making’s mobile workforce

Wike: It becomes so much more important, too, as we become a more mobile workforce. 

Now it becomes imperative to be able to obtain the information about what those artists are doing so that they can collaborate. We know what value we are really getting from that, and so much information is available now. If you capture it, you can find so many things that we can really understand better about our creative process to be able to drive efficiency and value into the entire business.

Gardner: Before we close out, maybe a look into the crystal ball. With things like auto-scaling and composable infrastructure, where do we go next with computing infrastructure? As you say, it's now all these great screens in people's hands, handling high-definition, all the networks are able to deliver that, clearly almost an unlimited opportunity to bring entertainment to people. What can you now do with the flexible, efficient, optimized infrastructure? What should we expect?

Wike: There's an explosion in content and explosion in delivery platforms. We are exploring all kinds of different mediums. I mean, there’s really no limit to where and how one can create great imagery. The ability to do that, the ability to not say “No” to any project that comes along is going to be a great asset.

We always say that we don't know in the future how audiences are going to consume our content. We just know that we want to be able to supply that content and ensure that it’s the highest quality that we can deliver to audiences worldwide.

Gardner: It sounds like you feel confident that the infrastructure you have in place is going to be able to accommodate whatever those demands are. The art and the economics are the variables, but the infrastructure is not.

Wike: Having a software-defined environment is essential. I came from the software side; I started as a programmer, so I am coming back into my element. I really believe that now that you can compose infrastructure, you can change things with software without having to have people go in and rewire or re-stack, but instead change on-demand. And with machine learning, we’re able to learn what those demands are.

I want the computers to actually optimize and compose themselves so that I can rest knowing that my infrastructure is changing, scaling, and flexing in order to meet the demands of whatever we throw at it.

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

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Enterprises look for partners to make the most of Microsoft Azure Stack apps

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer hybrid cloud advancements discussion explores the application development and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) benefits from Microsoft Azure Stack

We’ll now learn how ecosystems of solutions partners are teaming to provide specific vertical industries with applications and services that target private cloud deployments.

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

Here to help us explore the latest in successful cloud-based applications development and deployment is our panel, Martin van den Berg, Vice President and Cloud Evangelist at Sogeti USA, based in Cleveland, and Ken Won, Director of Cloud Solutions Marketing at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Martin, what are some of the trends that are driving the adoption of hybrid cloud applications specifically around the Azure Stack platform?

Van den Berg: What our clients are dealing with on a daily basis is an ever-expanding data center, they see ever-expanding private clouds in their data centers. They are trying to get into the hybrid cloud space to reap all the benefits from both an agility and compute perspective.

van den Berg

van den Berg

They are trying to get out of the data center space, to see how the ever-growing demand can leverage the cloud. What we see is that Azure Stack will bridge the gap between the cloud that they have on-premises, and the public cloud that they want to leverage -- and basically integrate the two in a true hybrid cloud scenario.

Gardner: What sorts of applications are your clients calling for in these clouds? Are these cloud-native apps, greenfield apps? What are they hoping to do first and foremost when they have that hybrid cloud capability?

Van den Berg: We see a couple of different streams there. One is the native-cloud development. More and more of our clients are going into cloud-native development. We recently brought out a white paper wherein we see that 30 percent of applications being built today are cloud-native already. We expect that trend to grow to more than 60 percent over the next three years for new applications.

HPE Partnership Case Studies

Show Power

of Flex Capacity Financing

The issue that some of our clients have has to do with some of the data being consumed in these applications. Either due to compliance issues, or that their information security divisions are not too happy, they don’t want to put this data in the public cloud. Azure Stack bridges that gap as well.

Microsoft Azure Stack can bridge the gap between the on-premises data center and what they do in the cloud. They can leverage the whole Azure public cloud PaaS while still having their data on-premises in their own data center. That's a unique capability.

On the other hand, what we also see is that some of our clients are looking at Azure Stack as a bridge to gap the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) space. Even in that space, where clients are not willing to expand their own data center footprint, they can use Azure Stack as a means to seamlessly go to the Azure public IaaS cloud.

Gardner: Ken, does this jibe with what you are seeing at HPE, that people are starting to creatively leverage hybrid models? For example, are they putting apps in one type of cloud and data in another, and then also using their data center and expanding capacity via public cloud means?

Won: We see a lot of it. The customers are interested in using both private clouds and public clouds. In fact, many of the customers we talk to use multiple private clouds and multiple public clouds. They want to figure out how they can use these together -- rather than as separate, siloed environments. The great thing about Azure Stack is the compatibility between what’s available through Microsoft Azure public cloud and what can be run in their own data centers.

Won

Won

The customer concerns are data privacy, data sovereignty, and security. In some cases, there are concerns about application performance. In all these cases, it's a great situation to be able to run part or all of the application on-premises, or on an Azure Stack environment, and have some sort of direct connectivity to a public cloud like Microsoft Azure.

Because you can get full API compatibility, the applications that are developed in the Azure public cloud can be deployed in a private cloud -- with no change to the application at all.

Gardner: Martin, are there specific vertical industries gearing up for this more than others? What are the low-lying fruit in terms of types of apps?

Hybrid healthcare files

Van den Berg: I would say that hybrid cloud is of interest across the board, but I can name a couple of examples of industries where we truly see a business case for Azure Stack.

One of them is a client of ours in the healthcare industry. They wanted to standardize on the Microsoft Azure platform. One of the things that they were trying to do is deal with very large files, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) files. What they found is that in their environment such large files just do not work from a latency and bandwidth perspective in a cloud.

With Microsoft Azure Stack, they can keep these larger files on-premises, very close to where they do their job, and they can still leverage the entire platform and still do analytics from a cloud perspective, because that doesn’t require the bandwidth to interact with things right away. So this is a perfect example where Azure Stack bridges the gap between on-premises and cloud requirements while leveraging the entire platform.

Gardner: What are some of the challenges that these organizations are having as they move to this model? I assume that it's a little easier said than done. What's holding people back when it comes to taking full advantage of hybrid models such as Azure Stack?

Van den Berg: The level of cloud adoption is not really yet where it should be. A lot of our clients have cloud strategies that they are implementing, but they don't have a lot of expertise yet on using the power that the platform brings.

Some of the basic challenges that we need to solve with clients are that they are still dealing with just going to Microsoft Azure cloud and the public cloud services. Azure Stack simplifies that because they now have the cloud on-premises. With that, it’s going to be easier for them to spin-up workload environments and try this all in a secure environment within their own walls, their own data centers.

Won: We see a similar thing with our client base as customers look to adopt hybrid IT environments, a mix of private and public clouds. Some of the challenges they have include how to determine which workload should go where. Should a specific workload go in a private cloud, or should another workload go in a public cloud?

We also see some challenges around processes, organizational process and business process. How do you facilitate and manage an environment that has both private and public clouds? How do you put the business processes in place to ensure that they are being used in the proper way? With Azure Stack -- because of that full compatibility with Azure -- it simplifies the ability to move applications across different environments.

Gardner: Now that we know there are challenges, and that we are not seeing the expected adoption rate, how are organizations like Sogeti working in collaboration with HPE to give a boost to hybrid cloud adoption?

Strategic, secure, scalable cloud migration 

Van den Berg: As the Cloud Evangelist with Sogeti, for the past couple of years I have been telling my clients that they don’t need a data center. The truth is, they probably need some form of on-premises still. But the future is in the clouds, from a scalability and agility perspective -- and the hyperscale with which Microsoft is building out their Azure cloud capabilities, there are no enterprise clients that can keep up with that. 
We try to help our clients define strategy, help them with governance -- how do they approach cloud and what workloads can they put where based on their internal regulations and compliance requirements, and then do migration projects.

We have a service offering called the Sogeti Cloud Assessment, where we go in and evaluate their application portfolio on their cloud readiness. At the end of this engagement, we start moving things right away. We have been really successful with many of our clients in starting to move workloads to the cloud.

Having Azure Stack will make that even easier. Now when a cloud assessment turns up some issues on moving the Microsoft Azure public cloud -- because of compliance or privacy issues or just comfort (sometimes the information security departments just don't feel comfortable moving certain types of data to a public cloud setting) -- we can move those applications to the cloud, leverage the full power and scalability of the cloud while keeping it within the walls of our clients’ data centers. That’s how we are trying to accelerate the cloud adoption, and we truly feel that Azure Stack bridges that gap.

HPE Partnership Case Studies

Show Power

of Flex Capacity Financing

Gardner: Ken, same question, how are you and Sogeti working together to help foster more hybrid cloud adoption?

Won: The cloud market has been maturing and growing. In the past, it’s been somewhat complicated to implement private clouds. Sometimes these private clouds have been incompatible with each other, and with the public clouds.

In the Azure Stack area, now we have almost an appliance-like experience where we have systems that we build in our factories that we pre-configure, pretest, and get them into the customers’ environment so that they can quickly get their private cloud up and running. We can help them with the implementation, set it up so that Sogeti can help with the cloud-native applications work.

With Sogeti and HPE working together, we make it much simpler for companies to adopt the hybrid cloud models and to quickly see the benefit of moving into a hybrid environment.

Sogeti and HPE work together to make it much simpler for companies to adopt the hybrid cloud models.

Van den Berg: In talking to many of our clients, when we see the adoption of private cloud in their organizations -- if they are really honest -- it doesn't go very far past just virtualization. They truly haven't leveraged what cloud could bring, not even in a private cloud setting.

So talking about hybrid cloud, it is very hard for them to leverage the power of hybrid clouds when their own private cloud is just virtualization. Azure Stack can help them to have a true private cloud within the walls of their own data centers and so then also leverage everything that Microsoft Azure public cloud has to offer.

Won: I agree. When they talk about a private cloud, they are really talking about virtualmachines, or virtualization. But because the Microsoft Azure Stack solution provides built-in services that are fully compatible with what's available through Microsoft Azure public cloud, it truly provides the full cloud experience. These are the types of services that are beyond just virtualization running within the customers’ data center.

Keep IT simple

I think Azure Stack adoption will be a huge boost to organizations looking to implement private clouds in their data centers.

Gardner: Of course your typical end-user worker is interested primarily their apps, they don’t really care where they are running. But when it comes to getting new application development, rapid application development (RAD), these are some of the pressing issues that most businesses tell us concern them.

So how does RAD, along with some DevOps benefits, play into this, Martin? How are the development people going to help usher in cloud and hybrid cloud models because it helps them satisfy the needs of the end-users in terms of rapid application updates and development?

Van den Berg: This is also where we are talking about the difference between virtualization, private cloud, hybrid clouds, and definitely cloud services. So for the application development staff, they still run in the traditional model, they still run into issues in provisioning of their development environments and sometimes test environments.

A lot of cloud-native application development projects are much easier because you can spin-up environments on the go. What Azure Stack is going to help with is having that environment within the client’s data center; it’s going to help the developers to spin up their own resources.

There is going to be on-demand orchestration and provisioning, which is truly beneficial to application development -- and it's really beneficial to the whole DevOps suite.

There is going to be on-demand orchestration and provisioning, which is truly beneficial to application development -- and it's really beneficial to the whole DevOps suite. 

We need to integrate business development and IT operations to deliver value to our clients. If we are waiting multiple weeks for development and the best environment to spin up -- that’s an issue our clients are still dealing with today. That’s where Azure Stack is going to bridge the gap, too.

Won: There are a couple of things that we see happening that will make developers much more productive and able to bring new applications or updates quicker than ever before. One is the ability to get access to these services very, very quickly. Instead of going to the IT department and asking them to spin up services, they will be able to access these services on their own.

The other big thing that Azure Stack offers is compatibility between private and public cloud environments. For the first time, the developer doesn't have to worry about what the underlying environment is going to be. They don’t have to worry about deciding, is this application going to run in a private cloud or a public cloud, and based on where it’s going, do they have to use a certain set of tools for that particular environment.

Now that we have compatibility between the private cloud and the public cloud, the developer can just focus on writing code, focus on the functionality of the application they are developing, knowing that that application now can easily be deployed into a private cloud or a public cloud depending on the business situation, the security requirements, and compliance requirements.

So it’s really about helping the developers become more effective and helping them focus more on code development and applications rather than having them worry about the infrastructure, or waiting for infrastructure to come from the IT department.

HPE Partnership Case Studies

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of Flex Capacity Financing

Gardner: Martin, for those organizations interested in this and want to get on a fast track, how does an organization like Sogeti working in collaboration with HPE help them accelerate adoption?

Van den Berg: This is where we heavily partner with HPE, to bring the best solutions to our clients. We have all kinds of proof of concepts, we have accelerators, and one of the things that we talked about already is making developers get up to speed faster. We can truly leverage those accelerators and help our clients adopt cloud, and adopt all the services that are available on the hybrid platform.

We have all heard the stories about standardizing on micro-services, on a server fabric, or serverless computing, but developers have not had access to this up until now and IT departments have been slow to push this to the developers.

The accelerators that we have, the approaches that we have, and the proofs of concept that we can do with our client -- together with HPE --  are going to accelerate cloud adoption with our clientele. 

Gardner: Any specific examples, some specific vertical industry use-cases where this really demonstrates the power of the true hybrid model?

When the ship comes in

Won: I can share a couple of examples of the types of companies that we are working with in the hybrid area, and what places that we see typical customers using Azure Stack.

People want to implement disconnected applications or edge applications. These are situations where you may have a data center or an environment running an application that you may either want to run in a disconnected fashion or run to do some local processing, and then move that data to the central data center.

One example of this is the cruise ship industry. All large cruise ships have essentially data centers running the ship, supporting the thousands of customers that are on the ship. What the cruise line vendors want to do is put an application on their many ships and to run the same application in all of their ships. They want to be able to disconnect from connectivity of the central data center while the ship is out at sea and to do a lot of processing and analytics in the data center, in the ship. Then when the ship comes in and connects to port and to the central data center, it only sends the results of the analysis back to the central data center.

This is a great example of having an application that can be developed once and deployed in many different environments, you can do that with Azure Stack. It’s ideal, running that same application in multiple different environments, in either disconnected or connected situations.

Van den Berg: In the financial services industry, we know they are heavily regulated. We need to make sure that they are always in compliance.

So one of the things that we did in the financial services industry with one of our accelerators, we actually have a tool called Sogeti OneShare. It’s a portal solution on top of Microsoft Azure that can help you with orchestration, which can help you with the whole DevOps concept. We were able to have the edge node be Azure Stack -- building applications, have some of the data reside within the data center on the Azure Stack appliance, but still leverage the power of the clouds and all the analytics performance that was available there.

That's what DevOps is supposed to deliver -- faster value to the business, leveraging the power of clouds.

Van den Berg: In talking to many of our clients, when we see the adoption of private cloud in their organizations -- if they are really honest -- it doesn't go very far past just virtualization. They truly haven't leveraged what cloud could bring, not even in a private cloud setting.

So talking about hybrid cloud, it is very hard for them to leverage the power of hybrid clouds when their own private cloud is just virtualization. Azure Stack can help them to have a true private cloud within the walls of their own data centers and so then also leverage everything that Microsoft Azure public cloud has to offer. We just did a project in this space and we were able to deliver functionality to the business from start of the project in just eight weeks. They have never seen that before -- the project that just lasts eight weeks and truly delivers business value. That's the direction that we should be taking. That’s what DevOps is supposed to deliver -- faster value to the business, leveraging the power of clouds.

Gardner: Perhaps we could now help organizations understand how to prepare from a people, process, and technology perspective to be able to best leverage hybrid cloud models like Microsoft Azure Stack.

Martin, what do you suggest organizations do now in order to be in the best position to make this successful when they adopt?

Be prepared

Van den Berg: Make sure that the cloud strategy and governance are in place. That's one of the first things this should always start with.

Then, start training developers, and make sure that the IT department is the broker of cloud services. In the traditional sense, it is always normal that the IT department is the broker for everything that is happening on-premises within the data center. In the cloud space, this doesn’t always happen. In the cloud space, because it is so easy to spin-up things, sometimes the line of business is deploying.

We try to enable IT departments and operators within our clients to be the broker of cloud services and to help with the adoption of Microsoft Azure cloud and Azure Stack. That will help bridge the gap between the clouds and the on-premises data centers.

Gardner: Ken, how should organizations get ready to be in the best position to take advantage of this successfully?

Mapping the way

Won: As IT organizations look at this transformation to hybrid IT, one of the most important things is to have a strong connection to the line of business and to the business goals, and to be able to map those goals to strategic IT priorities.

Once you have done this mapping, the IT department can look at these goals and determine which projects should be implemented and how they should be implemented. In some cases, they should be implemented in private clouds, in some cases public clouds, and in some cases across both private and public cloud.

The task then changes to understanding the workloads, the characterization of the workloads, and looking at things such as performance, security, compliance, risk, and determining the best place for that workload.

Then, it’s finding the right platform to enable developers to be as successful and as impactful as possible, because we know ultimately the big game changer here is enabling the developers to be much more productive, to bring applications out much faster than we have ever seen in the past.

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

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How a Florida school district tames the wild west of education security at scale and on budget

Bringing a central IT focus to large public school systems has always been a challenge, but bringing a security focus to thousands of PCs and devices has been compared to bringing law and order to the Wild West.

For the Clay County School District in Florida, a team of IT administrators is grabbing the bull by the horns nonetheless to create a new culture of computing safety -- without breaking the bank.

The next BriefingsDirect security insight’s discussion examines how Clay County is building a secure posture for their edge, network, and data centers while allowing the right mix and access for exploration necessary in an educational environment. 

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

To learn how to ensure that schools are technically advanced and secure at low cost and at high scale, we're joined by Jeremy Bunkley, Supervisor of the Clay County School District Information and Technology Services Department; Jon Skipper, Network Security Specialist at the Clay County School District, and Rich Perkins, Coordinator for Information Services at the Clay County School District. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What are the biggest challenges to improving security, compliance, and risk reduction at a large school district?

Bunkley: I think the answer actually scales across the board. The problem even bridges into businesses. It’s the culture of change -- of making people recognize security as a forethought, instead of an afterthought. It has been a challenge in education, which can be a technology laggard.

Getting people to start the recognition process of making sure that they are security-aware has been quite the battle for us. I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon. But we are starting to get our key players on board with understanding that you can't clear-text Social Security numbers and credit card numbers and personally identifiable information (PII). It has been an interesting ride for us, let’s put it that way.

Gardner: Jon, culture is such an important part of this, but you also have to have tools and platforms in place to help give reinforcement for people when they do the right thing. Tell us about what you have needed on your network, and what your technology approach has been?

Skipper: Education is one of those weird areas where the software development has always been lacking in the security side of the house. It has never even been inside the room. So one of the things that we have tried to do in education, at least with the Clay County School District, is try to modify that view, with doing change management. We are trying to introduce a security focus. We try to interject ourselves and highlight areas that might be a bad practice.

Skipper

Skipper

One of our vendors uses plain text for passwords, and so we went through with them and showed them how that’s a bad practice, and we made a little bit of improvement with that.

I evaluate our policies and how we manage the domains, maybe finding some stuff that came from a long time ago where it's no longer needed. We can pull the information out, whereas before they put all the Social Security numbers into a document that was no longer needed. We have been trying really hard to figure that stuff out and then to try and knock it down, as much as we can.

Access for all, but not all-access

Gardner: Whenever you are trying to change people's perceptions, behaviors, culture, it’s useful to have both the carrot and a stick approach.

So to you Rich, what's been working in terms of a carrot? How do you incentivize people? What works in practice there?

Perkins: That's a tough one. We don't really have a carrot that we use. We basically say, “If you are doing the wrong things, you are not going to be able to use our network.”  So we focus more on negatives.

Perkins

Perkins

The positives would be you get to do your job. You get to use the Internet. We don't really give them something more. We see security as directly intertwined with our customer service. Every person we have is our customer and our job is to protect them -- and sometimes that's from themselves.

So we don't really have a carrot-type of system. We don't allow students to play games if they have no problems. We give everybody the same access and treat everybody the same. Either you are a student and you get this level of access, or you are a staff member, you get this level of access, or you don't get access.

Gardner: Let’s get background on the Clay County School District. Tell us how many students you have, how many staff administrators, the size and scope of your school district?

Bunkley: Our school district is the 22nd largest in Florida, we are right on the edge of small and medium in Florida, which in most districts is a very large school district. We run about 38,500 students.

And as far as our IT team, which is our student information system, our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, security, down to desktop support, network infrastructure support, our web services, we have about 48 people total in our department.

Our scope is literally everything. For some reason IT means that if it plugs into a wall, we are responsible for it. That's generally a true statement in education across the board, where the IT staff tends to be a Jack-of-all-trades, and we fix everything.

Practical IT

Gardner: Where you are headed in terms of technology? Is there a one-to-one student-to-device ratio in the works? What sort of technology do you enable for them?

Bunkley: I am extremely passionate about this, because the one-to-one scenario seems to be the buzzword, and we generally despise buzzwords in this office and we prefer a more practical approach.

The idea of one-to-one is itself to me flawed, because if I just throw a device in a student's hand, what am I actually doing besides throwing a device in a student's hand? We haven't trained them. We haven’t given them the proper platform. All we have done is thrown technology.

And when I hear the terms, well, kids inherently know how to use technology today; it kind of just bothers me, because kids inherently know how to use social media, not technology. They are not production-driven, they are socially driven, and that is a sticking point with me.

We are in fact moving to a one-to-one, but in a nontraditional sense. We have established a one-to-one platform so we can introduce a unified platform for all students and employees to see through a portal system; we happen to use ClassLink, there are various other vendors out there, that’s just the one we happen to use.

We have integrated that in moving to Google Apps for Education and we have a very close relationship with Google. It’s pretty awesome, to be quite honest with you.

So we are moving in the direction of Chromebooks, because it’s just a fiscally more responsible move for us.

I know Microsoft is coming out with Windows 10 S, it’s kind of a strong move on their part. But for us, just because we have the expertise on the Google Apps for Education, or G Suite, it just made a lot of sense for us to go that direction.

So we are moving in one-to-one now with the devices, but the device is literally the least important -- and the last -- step in our project.

Non-stop security, no shenanigans

Gardner: Tell us about the requirements now for securing the current level of devices, and then for the new one. It seems like you are going to have to keep the airplane flying while changing the wings, right? So what is the security approach that works for you that allows for that?

Skipper: Clay County School District has always followed trends as far as devices go. So we actually have a good mixture of devices in our network, which means that no one solution is ever the right solution.

So, for example, we still have some iPads out in our networks, we still have some older Apple products, and then we have a mixture of Chromebooks and also Windows devices. We really need to make sure that we are running the right security platform for the full environment.

As we are transitioning more and more to a take-home philosophy -- and that’s where we as an IT department are seeing this going – so that if the decision is made to make the entire student population go home, we are going to be ready to go.

We have coordinated with our content filter company, and they have some extensions that we can deploy that lock the Chromebooks into a filter situation regardless of their network. That’s been really successful in identifying, maybe blocking students, from those late-night searches. We have also been able to identify some shenanigans that might be taking place due to some interesting web searches that they might do over YouTube, for example. That’s worked really well.

Our next objective is to figure out how to secure our Windows devices and possibly even the Mac devices. While our content filter does a good job as far as securing the content on the Internet, it’s a little bit more difficult to deploy into a Windows device, because users have the option of downloading different Internet browsers. So, content filtering doesn’t really work as well on those.

I have deployed Bitdefender to my laptops, and also to take-home Apple products. That allows me to put in more content filtering, and use that to block people from malicious websites that maybe the content filter didn’t see or was unable to see due to a different browser being used.

In those aspects we definitely are securing our network down further than it ever has been before.

Block and Lock

Perkins: With Bitdefender, one of the things we like is that if we have those devices go off network, we can actually have it turn on the Bitdefender Firewall that allows us to further lock down those machines or protect them if they are in an open environment, like at a hotel or whatever, from possible malicious activity.

And it allows us to block executables at some point. So we can actually go in and say, “No, I don’t want you to be able to run this browser, because I can’t do anything to protect you. Or I can’t watch what you do, or I can’t keep you from doing things you shouldn’t do.” So those are all very useful tools in a single pane of glass that we can see all of those devices at one time and monitor and manage. It saves us a lot of time.

Bunkley: I would follow up on that with a base concept, Dana, and our base concept is of an external network. We come from the concept of, we are an everywhere network. We are not only aiming to defend our internal network while you are here and maybe do some stuff while you are at our house, we are literally an externally built network, where our network will extend directly down into the student and teacher’s home.

We have gone as far as moving everything we physically can out of this network, right down to our firewall. We are moving our domain controllers, external to the network to create literally an everywhere network. And so our security focus is not just internal, it is focused on external first, then internal.

Gardner: With security products, what have you been using, what wasn't working, and where do you expect to go next given those constraints?

No free lunch

Perkins: Well, we can tell you that “free” is not always the best option; as a matter of fact, it’s almost never a good option, but we have had to deal with it.

We were previously using an antivirus called Avast, and it’s a great home product. We found out that it has not been the best business-level product. It’s very much marketed to education, and there are some really good things about it. Transferring away from it hasn’t been the easiest because it’s next to impossible to uninstall. So we have been having some problems with that.

We have also tested some other security measures and programs along the way that haven’t been so successful. And we are always in the process of evaluating where we are. We are never okay with status quo. Even if we achieve where we want to be, I don't think any of us will be satisfied, and that’s actually something that a lot of this is built on -- we always want to go that step further. And I know that’s cliché, but I would say for an institution of this size, the reason we are able to do some of the stuff is the staff that has been assembled here is second to none for an educational institution.

So even in the processes that we have identified, which were helter-skelter before we got here, we have some more issues to continue working out, but we won’t be satisfied with where we are even if we achieve the task.

Skipper: One of the things that our office actually hates is just checking the box on a security audit. I mean, we are very vocal to the auditors when they come in. We don’t do things just to satisfy their audit. We actually look at the audit and we look at the intent of the question and if we find merit in it, we are going to go and meet that expectation and then make it better. Audits are general. We are going to exceed and make it a better functioning process than just saying, “Yes, I have purchased an antivirus product,” or “I have purchased x.” To us that’s unacceptable.

Bunkley: Audits are a good thing, and nobody likes to do them because they are time-consuming. But you do them because they are required by law, for our institution anyways. So instead of just having a generic audit, where we ignore the audit, we have adopted the concept of the audit as a very useful thing for us to have as a self-reflection tool. It’s nice to not have the same set of eyes on your work all the time. And instead of taking offense to someone coming in and saying, “You are not doing this good enough,” we have literally changed our internal culture here, audits are not a bad thing; audits are a desired thing.

Gardner: Let’s go around the table and hear how you began your journey into IT and security, and how the transition to an educational environment went.

IT’s the curriculum

Bunkley: I started in the banking industry. Those hours were crazy and the pressure was pretty high. So as soon as I left that after a year, I entered education, and honestly, I entered education because I thought the schedule was really easy and I kind of copped out on that. Come to find out, I am working almost as many hours, but that’s because I have come to love it.

This is my 17th year in education, so I have been in a few districts now. Wholesale change is what I have been hired to do, that’s also what I was hired here to do in Clay. We want to change the culture, make IT part of the instruction instead of a separate segment of education.

We have to be interwoven into everything, otherwise we are going to be on an island, and the last time I heard the definition of education is to educate children. So IT can never by itself be a high-functioning department in education. So we have decided instead to go to instruction, and go to professional development, and go to administration and intervene ourselves.

Gardner: Jon, tell us about your background and how the transition has been for you.

Skipper: I was at active-duty Air Force until 2014 when I retired after 20 years. And then I came into education on the side. I didn’t really expect this job, wasn’t mentally searching for it. I tried it out, and that was three years ago.

It’s been an interesting environment. Education, and especially a small IT department like this one, is one of those interesting places where you can come and really expand on your weak areas. So that’s what I actually like about this. If I need to practice on my group policy knowledge, I can dive in there and I can affect that change. Overall this has been an effective change, totally different from the military, a lot looser as far as a lot of things go, but really interesting.

Gardner: Rick, same question to you, your background and how did the transition go?

Perkins: I spent 21 years in the military, I was Navy. When I retired in 2010, I actually went to work for a smaller district in education mainly because they were the first one to offer me a job. In that smaller district, just like here, we have eight people doing operations, and we have this big department. Jeremy understands from where he came from. It was pretty much me doing every aspect of it, so you do a little security, you do a little bit of everything, which I enjoyed because you are your own boss, but you are not your own boss.

You still have people residing over you and dictating how you are going to work, but I really enjoyed the challenge. Coming from IT security in the military and then coming into education, it’s almost a role reversal where we came in and found next to no policies.

I am used to a black-and-white world. So we are trying to interject some of that and some of the security best practices into education. You have to be flexible because education is not the military, so you can’t be that stringent. So that’s a challenge.

Gardner: What are you using to put policies in place enforce them? How does that work?

Policy plans

Perkins: From a [Microsoft] Active Directory side, we use group policy like most people do, and we try and automate it as much as we can. We are switching over, on the student side, very heavily to Google. They effectively have their own version of Active Directory with group policy. And then I will let Jon speak more to the security side though we have used various programs like PDQ for our patch management system that allows us to push out stuff. We use some logging systems with ManageEngine. And then as we have said before we use Bitdefender to push a lot of policy and security out as well, and we've been reevaluating some other stuff.

We also use SolarWinds to monitor our network and we actually manage changes to our network and switching using SolarWinds, but on the actual security side, I will let Jon get more specific for you.

Skipper: When we came in … there was a fear of having too much in policy equated to too much auditing overhead. One of the first things we did was identify what we can lock down, and the easiest one was the filter.

The content filter met such stipulations as making sure adult material is not acceptable on the network. We had that down. But it didn't really take into account the dynamic of the Internet as far as sites are popping up every minute or second, and how do you maintain that for unclassified and uncategorized sites?

So one of the things we did was we looked at a vendor, like, okay, does this vendor have a better product for that aspect of it, and we got that working, I think that's been working a lot better. And then we started moving down, we were like, okay, cool, so now we have content filtering down, luckily move on to active network, actually not about finding someone else who is doing it, and borrowing their work and making their own.

We look into some of the bigger school districts and see how they are doing it. I think Chicago, Los Angeles. We both looked at some of their policies where we can find it. I found a lot of higher education in some of the universities. Their policies are a lot more along the lines of where we want to be. I think they have it better than what some of the K-12s do.

So we have been going through there and we are going to have to rewrite policy – we are in an active rewrite of our policies right now, we are taking all of those in and we are looking at them, and we are trying to figure out which ones work in our environment and then make sure we do a really good search and replace.

Gardner: We have talked about people, process and technology. We have heard that you are on a security journey and that it’s long-term and culturally oriented.

Let's look at this then as to what you get when you do it right, particularly vis-à-vis education. Do you have any examples of where you have been able to put in the right technology, add some policy and process improvements, and then culturally attune the people? What does that get for you? How do you turn a problem student into a computer scientist at some point? Tell us some of the examples of when it works, what it gets you.

Positive results

Skipper: When we first got in here, we were a Microsoft district. We had some policies in place to help prevent data loss, and stuff like that.

One of the first things we did is review those policies and activate them, and we started getting some hits. We were surprised at some of hits that we saw, and what we saw going out. We already knew we were moving to the Google networks, continuing the process.

We researched a lot and one of the things we discovered is that just by a minor tweak in a user’s procedures, we were able to identify that we could introduce that user to and get them used to using email encryption, for example. With the Gmail solution, we are able to add an extension, and that extension actually looks at their email as it goes out and finds keywords -- or it may be PII -- and automatically encrypt the email, preventing those kinds of breaches from going out there. So that’s really been helpful.

As far as taking a student who may be on the wrong path and reeducating them and bringing them back into the fold, Bitdefender has actually helped out on that one.

We had a student a while back who went out to YouTube and find out how he could just do a simple search on how to crash the school network, and he found about five links. And he researched those links and went out there and found that this batch filed with this type will crash a school server.

He was able to implement it and started trying to get that attack out there, and Bitdefender was able to actually go out there and see the batch file, see what it did and prevent it. By quarantining the file, I was able to get that reported very quickly from the moment that he introduced the attack, and it identified the student and we were able to sit down with the administrators and talk to the student about that process and educate them on the dangers of actually attacking a school network and the possible repercussions of it.

Gardner: It certainly helps when you can let them know that you are able to track and identify those issues, and then trace them back to an individual. Any other anecdotes about where the technology process and people have come together for a positive result?

Applied IT knowledge for the next generation

Skipper: One of the things that’s really worked well for the school district is what we call Network Academy. It’s taught by one of our local retired master chiefs, and he is actually going in there and teaching students at the high school level how to go as far as earning a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)-level IT certificate.

If a student comes in and they try hard enough, they will actually figure it out and they can leave when they graduate with a CCNA, which is pretty awesome. A high school student can walk away with a pretty major industry certification.

We like to try and grab these kids as soon as they leave high school, or even before they leave high school, and start introducing them to our network. They may have a different viewpoint on how to do something that’s revolutionary to us.

But we like having that aspect of it, we can educate those kids who are coming in and  getting their industry certifications, and we are able to utilize them before they move on to a college or another job that pays more than we do.

Bunkley: Charlie Thompson leads this program that Jon is speaking of, and actually over half of our team has been through the program. We didn’t create it, we have just taken advantage of the opportunity. We even tailor the classes to some of the specific things that we need. We have effectively created our own IT hiring pipeline out of this program.

Gardner: Next let’s take a look to the future. Where do you see things going, such as more use of cloud services, interest in unified consoles and controls from the cloud as APIs come into play more for your overall IT management? Encryption? Where do you take it from here?

Holistic solutions in the cloud

Bunkley: Those are some of the areas we are focusing on heavily as we move that “anywhere network.” The unified platform for management is going to be a big deal to us. It is a big deal to us already. Encryption is something we take very seriously because we have a team of eight protecting the data of  about 42,000 users..

If you consider the perfect cyber crime reaching down into a 7th or an 8th grader and stealing all of their personal information, taking that kid’s identity and using it, that kid won’t even know that their identity has been stolen.

We consider that a very serious charge of ours to take on. So we will continue to improve our protection of the students’ and teachers’ PII -- even if it sometimes means protecting them from themselves. We take it very seriously.

As we move to the cloud, that unified management platform leads to a more unified security platform. As the operating systems continue to mature, they seem to be going different ways. And what’s good for Mac is not always good for Chrome, is not always good for Windows. But as we move forward with our projects we bring everything back to that central point -- can the three be operated from the single point of connection, so that we can save money moving forward? Just because it’s a cool technology and we want to do, it doesn't mean it's the right thing for us.

Sometimes we have to choose an option that we don’t necessarily like as much, but pick it because it is better for the whole. As we continue to move forward, everything will be focused on that centralization. We can remain a small and flexible department to continue making sure that we are able to provide the services needed internally as well as protect our users.

Skipper: I think Jeremy hit it pretty solid on that one. As we integrate more with the cloud services, Google, etc., we are utilizing those APIs and we are leading our vendors that we use and forcing them into new areas. Lightspeed, for instance, is integrating more-and-more with Google and utilizing their API to ensure that content filtering -- even to the point of mobile device management (MDM) that is more integrated into the Google and Apple platforms to make sure that students are well protected and we have all the tools available that they need at any given time.

We are really leaning heavily on more cloud services, and also the interoperability between APIs and vendors.

Perkins: Public education is changing more to the realm of college education where the classroom is not a classroom -- a classroom is anywhere in the world. We are tasked with supporting them and protecting them no matter where they are located. We have to take care of our customers either way.

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How Imagine Communications leverages edge computing and HPC for live multiscreen IP video

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer HPC and edge computing strategies interview explores how a video delivery and customization capability has moved to the network edge -- and closer to consumers -- to support live, multi-screen Internet Protocol (IP) entertainment delivery. 

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

We’ll learn how hybrid technology and new workflows for IP-delivered digital video are being re-architected -- with significant benefits to the end-user experience, as well as with new monetization values to the content providers.

Our guest is Glodina Connan-Lostanlen, Chief Marketing Officer at Imagine Communications in Frisco, Texas. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Your organization has many major media clients. What are the pressures they are facing as they look to the new world of multi-screen video and media?

Connan-Lostanlen: The number-one concern of the media and entertainment industry is the fragmentation of their audience. We live with a model supported by advertising and subscriptions that rely primarily on linear programming, with people watching TV at home.

Connan-Lostanlen

Connan-Lostanlen

And guess what? Now they are watching it on the go -- on their telephones, on their iPads, on their laptops, anywhere. So they have to find the way to capture that audience, justify the value of that audience to their advertisers, and deliver video content that is relevant to them. And that means meeting consumer demand for several types of content, delivered at the very time that people want to consume it.  So it brings a whole range of technology and business challenges that our media and entertainment customers have to overcome. But addressing these challenges with new technology that increases agility and velocity to market also creates opportunities.

For example, they can now try new content. That means they can try new programs, new channels, and they don’t have to keep them forever if they don’t work. The new models create opportunities to be more creative, to focus on what they are good at, which is creating valuable content. At the same time, they have to make sure that they cater to all these different audiences that are either static or on the go.

Gardner: The media industry has faced so much change over the past 20 years, but this is a major, perhaps once-in-a-generation, level of change -- when you go to fully digital, IP-delivered content.

As you say, the audience is pulling the providers to multi-screen support, but there is also the capability now -- with the new technology on the back-end -- to have much more of a relationship with the customer, a one-to-one relationship and even customization, rather than one-to-many. Tell us about the drivers on the personalization level.

Connan-Lostanlen: That’s another big upside of the fragmentation, and the advent of IP technology -- all the way from content creation to making a program and distributing it. It gives the content creators access to the unique viewers, and the ability to really engage with them -- knowing what they like -- and then to potentially target advertising to them. The technology is there. The challenge remains about how to justify the business model, how to value the targeted advertising; there are different opinions on this, and there is also the unknown or the willingness of several generations of viewers to accept good advertising.

That is a great topic right now, and very relevant when we talk about linear advertising and dynamic ad insertion (DAI). Now we are able to -- at the very edge of the signal distribution, the video signal distribution -- insert an ad that is relevant to each viewer, because you know their preferences, you know who they are, and you know what they are watching, and so you can determine that an ad is going to be relevant to them.

But that means media and entertainment customers have to revisit the whole infrastructure. It’s not necessary rebuilding, they can put in add-ons. They don’t have to throw away what they had, but they can maintain the legacy infrastructure and add on top of it the IP-enabled infrastructure to let them take advantage of these capabilities.

Gardner: This change has happened from the web now all the way to multi-screen. With the web there was a model where you would use a content delivery network (CDN) to take the object, the media object, and place it as close to the edge as you could. What’s changed and why doesn’t that model work as well?

Connan-Lostanlen: I don’t know yet if I want to say that model doesn’t work anymore. Let’s let the CDN providers enhance their technology. But for sure, the volume of videos that we are consuming everyday is exponentially growing. That definitely creates pressure in the pipe. Our role at the front-end and the back-end is to make sure that videos are being created in different formats, with different ads, and everything else, in the most effective way so that it doesn’t put an undue strain on the pipe that is distributing the videos.

We are being pushed to innovate further on the type of workflows that we are implementing at our customers’ sites today, to make it efficient, to not leave storage at the edge and not centrally, and to do transcoding just-in-time. These are the things that are being worked on. It’s a balance between available capacity and the number of programs that you want to send across to your viewers – and how big your target market is.

The task for us on the back-end is to rethink the workflows in a much more efficient way. So, for example, this is what we call the digital-first approach, or unified distribution. Instead of planning a linear channel that goes the traditional way and then adding another infrastructure for multi-screen, on all those different platforms and then cable, and satellite, and IPTV, etc. -- why not design the whole workflow digital-first. This frees the content distributor or provider to hold off on committing to specific platforms until the video has reached the edge. And it’s there that the end-user requirements determine how they get the signal.

This is where we are going -- to see the efficiencies happen and so remove the pressure on the CDNs and other distribution mechanisms, like over-the-air.

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Gardner: It means an intelligent edge capability, whereas we had an intelligent core up until now. We’ll also seek a hybrid capability between them, growing more sophisticated over time.

We have a whole new generation of technology for video delivery. Tell us about Imagine Communications. How do you go to market? How do you help your customers?

Education for future generations

Connan-Lostanlen: Two months ago we were in Las Vegas for our biggest tradeshow of the year, the NAB Show. At the event, our customers first wanted to understand what it takes to move to IP -- so the “how.” They understand the need to move to IP, to take advantage of the benefits that it brings. But how do they do this, while they are still navigating the traditional world?

It’s not only the “how,” it’s needing examples of best practices. So we instructed them in a panel discussion, for example, on Over the Top Technology (OTT), which is another way of saying IP-delivered, and what it takes to create a successful multi-screen service. Part of the panel explained what OTT is, so there’s a lot of education.

There is also another level of education that we have to provide, which is moving from the traditional world of serial digital interfaces (SDIs) in the broadcast industry to IP. It’s basically saying analog video signals can be moved into digital. Then not only is there a digitally sharp signal, it’s an IP stream. The whole knowledge about how to handle IP is new to our own industry, to our own engineers, to our own customers. We also have to educate on what it takes to do this properly.

One of the key things in the media and entertainment industry is that there’s a little bit of fear about IP, because no one really believed that IP could handle live signals. And you know how important live television is in this industry – real-time sports and news -- this is where the money comes from. That’s why the most expensive ads are run during the Super Bowl.

It’s essential to be able to do live with IP – it’s critical. That’s why we are sharing with our customers the real-life implementations that we are doing today.

We are also pushing multiple standards forward. We work with our competitors on these standards. We have set up a trade association to accelerate the standards work. We did all of that. And as we do this, it forces us to innovate in partnership with customers and bring them on board. They are part of that trade association, they are part of the proof-of-concept trials, and they are gladly sharing their experiences with others so that the transition can be accelerated.

Gardner: Imagine Communications is then a technology and solutions provider to the media content companies, and you provide the means to do this. You are also doing a lot with ad insertion, billing, in understanding more about the end-user and allowing that data flow from the edge back to the core, and then back to the edge to happen.

At the heart of it all

Connan-Lostanlen: We do everything that happens behind the camera -- from content creation all the way to making a program and distributing it. And also, to your point, on monetizing all that with a management system. We have a long history of powering all the key customers in the world for their advertising system. It’s basically an automated system that allows the selling of advertising spots, and then to bill them -- and this is the engine of where our customers make money. So we are at the heart of this.

We are in the prime position to help them take advantage of the new advertising solutions that exist today, including dynamic ad insertion. In other words, how you target ads to the single viewer. And the challenge for them is now that they have a campaign, how do they design it to cater both to the linear traditional advertising system as well as the multi-screen or web mobile application? That's what we are working on. We have a whole set of next-generation platforms that allow them to take advantage of both in a more effective manner.

Gardner: The technology is there, you are a solutions provider. You need to find the best ways of storing and crunching data, close to the edge, and optimizing networks. Tell us why you choose certain partners and what are the some of the major concerns you have when you go to the technology marketplace?

Connan-Lostanlen: One fundamental driver here, as we drive the transition to IP in this industry, is in being able to rely on consumer-off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms. But even so, not all COTS platforms are born equal, right?

For compute, for storage, for networking, you need to rely on top-scale hardware platforms, and that’s why about two years ago we started to work very closely with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) for both our compute and storage technology.

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We develop the software appliances that run on those platforms, and we sell this as a package with HPE. It’s been a key value proposition of ours as we began this journey to move to IP. We can say, by the way, our solutions run on HPE hardware. That's very important because having high-performance compute (HPC) that scales is critical to the broadcast and media industry. Having storage that is highly reliable is fundamental because going off the air is not acceptable. So it's 99.9999 percent reliable, and that’s what we want, right?

It’s a fundamental part of our message to our customers to say, “In your network, put Imagine solutions, which are powered by one of the top compute and storage technologies.”

Gardner: Another part of the change in the marketplace is this move to the edge. It’s auspicious that just as you need to have more storage and compute efficiency at the edge of the network, close to the consumer, the infrastructure providers are also designing new hardware and solutions to do just that. That's also for the Internet of Things (IoT) requirements, and there are other drivers. Nonetheless, it's an industry standard approach.

What is it about HPE Edgeline, for example, and the architecture that HPE is using, that makes that edge more powerful for your requirements? How do you view this architectural shift from core data center to the edge?

Optimize the global edge

Connan-Lostanlen: It's a big deal because we are going to be in a hybrid world. Most of our customers, when they hear about cloud, we have to explain it to them. We explain that they can have their private cloud where they can run virtualized applications on-premises, or they can take advantage of public clouds.

Being able to have a hybrid model of deployment for their applications is critical, especially for large customers who have operations in several places around the globe. For example, such big names as Disney, Turner –- they have operations everywhere. For them, being able to optimize at the edge means that you have to create an architecture that is geographically distributed -- but is highly efficient where they have those operations. This type of technology helps us deliver more value to the key customers.

Gardner: The other part of that intelligent edge technology is that it has the ability to be adaptive and customized. Each region has its own networks, its own regulation, and its own compliance, security, and privacy issues. When you can be programmatic as to how you design your edge infrastructure, then a custom-applications-orientation becomes possible.

Is there something about the edge architecture that you would like to see more of? Where do you see this going in terms of the capabilities of customization added-on to your services?

Connan-Lostanlen: One of the typical use-cases that we see for those big customers who have distributed operations is that they like to try and run their disaster recovery (DR) site in a more cost-effective manner. So the flexibility that an edge architecture provides to them is that they don’t have to rely on central operations running DR for everybody. They can do it on their own, and they can do it cost-effectively. They don't have to recreate the entire infrastructure, and so they do DR at the edge as well.

We especially see this a lot in the process of putting the pieces of the program together, what we call “play out,” before it's distributed. When you create a TV channel, if you will, it’s important to have end-to-end redundancy -- and DR is a key driver for this type of application.

Gardner: Are there some examples of your cutting-edge clients that have adopted these solutions? What are the outcomes? What are they able to do with it?

Pop-up power

Connan-Lostanlen: Well, it’s always sensitive to name those big brand names. They are very protective of their brands. However, one of the top ones in the world of media and entertainment has decided to move all of their operations -- from content creation, planning, and distribution -- to their own cloud, to their own data center.

They are at the forefront of playing live and recorded material on TV -- all from their cloud. They needed strong partners in data centers. So obviously we work with them closely, and the reason why they do this is simply to really take advantage of the flexibility. They don't want to be tied to a restricted channel count; they want to try new things. They want to try pop-up channels. For the Oscars, for example, it’s one night. Are you going to recreate the whole infrastructure if you can just check it on and off, if you will, out of their data center capacity? So that's the key application, the pop-up channels and ability to easily try new programs.

Gardner: It sounds like they are thinking of themselves as an IT company, rather than a media and entertainment company that consumes IT. Is that shift happening?

Connan-Lostanlen: Oh yes, that's an interesting topic, because I think you cannot really do this successfully if you don’t start to think IT a little bit. What we are seeing, interestingly, is that our customers typically used to have the IT department on one side, the broadcast engineers on the other side -- these were two groups that didn't speak the same language. Now they get together, and they have to, because they have to design together the solution that will make them more successful. We are seeing this happening.

I wouldn't say yet that they are IT companies. The core strength is content, that is their brand, that's what they are good at -- creating amazing content and making it available to as many people as possible.

They have to understand IT, but they can't lose concentration on their core business. I think the IT providers still have a very strong play there. It's always happening that way.

In addition to disaster recovery being a key application, multi-screen delivery is taking advantage of that technology, for sure.

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Gardner: These companies are making this cultural shift to being much more technically oriented. They think about standard processes across all of what they do, and they have their own core data center that's dynamic, flexible, agile and cost-efficient. What does that get for them? Is it too soon, or do we have some metrics of success for companies that make this move toward a full digitally transformed organization?

Connan-Lostanlen: They are very protective about the math. It is fair to say that the up-front investments may be higher, but when you do the math over time, you do the total cost of ownership for the next 5 to 10 years -- because that’s typically the life cycle of those infrastructures – then definitely they do save money. On the operational expenditure (OPEX) side [of private cloud economics] it’s much more efficient, but they also have upside on additional revenue. So net-net, the return on investment (ROI) is much better. But it’s kind of hard to say now because we are still in the early days, but it’s bound to be a much greater ROI.

Another specific DR example is in the Middle East. We have a customer there who decided to operate the DR and IP in the cloud, instead of having a replicated system with satellite links in between. They were able to save $2 million worth of satellite links, and that data center investment, trust me, was not that high. So it shows that the ROI is there.

My satellite customers might say, “Well, what are you trying to do?” The good news is that they are looking at us to help them transform their businesses, too. So big satellite providers are thinking broadly about how this world of IP is changing their game. They are examining what they need to do differently. I think it’s going to create even more opportunities to reduce costs for all of our customers.

IT enters a hybrid world

Gardner: That's one of the intrinsic values of a hybrid IT approach -- you can use many different ways to do something, and then optimize which of those methods works best, and also alternate between them for best economics. That’s a very powerful concept.

Connan-Lostanlen: The world will be a hybrid IT world, and we will take advantage of that. But, of course, that will come with some challenges. What I think is next is the number-one question that I get asked.

Three years ago costumers would ask us, “Hey, IP is not going to work for live TV.” We convinced them otherwise, and now they know it’s working, it’s happening for real.

Secondly, they are thinking, “Okay, now I get it, so how do I do this?” We showed them, this is how you do it, the education piece.

Now, this year, the number-one question is security. “Okay, this is my content, the most valuable asset I have in my company. I am not putting this in the cloud,” they say. And this is where another piece of education has to start, which is: Actually, as you put stuff on your cloud, it’s more secure.

And we are working with our technology providers. As I said earlier, the COTS providers are not equal. We take it seriously. The cyber attacks on content and media is critical, and it’s bound to happen more often.

Initially there was a lack of understanding that you need to separate your corporate network, such as emails and VPNs, from you broadcast operations network. Okay, that’s easy to explain and that can be implemented, and that's where most of the attacks over the last five years have happened. This is solved.

They are going to get right into the servers, into the storage, and try to mess with it over there. So I think it’s super important to be able to say, “Not only at the software level, but at the hardware firmware level, we are adding protection against your number-one issue, security, which everybody can see is so important.”

However, the cyber attackers are becoming more clever, so they will overcome these initial defenses.They are going to get right into the servers, into the storage, and try to mess with it over there. So I think it’s super important to be able to say, “Not only at the software level, but at the hardware firmware level, we are adding protection against your number-one issue, security, which everybody can see is so important.”

Gardner: Sure, the next domino to fall after you have the data center concept, the implementation, the execution, even the optimization, is then to remove risk, whether it's disaster recovery, security, right down to the silicon and so forth. So that’s the next thing we will look for, and I hope I can get a chance to talk to you about how you are all lowering risk for your clients the next time we speak.

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How The Open Group Healthcare Forum and Health Enterprise Reference Architecture cures process and IT ills

The next BriefingsDirect healthcare thought leadership panel discussion examines how a global standards body, The Open Group, is working to improve how the healthcare industry functions.

We’ll now learn how The Open Group Healthcare Forum (HCF) is advancing best practices and methods for better leveraging IT in healthcare ecosystems. And we’ll examine the forum’s Health Enterprise Reference Architecture (HERA) initiative and its role in standardizing IT architectures. The goal is to foster better boundaryless interoperability within and between healthcare public and private sector organizations.

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

To learn more about improving the processes and IT that better supports healthcare, please welcome our panel of experts: Oliver Kipf, The Open Group Healthcare Forum Chairman and Business Process and Solution Architect at Philips, based in Germany; Dr. Jason Lee, Director of the Healthcare Forum at The Open Group, in Boston, and Gail Kalbfleisch, Director of the Federal Health Architecture at the US Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: For those who might not be that familiar with the Healthcare Forum and The Open Group in general, tell us about why the Healthcare Forum exists, what its mission is, and what you hope to achieve through your work.

Lee: The Healthcare Forum exists because there is a huge need to architect the healthcare enterprise, which is approaching 20 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the economy in the US, and approaching that level in other developing countries in Europe.

Lee

Lee

 

There is a general feeling that enterprise architecture is somewhat behind in this industry, relative to other industries. There are important gaps to fill that will help those stakeholders in healthcare -- whether they are in hospitals or healthcare delivery systems or innovation hubs in organizations of different sorts, such as consulting firms. They can better leverage IT to achieve business goals, through the use of best practices, lessons learned, and the accumulated wisdom of the various Forum members over many years of work. We want them to understand the value of our work so they can use it to address their needs.

Our mission, simply, is to help make healthcare information available when and where it’s needed and to accomplish that goal through architecting the healthcare enterprise. That’s what we hope to achieve.

Gardner: As the chairman of the HCF, could you explain what a forum is, Oliver? What does it consist of, how many organizations are involved?

Kipf: The HCF is made up of its members and I am really proud of this team. We are very passionate about healthcare. We are in the technology business, so we are more than just the governing bodies; we also have participation from the provider community. That makes the Forum true to the nature of The Open Group, in that we are global in nature, we are vendor-neutral, and we are business-oriented. We go from strategy to execution, and we want to bridge from business to technology. We take the foundation of The Open Group, and then we apply this to the HCF.

Kipf

Kipf

 

As we have many health standards out there, we really want to leverage [experience] from our 30 members to make standards work by providing the right type of tools, frameworks, and approaches. We partner a lot in the industry.

The healthcare industry is really a crowded place and there are many standard development organizations. There are many players. It’s quite vital as a forum that we reach out, collaborate, and engage with others to reach where we want to be.

Gardner: Gail, why is the role of the enterprise architecture function an important ingredient to help bring this together? What’s important about EA when we think about the healthcare industry?

Kalbfleisch: From an EA perspective, I don’t really think that it matters whether you are talking about the healthcare industry or the finance industry or the personnel industry or the gas and electric industry. If you look at any of those, the organizations or the companies that tend to be highly functioning, they have not just architecture -- because everyone has architecture for what they do. But that architecture is documented and it’s available for use by decision-makers, and by developers across the system so that each part can work well together.

Kalbfleisch

Kalbfleisch

 

We know that within the healthcare industry it is exceedingly complicated, and it’s a mixture of a lot of different things. It’s not just your body and your doctor, it’s also your insurance, your payers, research, academia -- and putting all of those together.

If we don’t have EA, people new to the system -- or people who were deeply embedded into their parts of the system -- can’t see how that system all works together usefully. For example, there are a lot of different standards organizations. If we don’t see how all of that works together -- where everybody else is working, and how to make it fit together – then we’re going to have a hard time getting to interoperability quickly and efficiently.

It's important that we get to individual solution building blocks to attain a more integrated approach. 

Kipf: If you think of the healthcare industry, we’ve been very good at developing individual solutions to specific problems. There’s a lot of innovation and a lot of technology that we use. But there is an inherent risk of producing silos among the many stakeholders who, ultimately, work for the good of the patient. It's important that we get to individual solution building blocks to attain a more integrated approach based on architecture building blocks, and based on common frameworks, tools and approaches.

Gardner: Healthcare is a very complex environment and IT is very fast-paced. Can you give us an update on what the Healthcare Forum has been doing, given the difficulty of managing such complexity?

Bird’s-eye view mapping

Lee: The Healthcare Forum began with a series of white papers, initially focusing on an information model that has a long history in the federal government. We used enterprise architecture to evaluate the Federal Health Information Model (FHIM).  People began listening and we started to talk to people outside of The Open Group, and outside of the normal channels of The Open Group. We talked to different types of architects, such as information architects, solution architects, engineers, and initially settled on the problem that is essential to The Open Group -- and that is the problem of boundaryless information flow.

We need to get beyond the silos that Oliver mentioned and that Gail alluded to. As I mentioned in my opening comments, this is a huge industry, and Gail illustrated it by naming some of the stakeholders within the health, healthcare and wellness enterprises. If you think of your hospital, it can be difficult to achieve boundaryless information flow to enable your information to travel digitally, securely, quickly, and in a way that’s valid, reliable and understandable by those who send it and by those who receive it.  But if that is possible, it’s all to the betterment of the patient.

Initially, in our focus on what healthcare folks call interoperability -- what we refer to as boundaryless information flow -- we came to realize through discussions with stakeholders in the public sector, as well as the private sector and globally, that understanding how the different pieces are linked together is critical. Anybody who works in an organization or belongs to a church, school or family understands that sometimes getting the right message communicated from point A to point B can be difficult.

To address that issue, the HCF members have decided to create a Health Enterprise Reference Architecture (HERA) that is essentially a framework and a map at the highest level. It helps people see that what they do relates to what others do, regardless of their position in their company. You want to deliver value to those people, to help them understand how their work is interconnected, and how IT can help them achieve their goals.

Gardner: Oliver, who should be aware of and explore engaging with the HCF?

Kipf: The members of The Open Group themselves, many of them are players in the field of healthcare, and so they are the natural candidates to really engage with. In that healthcare ecosystem we have providers, payers, governing bodies, pharmaceuticals, and IT companies.

Those who deeply need planning, management and architecting -- to make big thinking a reality out there -- those decision-makers are the prime candidates for engagement in the Healthcare Forum. They can benefit from the kinds of products we produce, the reference architecture, and the white papers that we offer. In a nutshell, it’s the members, and it’s the healthcare industry, and the healthcare ecosystem that we are targeting.

Gardner: Gail, perhaps you could address the reference architecture initiative? Why do you see that as important? Who do you think should be aware of it and contribute to it?

Shared reference points

Kalbfleisch: Reference architecture is one of those building block pieces that should be used. You can call it a template. You can have words that other people can relate to, maybe easier than the architecture-speak.

If you take that template, you can make it available to other people so that we can all be designing our processes and systems with a common understanding of our information exchange -- so that it crosses boundaries easily and securely. If we are all running on the same template, that’s going to enable us to identify how to start, what has to be included, and what standards we are going to use.

A reference architecture is one of those very important pieces that not only forms a list of how we want to do things, and what we agreed to, but it also makes it so that every organization doesn’t have to start from scratch. It can be reused and improved upon as we go through the work. If someone improves the architecture, that can come back into the reference architecture.

Who should know about it? Decision makers, developers, medical device innovators, people who are looking to improve the way information flows within any health sector -- whether it’s Oliver in Europe, whether it’s someone over in California, Australia, it really doesn't matter. Anyone who wants to make interoperability better should know about it.

My focus is on decision-makers, policymakers, process developers, and other people who look at it from a device-design perspective. One of the things that has been discussed within the HCF’s reference architecture work is the need to make sure that it’s all at a high-enough level, where we can agree on what it looks like. Yet it also must go down deeply enough so that people can apply it to what they are doing -- whether it’s designing a piece of software or designing a medical device.

Gardner: Jason, The Open Group has been involved with standards and reference architectures for decades, with such recent initiatives as the IT4IT approach, as well as the longstanding TOGAF reference architecture. How does the HERA relate to some of these other architectural initiatives?

Building on a strong foundation

Lee: The HERA starts by using the essential components and insights that are built into the TOGAF ArchitecturalDevelopment Model (ADM) and builds from there. It also uses the ArchiMate language, but we have never felt restricted to using only those existing Open Group models that have been around for some time and are currently being developed further.

We are a big organization in terms of our approach, our forum, and so we want to draw from the best there is in order to fill in the gaps. Over the last few decades, an incredible amount of talent has joined The Open Group to develop architectural models and standards that apply across multiple industries, including healthcare. We reuse and build from this important work.

In addition, as we have dug deeper into the healthcare industry, we have found other issues – gaps -- that need filling. There are related topics that would benefit. To do that, we have been working hard to establish relationships with other organizations in the healthcare space, to bring them in, and to collaborate. We have done this with the Health Level Seven Organization (HL7), which is one of the best-known standards organizations in the world.

We are also doing this now with an organization called Healthcare Services Platform Consortium (HSPC), which involves academic, government and hospital organizations, as well as people who are focused on developing standards around terminology.

IT’s getting better all the time

Kipf: If you think about reference architecture in a specific domain, such as in the healthcare industry, you look at your customers and the enterprises -- those really concerned with the delivery of health services. You need to ask yourself the question: What are their needs?

And the need in this industry is a focus on the person and on the service. It’s also highly regulatory, so being compliant is a big thing. Quality is a big thing. The idea of lifetime evolution -- that you become better and better all the time -- that is very important, very intrinsic to the healthcare industry.

When we are looking into the customers out there that we believe that the HERA could be of value, it’s the small- to mid-sized and the large enterprises that you have to think of, and it’s really across the globe. That’s why we believe that the HERA is something that is tuned into the needs of our industry.

And as Jason mentioned, we build on open standards and we leverage them where we can. ArchiMate is one of the big ones -- not only the business language, but also a lot of the concepts are based on ArchiMate. But we need to include other standards as well, obviously those from the healthcare industry, and we need to deviate from specific standards where this is of value to our industry.

Gardner: Oliver, in order to get this standard to be something that's used, that’s very practical, people look to results. So if you were to take advantage of such reference architectures as HERA, what should you expect to get back? If you do it right, what are the payoffs?

Capacity for change and collaboration

Kipf: It should enable you to do a better job, to become more efficient, and to make better use of technology. Those are the kinds of benefits that you see realized. It’s not only that you have a place where you can model all the elements of your enterprise, where you can put and manage your processes and your services, but it’s also in the way you are architecting your enterprise.

It gives you the ability to change. From a transformation management perspective, we know that many healthcare systems have great challenges and there is this need to change. The HERA gives you the tools to get where you want to be, to define where you want to be -- and also how to get there. This is where we believe it provides a lot of benefits.

Gardner: Gail, similar question, for those organizations, both public and private sector, that do this well, that embrace HERA, what should they hope to get in return?

Kalbfleisch: I completely agree with what Oliver said. To add, one of the benefits that you get from using EA is a chance to have a perspective from outside your own narrow silos. The HERA should be able to help a person see other areas that they have to take into consideration, that maybe they wouldn’t have before.

Another value is to engage with other people who are doing similar work, who may have either learned lessons, or are doing similar things at the same time. So that's one of the ways I see the effectiveness and of doing our jobs better, quicker, and faster.

Also, it can help us identify where we have gaps and where we need to focus our efforts. We can focus our limited resources in much better ways on specific issues -- where we can accomplish what we are looking to -- and to gain that boundaryless information flow.

Reaching your goals

Lee: Essentially, the HERA will provide a framework that enables companies to leverage IT to achieve their goals. The wonderful thing about it is that we are not telling organizations what their goals should be. We show them how they can follow a roadmap to accomplish their self-defined goals more effectively. Often this involves communicating the big picture, as Gail said, to those who are in siloed positions within their organizations.

There is an old saying: “What you see depends on where you sit.” The HERA helps stakeholders gain this perspective by helping key players understand the relationships, for example, between business processes and engineering. So whether a stakeholder’s interest is increasing patient satisfaction, reducing error, improving quality, and having better patient outcomes and gaining more reimbursement where reimbursement is tied to outcomes -- using the product and the architecture that we are developing helps all of these goals.

Gardner: Jason, for those who are intrigued by what you are doing with HERA, tell us about its trajectory, its evolution, and how that journey unfolds. Who can they learn more or get involved?

Lee: We have only been working on the HERA per se for the last year, although its underpinnings go back 20 years or more. Its trajectory is not to a single point, but to an evolutionary process. We will be producing products, white papers, as well as products that others can use in a modular fashion to leverage what they already use within their legacy systems.

We encourage anyone out there, particularly in the health system delivery space, to join us. That can be done by contacting me at j.lee@opengroup.org and at www.opengroup.org/healthcare.

It’s an incredible time, a very opportune time, for key players to be involved because we are making very important decisions that lay the foundation for the HERA. We collaborate with key players, and we lay down the tracks from which we will build increasing levels of complexity.

But we start at the top, using non-architectural language to be able to talk to decision-makers, whether they are in the public sector or private sector. So we invite any of these organizations to join us.

Learn from others’ mistakes

Kalbfleisch: My first foray into working with The Open Group was long before I was in the health IT sector. I was with the US Air Force and we were doing very non-health architectural work in conjunction with The Open Group.

The interesting part to me is in ensuring boundaryless information flow in a manner that is consistent with the information flowing where it needs to go and who has access to it. How does it get from place to place across distinct mission areas, or distinct business areas where the information is not used the same way or stored in the same way? Such dissonance between those business areas is not a problem that is isolated just to healthcare; it’s across all business areas.

That was exciting. I was able to take awareness of The Open Group from a previous life, so to speak, and engage with them to get involved in the Healthcare Forum from my current position.

A lot of the technical problems that we have in exchanging information, regardless of what industry you are in, have been addressed by other people, and have already been worked on. By leveraging the way organizations have already worked on it for 20 years, we can leverage that work within the healthcare industry. We don't have to make the same mistakes that were made before. We can take what people have learned and extend it much further. We can do that best by working together in areas like The Open Group HCF.

Kipf: On that evolutionary approach, I also see this as a long-term journey. Yes, there will be releases when we have a specification, and there will guidelines. But it's important that this is an engagement, and we have ongoing collaboration with customers in the future, even after it is released. The coming together of a team is what really makes a great reference architecture, a team that places the architecture at a high level.

We can also develop distinct flavors of the specification. We should expect much more detail. Those implementation architectures then become spin-offs of reference architectures such as the HERA.

Lee: I can give some concrete examples, to bookend the kinds of problems that can be addressed using the HERA. At the micro end, a hospital can use the HERA structure to implement a patient check-in to the hospital for patients who would like to bypass the usual process and check themselves in. This has a number of positive value outcomes for the hospital in terms of staffing and in terms of patient satisfaction and cost savings.

At the other extreme, a large hospital system in Philadelphia or Stuttgart or Oslo or in India finds itself with patients appearing at the emergency room or in the ambulatory settings unaffiliated with that particular hospital. Rather than have that patient come as a blank sheet of paper, and redo all the tests that had been done prior, the HERA will help these healthcare organizations figure out how to exchange data in a meaningful way. So the information can flow digitally, securely, and it means the same thing to those who get it as much as it does to those who receive it, and everything is patient-focused, patient-centric.

Gardner: Oliver, we have seen with other Open Group standards and reference architectures, a certification process often comes to bear that helps people be recognized for being adept and properly trained. Do you expect to have a certification process with HERA at some point?

Certifiable enterprise expertise

Kipf: Yes, the more we mature with the HERA, along with the defined guidelines and the specifications and the HERA model, the more there will be a need and demand for health enterprise-focused employees in the marketplace. They can show how consulting services can then use HERA.

And that's a perfect place when you think of certification. It helps make sure that the quality of the workforce is strong, whether it's internal or in the form of a professional services role. They can comply with the HERA.

Gardner: Clearly, this has applicability to healthcare payer organizations, provider organizations, government agencies, and the vendors who supply pharmaceuticals or medical instruments. There are a great deal of process benefits when done properly, so that enterprise architects could become certified eventually.

My question then is how do we take the HERA, with such a potential for being beneficial across the board, and make it well-known? Jason, how do we get the word out? How can people who are listening to this or reading this, help with that?

Spread the word, around the world

Lee: It's a question that has to be considered every time we meet. I think the answer is straightforward. First, we build a product [the HERA] that has clear value for stakeholders in the healthcare system. That’s the internal part.

Second—and often, simultaneously—we develop a very important marketing/collaboration/socialization capability. That’s the external part. I've worked in healthcare for more than 30 years, and whether it's public or private sector decision-making, there are many stakeholders, and everybody's focused on the same few things: improving value, enhancing quality, expanding access, and providing security.

We will continue developing relationships with key players to ensure them that what they’re doing is key to the HERA. At the broadest level, all companies must plan, build, operate and improve.

There are immense opportunities for business development. There are innumerable ways to use the HERA to help health enterprise systems operate efficiently and effectively. There are opportunities to demonstrate to key movers and shakers in healthcare system how what we're doing integrates with what they're doing. This will maximize the uptake of the HERA and minimize the chances it sits on a shelf after it's been developed.

Gardner: Oliver, there are also a variety of regional conferences and events around the world. Some of them are from The Open Group. How important is it for people to be aware of these events, maybe by taking part virtually online or in person? Tell us about the face-time opportunities, if you will, of these events, and how that can foster awareness and improvement of HERA uptake.

Kipf: We began with the last Open Group event. I was in Berlin, presenting the HERA. As we see more development, more maturity, we can then show more. The uptake will be there and we also need to include things like cyber security, things like risk compliance. So we can bring in a lot of what we have been doing in various other initiatives within The Open Group. We can show how it can be a fusion, and make this something that is really of value.

I am confident that through face-to-face events, such as The Open Group events, we can further spread the message.

Lee: And a real shout-out to Gail and Oliver who have been critical in making introductions and helping to share The Open Group Healthcare Forum’s work broadly. The most recent example is the 2016 HIMSS conference, a meeting that brings together more than 40,000 people every year. There is a federal interoperability showcase there, and we have been able to introduce and discuss our HERA work there.

We’ve collaborated with the Office of the National Coordinator where the Federal Heath Architecture sits, with the US Veterans Administration, with the US Department of Defense, and with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). This is all US-centered, but there are lots of opportunities globally to not just spread the word in public for domains and public venues, but also to go to those key players who are moving the industry forward, and in some cases convince them that enterprise architecture does provide that structure, that template that can help them achieve their goals.

Future forecast

Gardner: I’m afraid we are almost out of time. Gail, perhaps a look into the crystal ball. What do you expect and hope to see in the next few years when it comes to improvements initiatives like HERA at The Open Group Forum can provide? What do you hope to see in the next couple of years in terms of improvement?

Kalbfleisch: What I would like to see happen in the next couple of years as it relates to the HERA, is the ability to have a place where we can go from anywhere and get a glimpse of the landscape. Right now, it’s hard to find anywhere where someone in the US can see the great work that Oliver is doing, or the people in Norway, or the people in Australia are doing.

It’s really important that we have opportunities to communicate as large groups, but also the one-on-one. Yet when we are not able to communicate personally, I would like to see a resource or a tool where people can go and get the information they need on the HERA on their own time, or as they have a question. Reference architecture is great to have, but it has no power until it’s used.

My hope for the future is for the HERA to be used by decision-makers, developers, and even patients. So when an organizations such as some hospital wants to develop a new electronic health record (EHR) system, they have a place to go and get started, without having to contact Jason or wait for a vendor to come along and tell them how to solve a problem. That would be my hope for the future.

Lee: You can think of the HERA as a soup with three key ingredients. First is the involvement and commitment of very bright people and top-notch organizations. Second, we leverage the deep experience and products of other forums of The Open Group. Third, we build on external relationships. Together, these three things will help make the HERA successful as a certifiable product that people can use to get their work done and do better.

Gardner: Jason, perhaps you could also tee-up the next Open Group event in Amsterdam. Can you tell us more about that and how to get involved?

Lee: We are very excited about our next event in Amsterdam in October. You can go to www.opengroup.org and look under Events, read about the agendas, and sign up there. We will have involvement from experts from the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Norway, and this is just in the Healthcare Forum!

The Open Group membership will be giving papers, having discussions, moving the ball forward. It will be a very productive and fun time and we are looking forward to it. Again, anyone who has a question or is interested in joining the Healthcare Forum can please send me, Jason Lee, an email at j.lee@opengroup.org.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: The Open Group.

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Hybrid cloud ecosystem readies for impact from arrival of Microsoft Azure Stack

The next BriefingsDirect cloud deployment strategies interview explores how hybrid cloud ecosystem players such as PwC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) are gearing up to support the Microsoft Azure Stack private-public cloud continuum.

We’ll now learn what enterprises can do to make the most of hybrid cloud models and be ready specifically for Microsoft’s solutions for balancing the boundaries between public and private cloud deployments.

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

Here to explore the latest approaches for successful hybrid IT, we’re joined by Rohit “Ro” Antao, a Partner at PwC, and Ken Won, Director of Cloud Solutions Marketing at HPE. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Ro, what are the trends driving adoption of hybrid cloud models, specifically Microsoft Azure Stack? Why are people interested in doing this?

Antao: What we have observed in the last 18 months is that a lot of our clients are now aggressively pushing toward the public cloud. In that journey there are a couple of things that are becoming really loud and clear to them.

Journey to the cloud

Number one is that there will always be some sort of a private data center footprint. There are certain workloads that are not appropriate for the public cloud; there are certain workloads that perform better in the private data center. And so the first acknowledgment is that there is going to be that private, as well as public, side of how they deliver IT services.

Now, that being said, they have to begin building the capabilities and the mechanisms to be able to manage these different environments seamlessly. As they go down this path, that's where we are seeing a lot of traction and focus.

The other trend in conjunction with that is in the public cloud space where we see a lot of traction around Azure. They have come on strong. They have been aggressively going after the public cloud market. Being able to have that seamless environment between private and public with Azure Stack is what’s driving a lot of the demand.

Won: We at HPE are seeing that very similarly, as well. We call that “hybrid IT,” and we talk about how customers need to find the right mix of private and public -- and managed services -- to fit their businesses. They may put some services in a public cloud, some services in a private cloud, and some in a managed cloud. Depending on their company strategy, they need to figure out which workloads go where.

Won

Won

We have these conversations with many of our customers about how do you determine the right placement for these different workloads -- taking into account things like security, performance, compliance, and cost -- and helping them evaluate this hybrid IT environment that they now need to manage.

Gardner: Ro, a lot of what people have used public cloud for is greenfield apps -- beginning in the cloud, developing in the cloud, deploying in the cloud -- but there's also an interest in many enterprises about legacy applications and datasets. Is Azure Stack and hybrid cloud an opportunity for them to rethink where their older apps and data should reside?

Antao: Absolutely. When you look at the broader market, a lot of these businesses are competing today in very dynamic markets. When companies today think about strategy, it's no longer the 5- and 10-year strategy. They are thinking about how to be relevant in the market this year, today, this quarter. That requires a lot of flexibility in their business model; that requires a lot of variability in their cost structure.

Antao

Antao

When you look at it from that viewpoint, a lot of our clients look at the public cloud as more than, “Is the app suitable for the public cloud?” They are also seeking certain cost advantages in terms of variability in that cost structure that they can take advantage of. And that’s where we are seeing them look at the public cloud beyond just applications in terms that are suitable for public cloud.

Public and/or private power

Won: We help a lot of companies think about where the best place is for their traditional apps. Often they don’t want to restructure them, they don’t want to rewrite them, because they are already an investment; they don’t want to spend a lot of time refactoring them.

If you look at these traditional applications, a lot of times when they are dealing with data – especially if they are dealing with sensitive data -- those are better placed in a private cloud.

Antao: One of the great things about Microsoft Azure Stack is it gives the data center that public cloud experience -- where developers have the similar experience as they would in a public cloud. The only difference is that you are now controlling the costs as well. So that's another big advantage we see.

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

for Microsoft Azure Stack

Won: Yeah, absolutely, it's giving the developers the experience of a public cloud, but from the IT standpoint of also providing the compliance, the control, and the security of a private cloud. Allowing applications to be deployed in either a public or private cloud -- depending on its requirements -- is incredibly powerful. There's no other environment out there that provides that API-compatibility between private and public cloud deployments like Azure Stack does. 

Gardner: Clearly Microsoft is interested in recognizing that skill sets, platform affinity, and processes are all really important. If they are able to provide a private cloud and public cloud experience that’s common to the IT operators that are used to using Microsoft platforms and frameworks -- that's a boon. It's also important for enterprises to be able to continue with the skills they have.

Ro, is such a commonality of skills and processes not top of mind for many organizations? 

Antao: Absolutely! I think there is always the risk when you have different environments having that “swivel chair” approach. You have a certain set of skills and processes for your private data center. Then you now have a certain set of skills and processes to manage your public cloud footprint.

One of the big problems and challenges that this solves is being able to drive more of that commonality across consistent sets of processes. You can have a similar talent pool, and you have similar kinds of training and awareness that you are trying to drive within the organization -- because you now can have similar stacks on both ends.

Won: That's a great point. We know that the biggest challenge to adopting new concepts is not the technology; it's really the people and process issues. So if you can address that, which is what Azure Stack does, it makes it so much easier for enterprises to bring on new capabilities, because they are leveraging the experience that they already have using Azure public cloud.

Gardner: Many IT organizations are familiar with Microsoft Azure Stack. It's been in technical preview for quite some time. As it hits the market in September 2017, in seeking that total-solution, people-and-process approach, what is PwC bringing to the table to help organizations get the best value and advantage out of Azure Stack?

Hybrid: a tectonic IT shift

Antao: Ken made the point earlier in this discussion about hybrid IT. When you look at IT pivoting to more of the hybrid delivery mode, it's a tectonic shift in IT's operating model, in their architecture, their culture, in their roles and responsibilities – in the fundamental value proposition of IT to the enterprise.

When we partner with HPE in helping organizations drive through this transformation, we work with HPE in rethinking the operating model, in understanding the new kinds of roles and skills, of being able to apply these changes in the context of the business drivers that are leading it. That's one of the typical ways that we work with HPE in this space.

Won: It's a great complement. HPE understands the technology, understands the infrastructure, combined with the business processes, and then the higher level of thinking and the strategy knowledge that PwC has. It's a great partnership.

Gardner: Attaining hybrid IT efficiency and doing it with security and control is not something you buy off the shelf. It's not a license. It seems to me that an ecosystem is essential. But how do IT organizations manage that ecosystem? Are there ways that you all are working together, HPE in this case with PwC, and with Microsoft to make that consumption of an ecosystem solution much more attainable?

Won: One of the things that we are doing is working with Microsoft on their partnerships so that we can look at all these companies that have their offerings running on Azure public cloud and ensuring that those are all available and supported in Azure Stack, as well as running in the data center.

We are spending a lot of time with Microsoft on their ecosystem to make sure those services, those companies, or those products are available on Azure Stack -- as well fully supported on Azure Stack that’s running on HPE gear.

Gardner: They might not be concerned about the hardware, but they are concerned about the total value -- and the total solution. If the hardware players aren't collaborating well with the service providers and with the cloud providers -- then that's not going to work.

Quick collaboration is key

Won: Exactly! I think of it like a washing machine. No one wants to own a washing machine, but everyone wants clean clothes. So it's the necessary evil, it’s super important, but you just as soon not have to do it.

Gardner: I just don’t know what to take to the dry cleaner or not, right?

Won: Yeah, there you go!

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

for Microsoft Azure Stack

Antao: From a consulting standpoint, clients no longer have the appetite for these five- to six-year transformations. Their businesses are changing at a much faster pace. One of the ways that we are working the ecosystem-level solution -- again much like the deep and longstanding relationship we have had with HPE – is we have also been working with Microsoft in the same context.

And in a three-way fashion, we have focused on being able to define accelerators to deploying these solutions. So codifying a lot of our experiences, the lessons learned, a deep understanding of both the public and the private stack to be able to accelerate value for our customers -- because that’s what they expect today.

Won: One of the things, Ro, that you brought up, and I think is very relevant here, is these three-way relationships. Customers don't want to have to deal with all of these different vendors, these different pieces of stack or different aspects of the value chain. They instead expect us as vendors to be working together. So HPE, PwC, Microsoft are all working together to make it easier for the customers to ultimately deliver the services they need to drive their business.

Low risk, all reward

Gardner: So speed-to-value, super important; common solution cooperation and collaboration synergy among the partners, super important. But another part of this is doing it at low risk, because no one wants to be in a transition from a public to private or a full hybrid spectrum -- and then suffer performance issues, lost data, with end customers not happy.

PwC has been focused on governance, risk management and compliance (GRC) in trying to bring about better end-to-end hybrid IT control. What is it that you bring to this particular problem that is unique? It seems that each enterprise is doing this anew, but you have done it for a lot of others and experience can be very powerful that way.

Antao: Absolutely! The move to hybrid IT is a fundamental shift in governance models, in how you address certain risks, the emergence of new risks, and new security challenges. A lot of what we have been doing in this space has been in helping that IT organizations accelerate that shift -- that paradigm shift -- that they have to make.

In that context, we have been working very closely with HPE to understand what the requirements of that new world are going to look like. We can build and bring to the table solutions that support those needs.

Won: It’s absolutely critical -- this experience that PwC has is huge. We always come up with new technologies; every few years you have something new. But it’s that experience that PwC has to bring to the table that's incredibly helpful to our customer base.

Antao: So often when we think of governance, it’s more in terms of the steady state and the runtime. But there's this whole journey between getting from where we today to that hybrid IT state -- and having the governing mechanisms around it -- so that they can do it in a way that doesn't expose their business to too much risk. There is always risk involved in these large-scale transformations, but how do you manage and govern that process through getting to that hybrid IT state? That’s where we also spend a lot of time as we help clients through this transformation.

Gardner: For IT shops that are heavily Microsoft-focused, is there a way for them to master Azure Stack, the people, process and technology that will then be an accelerant for them to go to a broader hybrid IT capability? I’m thinking of multi-cloud, and even being able to develop with DevOps and SecOps across a multiple cloud continuum as a core competency.

Is Azure Stack for many companies a stepping-stone to a wider hybrid capability, Ro?

Managed multi-cloud continuum

Antao: Yes. And I think in many cases that’s inevitable. When you look at most organizations today, generally speaking, they have at least two public cloud providers that they use. They consume several Software as a service (SaaS) applications. They have multiple data center locations.  The role of IT now is to become the broker and integrator of multi-cloud environments, among and between on-premise and in the public cloud. That's where we see a lot of them evolve their management practices, their processes, the talent -- to be able to abstract these different pools and focus on the business. That's where we see a lot of the talent development.

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

for Microsoft Azure Stack

Won: We see that as well at HPE as this whole multi-cloud strategy is being implemented. More and more, the challenge that organizations are having is that they have these multiple clouds, each of which is managed by a different team or via different technologies with different processes.

So as a way to bring these together, there is huge value to the customer, by bringing together, for example, Azure Stack and Azure [public cloud] together. They may have multiple Azure Stack environments, perhaps in different data centers, in different countries, in different locales. We need to help them align their processes to run much more efficiently and more effectively. We need to engage with them not only from an IT standpoint, but also from the developer standpoint. They can use those common services to develop that application and deploy it in multiple places in the same way.

Antao: What's making this whole environment even more complex these days is that a couple of years ago, when we talked about multi-cloud, it was really the capability to either deploy in one public cloud versus another.

Few years later, it evolved into being able to port workloads seamlessly from one cloud to another. Today, as we look at the multi-cloud strategy that a lot of our clients are exploring this: Within a given business workflow, depending on the unique characteristics of different parts of that business process, how do you leverage different clouds given their unique strengths and weaknesses?

There might be portions of a business process that, to your point earlier, Ken, are highly confidential. You are dealing with a lot of compliance requirements. You may want to consume from an internal private cloud. There are other parts of it that you are looking for, such as immense scale, to deal with the peaks when that particular business process gets impacted. How do you go back to where the public cloud has a history with that? In a third case, it might be enterprise-grades workloads.

So that’s where we are seeing multi-cloud evolve, into where in one business process could have multiple sources, and so how does an IT organization manage that in a seamless way?

Gardner: It certainly seems inevitable that the choice of such a cloud continuum configuration model will vary and change. It could be one definition in one country or region, another definition in another country and region. It could even be contextual, such as by the type of end user who's banging on the app. As the Internet of Things (IoT) kicks in, we might be thinking about not just individuals, but machine-to-machine (M2M), app-to-app types of interactions.

So quite a bit of complexity, but dealt with in such a way that the payoff could be monumental. If you do hybrid cloud and hybrid IT well, what could that mean for your business in three to five years, Ro?

Nimble, quick and cost-efficient

Antao: Clearly there is the agility aspect, of being able to seamlessly leverage these different clouds to allow IT organizations to be much more nimble in how they respond to the business.

From a cost standpoint, and this is actually a great example we had for a large-scale migration that we are currently doing to the public cloud. What the IT organization found was they consumed close to 70 percent of their migration budget for only 30 percent of the progress that they made.

And a larger part of that was because the minute you have your workloads sitting on a public cloud -- whether it is a development workload or you are still working your way through it, but technically it’s not yet providing value -- the clock is ticking. Being able to allow for a hybrid environment, where you a do a lot of that development, get it ready -- almost production-ready -- and then when the time is right to drive value from that application -- that’s when you move to a public cloud. Those are huge cost savings right there.

Clients that have managed to balance those two paradigms are the ones who are also seeing a lot of economic efficiencies.

Won: The most important thing that people see value in is that agility. The ability to respond much faster to competitive actions or to new changes in the market, the ability to bring applications out faster, to be able to update applications in months -- or sometimes even weeks -- rather than the two years that it used to take.

It's that agility to allow people to move faster and to shift their capabilities so much quicker than they have ever been able to do – that is the top reason why we're seeing people moving to this hybrid model. The cost factor is also really critical as they look at whether they are doing CAPEX or OPEX and private cloud or public cloud.

One of the things that we have been doing at HPE through our Flexible Capacity program is that we enable our customers who were getting hardware to run these private clouds to actually pay for it on a pay-as-you-go basis. This allows them to better align their usage -- the cost to their usage. So taking that whole concept of pay-as-you-go that we see in the public cloud and bringing that into a private cloud environment.

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

for Microsoft Azure Stack

Antao: That’s a great point. From a cost standpoint, there is an efficiency discussion. But we are also seeing in today's world that we are depending on edge computing a lot more. I was talking to the CIO of a large park the other day, and his comment to me was, yes, they would love to use the public cloud but they cannot afford for any kind of latency or disruption of services because that means he’s got thousands of visitors and guests in his park, because of the amount of dependency on technology he can afford that kind of latency.

And so part of it is also the revenue impact discussion, and using public cloud in a way that allows you to manage some of those risks in terms of that analytical power and that computing power you need closer to the edge -- closer to your internal systems.

Gardner: Microsoft Azure Stack is reinforcing the power and capability of hybrid cloud models, but Azure Stack is not going to be the same for each individual enterprise. How they differentiate, how they use and take advantage of a hybrid continuum will give them competitive advantages and give them a one-up in terms of skills.

It seems to me that the continuum of Azure Stack, of a hybrid cloud, is super-important. But how your organization specifically takes advantage of that is going to be the key differentiator. And that's where an ecosystem solutions approach can be a huge benefit.

Let's look at what comes next. What might we be talking about a year from now when we think about Microsoft Azure Stack in the market and the impact of hybrid cloud on businesses, Ken?

Look at clouds from both sides now

Won: You will see organizations shifting from a world of using multiple clouds and having different applications or services on clouds to having an environment where services are based on multiple clouds. With the new cloud-native applications you'll be running different aspects of those services in different locations based on what are the requirements of that particular microservice

So a service may be partially running in Azure, part of it may be running in Azure Stack. You will certainly see that as a kind of break in the boundary of private cloud versus public cloud, and so think of it as a continuum, if you will, of different environments able to support whatever applications they need.

Gardner: Ro, as people get more into the weeds with hybrid cloud, maybe using Azure Stack, how will the market adjust?

Antao: I completely agree with Ken in terms of how organizations are going to evolve their architecture. At PwC we have this term called the Configurable Enterprise, which essentially focuses on how the IT organization consumes services from all of these different sources to be able to ultimately solve business problems.

To that point, where we see the market trends is in the hybrid IT space, the adoption of that continuum. One of the big pressures IT organizations face is how they are going to evolve their operating model to be successful in this new world. CIOs, especially the forward-thinking ones, are starting to ask that question. We are going to see in the next 12 months a lot more pressure in that space.

Gardner: These are, after all, still early days of hybrid cloud and hybrid IT. Before we sign off, how should organizations that might not yet be deep into this prepare themselves? Are there some operations, culture, and skills? How might you want to be in a good position to take advantage of this when you do take the plunge?

Plan to succeed with IT on board

Won: One of the things we recommend is a workshop where we sit down with the customer and think through their company strategy. What is their IT strategy? How does that relate or map to the infrastructure that they need in order to be successful?

This makes the connection between the value they want to offer as a company, as a business, to the infrastructure. It puts a plan in place so that they can see that direct linkage. That workshop is one of the things that we help a lot of customers with.

We also have innovation centers that we've built with Microsoft where customers can come in and experience Azure Stack firsthand. They can see the latest versions of Azure Stack, they can see the hardware, and they can meet with experts. We bring in partners such as PwC to have a conversation in these innovation centers with experts.

Gardner: Ro, how to get ready when you want to take the plunge and make the best and most of it?

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

for Microsoft Azure Stack

Antao: We are at a stage right now where these transformations can no longer be done to the IT organization; the IT organization has to come along on this journey. What we have seen is, especially in the early stages, the running of pilot projects, of being able to involve the developers, the infrastructure architects, and the operations folks in pilot workloads, and learn how to manage it going forward in this new model.

You want to create that from a top-down perspective, being able to tie in to where this adds the most value to the business. From a grassroots effort, you need to also create champions within the trenches that are going to be able to manage this new environment. Combining those two efforts has been very successful for organizations as they embark on this journey.

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

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Transform Core Banking: Migrate from IBM Power to HPE Integrity Superdome X

About the Author Kate_O_Neill As director of marketing for Mission Critical Solutions, Kate O’Neill leads the strategic marketing plan development and execution to drive business and revenue growth in the mission-critical segment in collaboration with the server, storage, networking and services teams.

About the Author

Kate_O_Neill

As director of marketing for Mission Critical Solutions, Kate O’Neill leads the strategic marketing plan development and execution to drive business and revenue growth in the mission-critical segment in collaboration with the server, storage, networking and services teams.

Paving the way for the next decade of growth: Learn how Addiko Bank added capacity to handle future expansion while reducing costs by 78% and boosting performance by 2.5X by switching from IBM Power to HPE Superdome X.

Addiko Bank, formerly Hypo Group Alpe Adria AG (HGAA), runs a network of six banks across southeastern Europe. With approximately 250 branches Addiko Bank today serves more than 1.2 million customers.

I want to share Addiko Bank’s transformation story with you. The bank came to HPE with a clearly defined objective: Reduce the cost of running mission-critical core banking services while improving application performance and enabling greater flexibility to grow the business

To meet this goal, Addiko Bank worked with HPE to transform to a hybrid infrastructure by migrating from IBM Power Systems to HPE Integrity Superdome X Servers and HPE 3PAR StoreServ Storage running a virtualized Linux open source operating environment.

Watch this video for more insight on the strategy and solution at work:

 “To run a mission-critical environment like core banking, you need enterprise-class technology that delivers the highest levels of performance and classic RAS—reliability, availability, and serviceability. We saw all of this in Superdome X. It has the robust capabilities we were used to in a UNIX environment but implemented on an open platform.”

—Holger Salzer, Account Delivery Executive with HPE and former CEO of ZIS

Download the case study here.

Advanced IoT systems provide analysis catalyst for the petrochemical refinery of the future

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology trends interview explores how IT combines with IoT to help create the refinery of the future

We’ll now learn how a leading-edge petrochemical company in Texas is rethinking data gathering and analysis to foster safer environments and greater overall efficiency.

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

To help us define the best of the refinery of the future vision is Doug Smith, CEO of Texmark Chemicals in Galena Park, Texas, and JR Fuller, Worldwide Business Development Manager for Edgeline IoT at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What are the top trends driving this need for a new refinery of the future? Doug, why aren’t the refinery practices of the past good enough?

Smith: First of all, I want to talk about people. People are the catalysts who make this refinery of the future possible. At Texmark Chemicals, we spent the last 20 years making capital investments in our infrastructure, in our physical plant, and in the last four years we have put together a roadmap for our IT needs.

Through our introduction to HPE, we have entered into a partnership that is not just a client-customer relationship. It’s more than that, and it allows us to work together to discover IoT solutions that we can bring to bear on our IT challenges at Texmark. So, we are on the voyage of discovery together -- and we are sailing out to sea. It’s going great.

Gardner: JR, it’s always impressive when a new technology trend aids and abets a traditional business, and then that business can show through innovation what should then come next in the technology. How is that back and forth working? Where should we expect IoT to go in terms of business benefits in the not-to-distant future?

Fuller

Fuller

Fuller: One of powerful things about the partnership and relationship we have is that we each respect and understand each other's “swim lanes.” I’m not trying to be a chemical company. I’m trying to understand what they do and how I can help them.

And they’re not trying to become an IT or IoT company. Their job is to make chemicals; our job is to figure out the IT. We’re seeing in Texmark the transformation from an Old World economy-type business to a New World economy-type business.

This is huge, this is transformational. As Doug said, they’ve made huge investments in their physical assets and what we call Operational Technology (OT). They have done that for the past 20 years. The people they have at Texmark who are using these assets are phenomenal. They possess decades of experience.

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Yet IoT is really new for them. How to leverage that? They have said, “You know what? We squeezed as much as we can out of OT technology, out of our people, and our processes. Now, let’s see what else is out there.”

And through introductions to us and our ecosystem partners, we’ve been able to show them how we can help squeeze even more out of those OT assets using this new technology. So, it’s really exciting.

Gardner: Doug, let’s level-set this a little bit for our audience. They might not all be familiar with the refinery business, or even the petrochemical industry. You’re in the process of processing. You’re making one material into another and you’re doing that in bulk, and you need to do it on a just-in-time basis, given the demands of supply chains these days.

You need to make your business processes and your IT network mesh, to reach every corner. How does a wireless network become an enabler for your requirements?

The heart of IT 

Smith: In a large plant facility, we have different pieces of equipment. One piece of equipment is a pump -- the analogy would be the heart of the process facility of the plant.

Smith

Smith

So your question regarding the wireless network, if we can sensor a pump and tie it into a mesh network, there are incredible cost savings for us. The physical wiring of a pump runs anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per pump. So, we see a savings in that.

Being able to have the information wirelessly right away -- that gives us knowledge immediately that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We have workers and millwrights at the plant that physically go out and inspect every single pump in our plant, and we have 133 pumps. If we can utilize our sensors through the wireless network, our millwrights can concentrate on the pumps that they know are having problems.

Gardner: You’re also able to track those individuals, those workers, so if there’s a need to communicate, to locate, to make sure that they hearing the policy, that’s another big part of IoT and people coming together.

Safety is good business

Smith: The tracking of workers is more of a safety issue -- and safety is critical, absolutely critical in a petrochemical facility. We must account for all our people and know where they are in the event of any type of emergency situation.

Gardner: We have the sensors, we can link things up, we can begin to analyze devices and bring that data analytics to the edge, perhaps within a mini data center facility, something that’s ruggedized and tough and able to handle a plant environment.

Given this scenario, JR, what sorts of efficiencies are organizations like Texmark seeing? I know in some businesses, they talk about double digit increases, but in a mature industry, how does this all translate into dollars?

Fuller: We talk about the power of one percent. A one percent improvement in one of the major companies is multi-billions of dollars saved. A one percent change is huge, and, yes, at Texmark we’re able to see some larger percentage-wise efficiency, because they’re actually very nimble.

It’s hard to turn a big titanic ship, but the smaller boat is actually much better at it. We’re able to do things at Texmark that we are not able to do at other places, but we’re then able to create that blueprint of how they do it. 

You’re absolutely right, doing edge computing, with our HPE Edgeline products, and gathering the micro-data from the extra compute power we have installed, provides a lot of opportunities for us to go into the predictive part of this. It’s really where you see the new efficiencies.

Recently I was with the engineers out there, and we’re walking through the facility, and they’re showing us all the equipment that we’re looking at sensoring up, and adding all these analytics. I noticed something on one of the pumps. I’ve been around pumps, I know pumps very well.

I saw this thing, and I said, “What is that?”

“So that’s a filter,” they said.

I said, “What happens if the filter gets clogged?”

“It shuts down the whole pump,” they said.

“What happens if you lose this pump?” I asked.

“We lose the whole chemical process,” they explained.

“Okay, are there sensors on this filter?”

“No, there are only sensors on the pump,” they said.

There weren’t any sensors on the filter. Now, that’s just something that we haven’t thought of, right? But again, I’m not a chemical guy. So I can ask questions that maybe they didn’t ask before.

So I said, “How do you solve this problem today?”

“Well, we have a scheduled maintenance plan,” they said.

They don’t have a problem, but based on the scheduled maintenance plan that filter gets changed whether it needs to or not. It just gets changed on a regular basis. Using IoT technology, we can tell them exactly when to change that filter. Therefore IoT saves on the cost of the filter and the cost of the manpower -- and those types of potential efficiencies and savings are just one small example of the things that we’re trying to accomplish.

Continuous functionality

Smith: It points to the uniqueness of the people-level relationship between the HPE team, our partners, and the Texmark team. We are able to have these conversations to identify things that we haven’t even thought of before. I could give you 25 examples of things just like this, where we say, “Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about that.” And yet it makes people safer and it all becomes more efficient.

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Gardner: You don’t know until you have that network in place and the data analytics to utilize what the potential use-cases can be. The name of the game is utilization efficiency, but also continuous operations.

How do you increase your likelihood or reduce the risk of disruption and enhance your continuous operations using these analytics?

Smith: To answer, I’m going to use the example of toll processing. Toll processing is when we would have a customer come to us and ask us to run a process on the equipment that we have at Texmark.

Normally, they would give us a recipe, and we would process a material. We take samples throughout the process, the production, and deliver a finished product to them. With this new level of analytics, with the sensoring of all these components in the refinery of the future vision, we can provide a value-add to the customers by giving them more data than they could ever want. We can document and verify the manufacture and production of the particular chemical that we’re toll processing for them.

Fuller: To add to that, as part of the process, sometimes you may have to do multiple runs when you're tolling, because of your feed stock and the way it works.

By usingadvanced analytics, and some of the predictive benefits of having all of that data available, we're looking to gain efficiencies to cut down the number of additional runs needed. If you take a process that would have taken three runs and we can knock that down to two runs -- that's a 30 percent decrease in total cost and expense. It also allows them produce more products, and to get it out to people a lot faster

Smith: Exactly. Exactly!

Gardner: Of course, the more insight that you can obtain from a pump, and the more resulting data analysis, that gives you insight into the larger processes. You can extend that data and information back into your supply chain. So there's no guesswork. There's no gap. You have complete visibility -- and that's a big plus when it comes to reducing risk in any large, complex, multi-supplier undertaking.

Beyond data gathering, data sharing

Smith: It goes back to relationships at Texmark. We have relationships with our neighbors that are unique in the industry, and so we would be able to share the data that we have.

Fuller: With suppliers.

Smith: Exactly, with suppliers and vendors. It's transformational.

Gardner: So you're extending a common standard industry-accepted platform approach locally into an extended process benefit. And you can share that because you are using common, IT-industry-wide infrastructurefrom HPE.

Fuller: And that's very important. We have a three-phase project, and we've just finished the first two phases. Phase 1 was to put ubiquitous WiFi infrastructure in there, with the location-based services, and all of the things to enable that. The second phase was to upgrade the compute infrastructure with our Edgeline compute and put in our HPE Micro Datacenter in there. So now they have some very robust compute.

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With that infrastructure in place, it now allows us to do that third phase, where we're bringing in additional IoT projects. We will create a data infrastructure with data storage, and application programming interfaces (APIs), and things like that. That will allow us to bring in a specialty video analytic capability that will overlay on top of the physical and logical infrastructure. And it makes it so much easier to integrate all that.

Gardner: You get a chance to customize the apps much better when you have a standard IT architecture underneath that, right?

Trailblazing standards for a new workforce

Smith: Well, exactly. What are you saying, Dana is – and it gives me chills when I start thinking about what we're doing at Texmark within our industry – is the setting of standards, blazing a new trail. When we talk to our customers and our suppliers and we tell them about this refinery of the future project that we're initiating, all other business goes out the window. They want to know more about what we're doing with the IoT -- and that's incredibly encouraging.

Gardner: I imagine that there are competitive advantages when you can get out in front and you're blazing that trail. If you have the experience, the skills of understanding how to leverage an IoT environment, and an edge computing capability, then you're going to continue to be a step ahead of the competition on many levels: efficiency, safety, ability to customize, and supply chain visibility.

Smith: It surely allows our Texmark team to do their jobs better. I use the example of the millwrights going out and inspecting pumps, and they do that everyday. They do it very well. If we can give them the tools, where they can focus on what they do best over a lifetime of working with pumps, and only work on the pumps that they need to, that's a great example.

I am extremely excited about the opportunities at the refinery of the future to bring new workers into the petrochemical industry. We have a large number of people within our industry who are retiring; they’re taking intellectual capital with them. So to be able to show young people that we are using advanced technology in new and exciting ways is a real draw and it would bring more young people into our industry.

Gardner: By empowering that facilities edge and standardizing IT around it, that also gives us an opportunity to think about the other part of this spectrum -- and that's the cloud. There are cloud services and larger data sets that could be brought to bear.

How does the linking of the edge to the cloud have a benefit?

Cloud watching

Fuller: Texmark Chemicals has one location, and they service the world from that location as a global leader in dicyclopentadiene (DCPD) production. So the cloud doesn't have the same impact as it would for maybe one of the other big oil or big petrochemical companies. But there are ways that we're going to use the cloud at Texmark and rally around it for safety and security.

Utilizing our location-based services, and our compute, if there is an emergency -- whether it's at Texmark or a neighbor -- using cloud-based information like weather, humidity, and wind direction -- and all of these other things that are constantly changing -- we can provide better directed responses. That's one way we would be using cloud at Texmark.

When we start talking about the larger industry -- and connecting multiple refineries together or upstream, downstream and midstream kinds of assets together with a petrochemical company -- cloud becomes critical. And you have to have hybrid infrastructure support.

You don't want to send all your video to the cloud to get analyzed. You want to do that at the edge. You don't want to send all of your vibration data to the cloud, you want to do that at the edge. But, yes, you do want to know when a pump fails, or when something happens so you can educate and train and learn and share that information and institutional knowledge throughout the rest of the organization.

Gardner: Before we sign off, let’s take a quick look into the crystal ball. Refinery of the future, five years from now, Doug, where do you see this going?

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Smith: The crystal ball is often kind of foggy, but it’s fun to look into it. I had mentioned earlier opportunities for education of a new workforce. Certainly, I am focused on the solutions that IoT brings to efficiencies, safety, and profitability of Texmark as a company. But I am definitely interested in giving people opportunities to find a job to work in a good industry that can be a career.

Gardner: JR, I know HPE has a lot going on with edge computing, making these data centers more efficient, more capable, and more rugged. Where do you see the potential here for IoT capability in refineries of the future?

Future forecast: safe, efficient edge

Fuller: You're going to see the pace pick up. I have to give kudos to Doug. He is a visionary. Whether he admits that or not, he is actually showing an industry that has been around for many years how to do this and be successful at it. So that's incredible. In that crystal ball look, that five-year look, he's going to be recognized as someone who helped really transform this industry from old to new economy.

As far as edge-computing goes, what we're seeing with our converged Edgeline systems, which are our first generation, and we've created this market space for converged edge systems with the hardening of it. Now, we’re working on generation 2. We're going to get faster, smaller, cheaper, and become more ubiquitous. I see our IoT infrastructure as having a dramatic impact on what we can actually accomplish and the workforce in five years. It will be more virtual and augmented and have all of these capabilities. It’s going to be a lot safer for people, and it’s going to be a lot more efficient.

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

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Get ready for the post-cloud world

Just when cloud computing seems inevitable as the dominant force in IT, it’s time to move on because we’re not quite at the end-state of digital transformation. Far from it.

Now's the time to prepare for the post-cloud world.

It’s not that cloud computing is going away. It’s that we need to be ready for making the best of IT productivity once cloud in its many forms become so pervasive as to be mundane, the place where all great IT innovations must go.

Read the rest ...

 

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India Smart Cities Mission shows IoT potential for improving quality of life at vast scale

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer Internet-of-Things (IoT) transformation discussion examines the potential impact and improvement of low-power edge computing benefits on rapidly modernizing cities.

These so-called smart city initiatives are exploiting open, wide area networking (WAN) technologies to make urban life richer in services, safer, and far more responsive to residences’ needs. We will now learn how such pervasively connected and data-driven IoT architectures are helping cities in India vastly improve the quality of life there.

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

Here to share how communication service providers have become agents of digital urban transformation are VS Shridhar, Senior Vice President and Head of the Internet-of-Things Business Unit at Tata Communications in Chennai area, India, and Nigel Upton, General Manager of the Universal IoT Platform and Global Connectivity Platform and Communications Solutions Business at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us about India’s Smart Cities mission. What are you up to and how are these new technologies coming to bear on improving urban quality of life?

Shridhar: The government is clearly focusing on Smart Cities as part of their urbanization plan, as they believe Smart Cities will not only improve the quality of living, but also generate employment, and take the whole country forward in terms of technologically embracing and improving the quality of life.

So with that in mind, the Government of India has launched 100 Smart Cities initiatives. It’s quite interesting because each of the cities that aspire to belong had to make a plan and their own strategy around how they are going to evolve and how they are going to execute it, present it, and get selected. There was a proper selection process.

Many of the cities made it, and of course some of them didn’t make it. Interestingly, some of the cities that didn’t make it are developing their own plans.

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There is lot of excitement and curiosity as well as action in the Smart Cities project. Admittedly, it’s a slow process, it’s not something that you can do at the blink of the eye, and Rome wasn’t built overnight, but I definitely see a lot of progress.

Gardner: Nigel, it seems that the timing for this is auspicious, given that there are some foundational technologies that are now available at very low cost compared to the past, and that have much more of a pervasive opportunity to gather information and make a two-way street, if you will, between the edge and central administration. How is the technology evolution synching up with these Smart Cities initiatives in India?

Upton: I am not sure whether it’s timing or luck, or whatever it happens to be, but adoption of the digitization of city infrastructure and services is to some extent driven by economics. While I like to tease my colleagues in India about their sensitivity to price, the truth of the matter is that the economics of digitization -- and therefore IoT in smart cities -- needs to be at the right price, depending on where it is in the world, and India has some very specific price points to hit. That will drive the rate of adoption.

And so, we're very encouraged that innovation is continuing to drive price points down to the point that mass adoption can then be taken up, and the benefits realized to a much more broad spectrum of the population. Working with Tata Communications has really helped HPE understand this and continue to evolve as technology and be part of the partner ecosystem because it does take a village to raise an IoT smart city. You need a lot of partners to make this happen, and that combination of partnership, willingness to work together and driving the economic price points to the point of adoption has been absolutely critical in getting us to where we are today.

Balanced Bandwidth

Gardner: Shridhar, we have some very important optimization opportunities around things like street lighting, waste removal, public safety, water quality; of course, the pervasive need for traffic and parking, monitoring and improvement.

How do things like a low-power specification Internet and network gateways and low-power WANs (LPWANs) create a new foundation technically to improve these services? How do we connect the services and the technology for an improved outcome?

Shridhar: If you look at human interaction to the Internet, we have a lot of technology coming our way. We used to have 2G, that has moved to 3G and to 4G, and that is a lot of bandwidth coming our way. We would like to have a tremendous amount of access and bandwidth speeds and so on, right?

Shridhar

Shridhar

So the human interaction and experience is improving vastly, given the networks that are growing. On the machine-to-machine (M2M) side, it’s going to be different. They don’t need oodles of bandwidth. About 80 to 90 percent of all machine interactions are going to be very, very low bandwidth – and, of course, low power. I will come to the low power in a moment, but it’s going to be very low bandwidth requirement.

In order to switch off a streetlight, how much bandwidth do you actually require? Or, in order to sense temperature or air quality or water and water quality, how much bandwidth do you actually require?

When you ask these questions, you get an answer that the machines don’t require that much bandwidth. More importantly, when there are millions -- or possibly billions -- of devices to be deployed in the years to come, how are you going to service a piece of equipment that is telling a streetlight to switch on and switch off if the battery runs out?

Machines are different from humans in terms of interactions. When we deploy machines that require low bandwidth and low power consumption, a battery can enable such a machine to communicate for years.

Aside from heavy video streaming applications or constant security monitoring, where low-bandwidth, low-power technology doesn’t work, the majority of the cases are all about low bandwidth and low power. And these machines can communicate with the quality of service that is required.

When it communicates, the network has to be available. You then need to establish a network that is highly available, which consumes very little power and provides the right amount of bandwidth. So studies show that less than 50 kbps connectivity should suffice for the majority of these requirements.

Now the machine interaction also means that you collect all of them into a platform and basically act on them. It's not about just sensing it, it's measuring it, analyzing it, and acting on it.

Low-power to the people

So the whole stack consists not just of connectivity alone. It’s LPWAN technology that is emerging now and is becoming a de facto standard as more-and-more countries start embracing it.

At Tata Communications we have embraced the LPWAN technology from the LoRa Alliance, a consortium of more than 400 partners who have gotten together and are driving standards. We are creating this network over the next 18 to 24 months across India. We have made these networks available right now in four cities. By the end of the year, it will be many more cities -- almost 60 cities across India by March 2018.

Gardner: Nigel, how do you see the opportunity, the market, for a standard architecture around this sort of low-power, low-bandwidth network? This is a proof of concept in India, but what's the potential here for taking this even further? Is this something that has global potential?

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Upton: The global potential is undoubtedly there, and there is an additional element that we didn't talk about which is that not all devices require the same amount of bandwidth. So we have talked about video surveillance requiring higher bandwidth, we have talked about devices that have low-power bandwidth and will essentially be created once and forgotten when expected to last 5 or 10 years.

Upton

Upton

We also need to add in the aspect of security, and that really gave HPE and Tata the common ground of understanding that the world is made up of a variety of network requirements, some of which will be met by LPWAN, some of which will require more bandwidth, maybe as high as 5G.

The real advantage of being able to use a common architecture to be able to take the data from these devices is the idea of having things like a common management, common security, and a common data model so that you really have the power of being able to take information, take data from all of these different types of devices and pull it into a common platform that is based on a standard.

In our case, we selected the oneM2M standard, it’s the best standard available to be able to build that common data model and that's the reason why we deployed the oneM2M model within the universal IoT platform to get that consistency no matter what type of device over no matter what type of network.

Gardner: It certainly sounds like this is an unprecedented opportunity to gather insight and analysis into areas that you just really couldn't have measured before. So going back to the economics of this, Shridhar, have you had any opportunity through these pilot projects in such cities as Jamshedpur to demonstrate a return on investment, perhaps on street lighting, perhaps on quality of utilization and efficiency? Is there a strong financial incentive to do this once the initial hurdle of upfront costs is met?

Data-driven cost reduction lights up India

Unless the customer sees that there is a scope for either reducing the cost or increasing the customer experience, they are not going to buy these kinds of solutions.

Shridhar: Unless the customer sees that there is a scope for either reducing the cost or increasing the customer experience, they are not going to buy these kinds of solutions. So if you look at how things have been progressing, I will give you a few examples of how the costs have started constructing and playing out. One of course is to have devices, meeting at certain price point, we talked about how in India -- we talked that Nigel was remarking how constant still this Indian market is, but it’s important, once we delivered to a certain cost, we believe we can now deliver globally to scale. That’s very important, so if we build something in India it would deliver to the global market as well.

The streetlight example, let’s take that specifically and see what kind of benefits it would give. When a streetlight operates for about 12 hours a day, it costs about Rs.12, which is about $0.15, but when you start optimizing it and say, okay, this is a streetlight that is supported currently on halogen and you move it to LED, it brings a little bit of cost saving, in some cases significant as well. India is going through an LED revolution as you may have read in the newspapers, those streetlights are being converted, and that’s one distinct cost advantage.

Now they are looking and driving, let’s say, the usage and the electricity bills even lower by optimizing it. Let’s say you sync it with the astronomical clock, that 6:30 in the evening it comes up and let’s say 6:30 in the morning it shuts down linking to the astronomical clock because now you are connecting this controller to the Internet.

The second thing that you would do is during busy hours keep it at the brightest, let’s say between 7:00 and 10:00, you keep it at the brightest and after that you start minimizing it. You can control it down in 10 percent increments.

The point I am making is, you basically deliver intensity of light to the kind of requirement that you have. If it is busy, or if there is nobody on the street, or if there is a safety requirement -- a sensor will trigger up a series of lights, and so on.

So your ability to play around with just having streetlight being delivered to the requirement is so high that it brings down total cost. While I was telling you about $0.15 that you would spend per streetlight, that could be brought down to $0.05. So that’s the kind of advantage by better controlling the streetlights. The business case builds up, and a customer can save 60 to 70 percent just by doing this. Obviously, then the business case stands out.

The question that you are asking is an interesting one because each of the applications has its own way of returning the investment back, while the optimization of resources is being done. There is also a collateral positive benefit by saving the environment. So not only do I gain a business savings and business optimization, but I also pass on a general, bigger message of a green environment. Environment and safety are the two biggest benefits of implementing this and it would really appeal to our customers.

Gardner: It’s always great to put hard economic metrics on these things, but Shridhar just mentioned safety. Even when you can't measure in direct economics, it's invaluable when you can bring a higher degree of safety to an urban environment.

It opens up for more foot traffic, which can lead to greater economic development, which can then provide more tax revenue. It seems to me that there is a multiplier effect when you have this sort of intelligent urban landscape that creates a cascading set of benefits: the more data, the more efficiency; the more efficiency, the more economic development; the more revenue, the more data and so on. So tell us a little bit about this ongoing multiplier and virtuous adoption benefit when you go to intelligent urban environments?

Quality of life, under control

Upton: Yes, also it’s important to note that it differs almost by country to country and almost within region to region within countries. The interesting challenge with smart cities is that often you're dealing with elected officials rather than hard-nosed businessman who are only interested in the financial return. And it's because you're dealing with politicians and they are therefore representing the citizens in their area, either their city or their town or their region, their priorities are not always the same.

There is quite a variation of one of the particular challenges, particular social challenges as well as the particular quality of life challenges in each of the areas that they work in. So things like personal safety are a very big deal in some regions. I am currently in Tokyo and here there is much more concern around quality of life and mobility with a rapidly aging population and their challenges are somewhat different.

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But in India, the set of opportunities and challenges that are set out, they are in that combination of economic as well as social, and if you solve them and you essentially give citizens more peace of mind, more ability to be able to move freely, to be able to take part in the economic interaction within that area, then undoubtedly that leads to greater growth, but it is worth bearing in mind that it does vary almost city by city and region by region.

Gardner: Shridhar, do you have any other input into a cascading ongoing set of benefits when you get more data, more network opportunity. I guess I am trying to understand for a longer-term objective that being intelligent and data-driven has an ongoing set of benefits, what might those be? How can this be a long-term data and analytics treasure trove when you think about it in terms of how to provide better urban experiences?

Home/work help

Shridhar: From our perspective, when we looked at the customer benefits there is a huge amount of focus around the smart cities and how smart cities are benefiting from a network. If you look at the enterprise customers, they are also looking at safety, which is an overlapping application that a smart city would have.

So the enterprise wants to provide safety to its workers, for example, in mines or in difficult terrains, environments where they are focusing on helping them. Or women’s safety, which is as you know in India is a big thing as well -- how do you provide a device which is not very obvious and it gives the women all the safety that is there.

So all this in some form is providing data. One of the things that comes to my mind when you ask about how data-driven resources can be and what kind of quality it would give is if you action your mind to some of the customer services devices, there could be applications or let’s say a housewife could have a multiple button kind of a device where she can order a service.

Depending on the service she presses and an aggregate of households across India, you would know the trends and direction of a certain service, and mind you, it could be as simple as a three-button device which says Service A, Service B, Service C, and it could be a consumer service that gets extended to a particular household that we sell it as a service.

So you could get lots of trends and patterns that are emerging from that, and we believe that the customer experience is going to change, because no longer is a customer going to retain in his mind what kind of phone numbers or your, let's say, apps and all to order, you give them the convenience of just a button-press service. That immediately comes to my mind.

Feedback fosters change

The second one is in terms of feedback. You use the same three-button service to say, how well have you used utility -- or rather how -- what kind of quality of service that you rate multiple utilities that you are using, and there is toilet revolution in India. For example, you put these buttons out there, they will tell you at any given point of time what’s the user satisfaction and so on.

So these are all data that is getting gathered and I believe that while it is early days for us to go on and put out analytics and give you distinct kind of benefits that are there, but some of the things that customers are already looking at is which geographies, which segment, who are my biggest -- profile of the customers using this and so on. That kind of information is going to come out very, very distinctly.

The Smart Cities is all about experience. The enterprises are now looking at the data that is coming out and seeing how they can use it to better segment, and provide better customer experience which would obviously mean both adding to their top line as well as helping them manage their bottom line. So it's beyond safety, it's getting into the customer experience – the realm of managing customer experience.

Gardner: From a go-to-market perspective, or a go-to-city’s perspective, these are very complex undertakings, lots of moving parts, lots of different technologies and standards. How are Tata and HPE are coming together -- along with other service providers, Pointnext for example? How do you put this into a package that can then actually be managed and put in place? How do we make this appealing not only in terms of its potential but being actionable as well when it comes to different cities and regions?

Upton: The concept of Smart Cities has been around for a while and various governments around the world have pumped money into their cities over an extended period of time.

As usual, these things always take more time than you think, and I do not believe today that we have a technology challenge on our hands. We have much more of a business model challenge. Being able to deploy technology to be able to bring benefits to citizens, I think that is finally getting to the point where it is much better understood where innovation of the device level, whether it's streetlights, whether it's the ability to measure water quality, sound quality, humidity, all of these metrics that we have available to us now. There has been very rapid innovation at that device level and at the economics of how to produce them, at a price that will enable widespread deployment.

All that has been happening rapidly over the last few years getting us to the point where we now have the infrastructure in place, we have the price points in place, and we have IoT becoming mainstream enough that it is entering into the manufacturing process of all sorts of different devices, as I said, ranging from streetlights to personal security devices through to track and trace devices that are built into the manufacturing process of goods.

That is now reaching mainstream and we are now able to take advantage of this massive data that’s now being produced to be able to produce even more efficient and smarter cities, and make them safer places for our citizens.

Gardner: Last word to you, Shridhar. If people wanted to learn more about the pilot proof of concept (PoC) that you are doing there at Jamshedpur and other cities, through the Smart Cities Mission, where might they go, are there any resources, how would you provide more information to those interested in pursuing more of these technologies?

Pilot projects take flight

Shridhar: I would be very happy to help them look at the PoCs that we are doing. I would classify the PoCs that we are doing is as far as safety is concerned, we talked of energy management in one big bucket that is there, then the customer service I spoke about, the fourth one I would say is more on the utility side. Gas and water are two big applications where customers are looking at these PoCs very seriously.

And there is very one interesting application in that one customer wanted for pest control, where he wanted his mouse traps to have sensors so that they will at any point of time know if there is a rat trap at all, which I thought was a very interesting thing.

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There are multiple streams that we have, we have done multiple PoCs, we will be very happy as Tata Communications team [to provide more information], and the HPE folks are in touch with us.

You could write to us, to me in particular for some period of time. We are also putting information on our website. We have marketing collateral, which describes this. We will do some of the joint workshops with HPE as well.

So there are multiple ways to reach us, and one of the best ways obviously is through our website. We are always there to provide more important help, and we believe that we can’t do it all alone; it’s about the ecosystem getting to know and getting to work on it.

While we have partners like HPE on the platform level, we also have partners such as Semtech, who established Center of Excellence in Mumbai along with us. So the access to the ecosystem from HPE side as well as our other partners is available, and we are happy to work and co-create the solutions going forward.

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