Mark Nicholas | Bell Integration | IP Expo

Avatar Ben Fower | 29/10/2018

Mark Nicholas joined us at IP Expo in London to talk about Bell Integration and how his company is helping people make risk free migrations to the cloud. Hosted by Bill Mew and David Terrar.

Bill: Without further Ado. We’re going to welcome our next guest Mark Nicholas who is the sales director at Bell Integration.

Mark: Hi good to meet you.

Bill: Thanks for coming along.

Mark: My pleasure.

Bill: We’re all here in London for a great spread of great technologies and more than possibly most people can take it. Please share with us what you guys are doing here this weekend, any new big announcement to you’re making at the show?

Mark: So, Bell Integrations is a systems integrator. So, we don’t make anything as such, we implement various technologies to help our customers take risk and cost out of their environments. So, we’re really here to find out what the next best disruptive partner is that we can work with. So I’ve been talking to a number of ex-colleagues and people that we have worked with in the past just to understand what additional tools can we add to our armament to make sure that we maximize the value of infrastructure for our customers. And also, what can we do to help our customers accelerate the move to the cloud and to take cost out of their environments once they’re in the cloud

David: Tell me a bit more about Bell Integration. How big is the company? Is it International?

Mark: So, Bell was born in the sort of mid to late 90s down in Portsmouth. It was born out of Bell Microsystems which was a little PC reseller. It’s really grown and evolved since then, partly through natural evolution, but also through acquisitions, so we’ve acquired Glasshouse Technologies, Portals Solutions and last year Hamilton Rentals. So now we’re a 450 strong business. We’ve got a base here in the UK, but also out in Singapore and in Hyderabad in India, and we’ve got a number of capabilities really both in terms of being able to transact as we would in the olden days for selling technology, but now we can rent technology, we can do transformation exercises for a customer’s we run managed service for and we also run a recycling business as well. So effectively we can do cradle to grave for all of our customers IT needs.

Bill: That’s a very interesting sprite of different services is there any particular Niche or industry or sector that you’re focused on?

Mark: We tend to work across the board. So we’re particularly strong in financial services. We’ve got a lot of financial services customers. I would say half of our customers are actually our partners. So, we’ve got a large selection of sell-through partners. So, these are larger system integrators that use us to add to their capability and services.

David: What are they getting from you that they can’t do themselves?

Mark: So, one good example is our V Claris solution. So, we’ve got a great cloud migration tool which enables us to first and foremost analyze the custom environments by application and service. That then gives either the customer or in some cases the systems integrator the knowledge that they need to do a non-destructive migration of those services to cloud and there’s a decisioning engine in there that also enables them to understand how much will it cost? If you were to put it into one of the public cloud provider solutions versus what it’s costing today putting it into a hybrid or private Cloud

David: So, you help them with that business case to case?

Mark: Absolutely. It’s a decisioning tool to help them decide where’s the best place to put it now and later on? It’s also a migration assistance tool to enable them to do a risk-free migration and we perform those migrations on a fixed price, fixed outcome basis. So, we also take the cost out for our customer and the risk out for the customer or the integration partner that we work through.

Bill: And is that the whole spectrum of cloud migration? One end from the simple lift and shift for virtualised applications right through to what can be quite complex where you’re engineering going to cloud native environment?

Mark: Absolutely. So, to be fair it’s probably less useful for the straightforward shifting of a few environments because that’s pretty easy and straightforward, but most of our customers have got incredibly complex geographically spread applications many of which are quite Legacy, now they still want the benefits of moving those to a cloud environment and that’s what V Claris enables them to do. It’s better suited at looking at those incredibly complex environments, mapping out visually the sort of tentacles as to where those applications actually reside so that when you do get to the actual migration, the migration will be successful because we know of all the interdependencies as a part of that migration.

David: And you mentioned digital transformation. Is that in the context of customers that have got some new projects to test out which environment is best for them.

Mark: Yeah. So, it’s to help our customers move the Legacy environment. We can also help them for new applications that need to move to that environment. We’ve also got the services to enable our customers to make sure they’re getting the best value once it’s moved to that cloud environment as well. So, we work with a number of partners to, for example, make sure we’re capitalising on spot instances as opposed to putting it on other reserved instances with on-demand instances.

Bill: When you are talking about best environments are you advocates of multi-cloud approach? Do you see the strengths of a hybrid combination where not everything is in one place? Not everybody is in the public cloud. Where do you see most of the demand? What are your sort of rough anticipations of where things are going in that sort of balance?

Mark: It’s a good question. So I would say, first of all, one of the great things about working for Bell is we’re vendor-independent. So we have no axe to grind in terms of which cloud to go to and the V Claris is really good at suggesting the best environment not just based on cost but also other rules, whether it be the data governance rules, whether it be latency rules all sorts of different things come into play for us to recommend which environments those applications and services will be successful in, which may or may not be public cloud. It could well be a hybrid solution and for many of our financial services customers in particular, we’re finding that more of a hybrid solution is more applicable not necessarily because of security reasons, but actually purely around the management of those environments and the ease of being able to migrate in and out of those cloud environments as well, which is also a bit of an issue. We’re finding that customers are moving stuff to public cloud and then realizing that as scale goes up actually so does cost and we’re starting to see that more of a hybrid model or indeed a private but cloud run consumption-based service within their own data centre tends to be the best mix. But at the end of the day it’s all down to what does the application need? What do the services need? What are the needs of the users? and we will find the best solution to fit all of that.

Bill: How are you able to use the tool to model some of the unexpected aspects of cloud that a lot of people don’t anticipate necessarily? things like latency, which is particularly important for lines and services. Then there’s ingress and egress which can ramp up the charges and there’s a lot of what people would describe as hidden costs and hidden issues. Are you able to model all of that accurately?

Mark: We are, but the key thing is that it’s not simple at all. So, to suggest that the V Claris is simply a piece of software would be inaccurate. It’s a combination of tool, our people who are highly trained in using the tool and the process it’s wrapped around it. So, I think anybody is suggesting that a tool can do this entire job on its own is probably somewhere in invention land. So we find that really, it’s all down to having the experience of people. Yes, using the tool to ingest lots of information around what our customers already have and using automated tools to go and do discovery, but actually it also requires sitting down and talking to application owners. To fully understand the needs of the business to then come to the right decision around where it should go where it should move and also, we can use the tool on a regular basis to make sure is it still sat in the right place or is there somewhere better for that application to be sat.

Bill: Well it sounds like a great solution with a great team. What are some of the biggest challenges that you’re facing? Is it working with a more and more complex selection of different technologies? Is it actually having the skills in order to recruit people to actually provide this sort of expertise that you’re offering?

Mark: I think we are finding that all of the easy stuff has been moved. So I think that the key thing is that I think things are getting more complex mainly because the low-hanging fruits disappeared. Customers have already moved that, and you tend to find now that everybody’s got a cloud first policy. All the new stuff is easy to move on to the cloud. In fact, most of it sat upon one anyway, so really now we’re just going after the difficult stuff. It is looking at those applications. The key thing about being V Claris is it’s a really good tool for telling us what we don’t know. It’s great at saying I can see some activity over here, I can see that it talks to this other service on a Thursday morning, but I don’t know what it is. And that’s where the full process and people come in for us to go and work out. Well, what is that other tool? What’s it talking to on a Thursday morning? Do we need to worry about that when we get to the migration or not? And in some cases, we don’t in other cases we’ve actually made a discovery for our customers where they didn’t realise that their applications were making those calls out in various other ways and other days of the week and actually from a security point of view that enable them to go fix it.

David: How important is it that you’ve got these other parts of the business from the acquisitions that you’ve made? Where you’re actually involved in maybe renting hardware devices to the customer and then recycling them.

Mark: It’s really important because every customer is going to have number requirements. If they’re doing a cloud migration or any kind of migration, they may need some swing kit in order to do that. We can provide that on a short-term basis. Inevitably if you’re moving stuff to the cloud that will free up a whole load of assets and you want to maximize the return investment on those assets and sell them off and we can do that as well. We can clear off all the data in a GDPR compliant way as well and give the customer certification back to prove that we’ve done that. So, I think all of those things plus our vendor independence ability to supply the hardware, the consultancy and manage service after it. It just means that we can provide that holistic service and without making the acquisitions that we’ve made we wouldn’t be able to provide that holistic service.

Davis: Okay so it’s the breadth and completeness of that service.

Bill: Well it sounds like you’ve got a great set of tools a great set of skills that a great team are going to be able to implement. I don’t underestimate the challenge of taking some of those more complex migrations to the cloud because as you said someone has already taken most of the low hanging fruit, that’s all gone. Good luck. We hope to see you back here next year to hear more about it and see how you’ve done, and we wish you every luck.

Mark: Thank you.

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