Paul Bryce | Node4 | IP Expo

Avatar Ben Fower | 07/11/2018

Paul Bryce the CCO from Node4 joined us at IP Expo to talk about cloud environments and infrastructure plus customer connectivity. Hosted by Bill Mew and Jillian Kowalchuk

Bill: Thank you very much for joining us, for the viewers out there please introduce yourself. Give us a little bit of detail of what you do, what you are known for and what you guys are getting up to at the moment.

Paul: Well, my name as you rightly said is Paul Bryce and I am the chief commercial officer there. I have actually been with the business since its inception 14 years ago when there was just three of us and we have been through quite a journey which we can dig into maybe a little bit, but the business, essentially we are a managed service provider and it is really all about bringing technology. The end-to-end technology together to deliver a range of service solutions for real customer benefits. We own our own data centres and from those data centres we are providing provocation,  we are providing cloud infrastructure, we are providing access and to some of the public cloud environments as well. As well as other hosted services like collaboration, ISP through one provider the connectivity to bring it all together. So it is a broad portfolio but it has sort of developed and matured over the years and we are going to really address our customers’ requirements and support them through their journeys as well. So that is us in a nutshell and today I just popped along to the IP Expo to have a look at who is here and what everyone is saying and I see some good stories of other businesses that are going through really good growth and hopefully meet some of the people that this stuff benefits.

Bill: Well, thank you for coming along. Obviously, you guys are known to have a very broad portfolio of different cloud or platforms. People are talking about multi-cloud. I hear you are working with a number of the other major cloud vendors out there. Are you seeing a big demand for cloud portability that protection from locking? What are the sort of discussions you are having? and I think from our perspective it is more than one size doesn’t fit all?

Paul: I think there are lots of different options available and our experiences, particularly with businesses that are not a new startup and been around a few years, have all got this buzzword of technical debt and have another problem. I have got old stuff that is running applications for the business we built on. There is a lot of concern that we all recognize that they need to evolve and adapt and embrace new technologies that can make them more efficient. So, we kind of take that approach that one size does not fit all, also support a true sort of hybrid cloud type model so that we can be built up our communication and our data centre. So, they might have some old legacy applications and still need dedicated hardware to run on, that would sit there and then they might have some other applications that needs an environment that we could go to private cloud for them manage that or some applications that might sit on our shared platform weekly, or equally they might need access to aid or some of the public hyperscalar and again some applications will fit nicely in that. So it is kind of bringing together all the different options but really understanding the customer and where they are at in their journey. Our experience tells us that it is very rare that someone can jump from one place where they’ve got their own sort of in-house technology environments right through to Outsourcing the entire thing onto hyperscalar. So that could be the angle that they need to get to but it’s very difficult sometimes for people to take that massive transition step. So yes, we are working with lots of different cloud providers, but it is kind of putting our own flavour and we call this a Services Gateway, so it is kind of like, once you have access into the network when you can access a range of club options to really build the right infrastructure environment for your business.

Bill: Some of the people that we have been seeing have been describing it as a necessity for a pragmatic approach. You are not all going to dive into the cloud and you are not all going to dive into one cloud because there’s no single cloud up there for everybody and obviously some applications will be easier to ship for others. In many clouds and in many of the environment using some of the easy stuff to move to the cloud has probably already been removed and it is probably the more difficult stuff that is left. How will you be helping customers deal with some of the more complex challenges that they’re facing?

Paul: Yeah, well it goes back to this the technical debt thing. The easy stuff is easy. That is why, you know, for new startups etcetera, start from a fresh the options are probably a bit clearer, but that shouldn’t disadvantage businesses that have been around a few years. So, our approach is always just about working with customers, you know, we kind of know it’s a cliché, but we view people as a partnership. This is an organisation. We’ve been on that journey ourselves over the years. So, we understand first hand and therefore as we grew, when we started with just 3 people and no customers in that 40-year journey will now have 250 people and a thousand customers. A good characteristic of customers we have got is they’ve all had a growth journey themselves. We were probably doing cloud when no one called it cloud, delivering hosted Microsoft applications from a little data center in Derby but then we saw and realised that connectivity is a real key element to. It makes and breaks and serves you only as good as your weakest link, so we start again and then we have customers that have come to us and say ‘Can you do our applications, servers and computer storage platforms in your data centre?’ And we thought well, we don’t really like that little data sensory feel, so we have invested in building three data centres across the UK. Colocation for us really took off in 2007 2008 and then there’s those customers who, once we will provide a really good colocation environment that say we don’t want to manage that infrastructure anymore. Can you provide the compute platforms and the storage platforms about so that started our journey into providing cloud services and to start with it was very much to benefit DR purposes, so there’s like the primary environment still running their own dedicated hardware nice and secure in a data center. With it the peace of mind that it’s going to be powered and cool that all the right ways. But the recognisable need to back this up and we do want to go and invest in a load of other hardware and put it on your shared cloud. So that’s when those customer starts to use the cloud and then as they got comfortable with that they then say well this hardware is ageing we don’t really want to invest in basics we know we are a primary environment onto that platform, as well spread across maybe two or three data centre locations. So, in a long sort of way around to answer your question, I think kind of yes it is a pragmatic approach in it, but it’s a concern, you know, then it was so guilty of jumping on buzzwords and jargon and everyone getting all excited about new technology and trying to force it down people’s throats and think this is the way you go but the reality is, people aren’t always ready for that leading edge of technology. It’s about taking them on the journey. We talk about the journey a lot to get from where they are into the future or to set them up for the future because as we all know we are all sat here and if I come back in two years when we talk about different technologies, it is about just working with the customers embracing the right technology and delivering real business benefits to them.

Jillian: I mean you touched on earlier your own journey is starting from 3 people and it sounds like you’ve actually done the hands-on experience of the maybe duct tape, very agile startup kind of level all the way to now an SME that’s thriving. How has that, you know helped with that change management and being able to offer the right services for your clients?

Paul: We were fortunate to start, we did have some initial funding to build the data centre correctly. One of the things that’s is in our character as well. You know, we are control freaks and we like to own stuff and we like to do it well particularly when building a data centre. We all want to sleep peacefully at night and if we know we’ve cut corners around building a data centre for an environment then that’s not going to help us. So it’s about building stuff right, at the start and because we like to control the ownership it does mean we know how things cabled together and what thing runs where and how it all pieces together to make sure that the SOAs we are providing render around the services which we have credibility around.  Our characteristic has always been, even when we were going to cloud platforms is not to do it a bit half-hearted to go to do it on a shoestring to test the thing. We’ve always been fortunate that because of our growth we can make the right investments to build a platforms right. So when we build our Cloud infrastructure, you know, we started properly with the Enterprise-grade stuff in terms of Cisco HS H DS and UCS environments and now storage and VMware etc. So we’ve been lucky in that and I think now the technology is so advanced that there’s lots of premium and there’s a lot of ways that people can get started in the right ways as well.

Bill: You described a sort of evolutionary, opportunistic growth path that you’ve had which has been very successful. Have you found yourselves growing into any particular niches or any particular industries or sectors where you have particular expertise?

Paul: We have two prime recent markets one is we deal direct with customers and secondly, we actually have quite an active channel program. The makeup of that has actually been from a channel perspective. It’s been not just people buying and reselling it is that there may be system integrators of ours and they’ve got a solution, but they don’t have all the components and don’t have the investment data centres to deliver. So, we’ve never really been hard vertically focused. So characteristic I guess of our customers have been they’ve probably been growing themselves, they’ve got multiple sites and have got technical debt and that tends to be it. I Suppose businesses from all different types of verticals fall into that category. There are a few verticals that we seem to attract more customers. We do retail, healthcare, the finance sector as well so those businesses tend to all fit within their within that category.

Bill: Also, obviously the whole hosting MSP sort of cloud and hybrid cloud environment. It’s a very crowded market and I won’t mention any of the competitors out there. Because you wouldn’t want me to but what it is it differentiates yourselves in particular? what you would you describe those your unique selling point? The thing that says ‘Hey, I’ve got to have Node4’

Paul: The difficulty is there is a lot of false claims out there about stuff. But you know for us is a few key things one is we one hundred percent own the infrastructure again that seems quite a false claim but we own the data, we built and designed the data centres. We own those data centres we built and designed the five platforms the same within the data centres we built so it gives us that end-to-end control. We own our own fibre in the ground and the DWDM network and our teams of technical engineers are sat at their site. So, ownership is a key thing. I think the key thing is that references our customers about why they came to us as much as the technology is really cool and attractive in that ownership really good it’s about flexibility. It’s about going back to that one size doesn’t fit all it’s about understanding where they’re at as an organisation and taking them on the on the technology journey to benefit stuff. Numerous signs when we’ve done customer references and case studies that’s been the primary message that comes out. It’s about flexibility. So yes, control is good, the broad portfolio, understanding the end-to-end technology, portfolio grating, the people, they’re all cool things, but it’s the way we apply that to customers we work with.

Bill: You have described a very good involved growth path. Where are you going? What are the big things on the horizon?

Paul: Our growth has been organic growth we have done a few acquisitions along the way. Our aim of acquisitions has been to complement that which already exists or to add to the skill set or maybe accelerate areas. For instance, one of the recent acquisitions we did was around DevOps and database management because again customers start to say well, we’ve got these databases can you manage it for us? So, we had to acquire those skills, so It’s a quicker ways. We acquired businesses that provided open source DevOps work and AWS as well because we recognise we need look at those things as a threat, but actually it’s an opportunity, to reference the more we talked to before. So our growth will continue with a strong organic growth and it will continue with some acquisitions as well and it is about the technology of course and making sure we continue to evolve and mature the portfolio. You know, the last two years security is clearly a big concern. So, we’ve had to really develop our offerings around that because that’s what our customer want, we need to manage that for them too. So, we made a lot of Investments, a security operations centre. So, you know, we are a technology lead business? We’ve got more techies than we have any other role within it and you know, that’s kind of cool. I’m not actually a techy so it’s probably come across and I’m not that way but it’s kind of cool working for organisations like that. It is not short of people who want to evaluate technology, re-evaluate it not just because they want to play with it, but becuase it does make a difference to our customers. So, the portfolio will evolve will continue to grow and we really want to build on the success we’ve had you know. We have got a really great customer base and it has been long-standing and those customers have grown and we can add to that, reference that more and we’re going to continue that.

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