Q&A: Options VP on the remote IT department

VP at Options discusses the future of a remote tech solution for a remote workforce

By Jeremy Chan | 14 September 2020

Bobsguide spoke to Michael Russo, vice president of managed applications at Options to discuss how the explosion in remote working has affected the IT department, what this means for cloud services and how it impacts firms who still rely on on-premise IT solutions.

Flexibility and “fleet-footedness” have become a priority over the past six months. How does a cloud/hybrid solution differ from an on-premise one in providing that?

Everybody switching into a sudden “work from home mode” was something that our team had to rise to the occasion [of], extremely quickly. We've been  successfully serving the financial service industry for over 27 years now and in that time there have been a key moments that have really highlighted the strength of our team and our people, Coronavirus really was one of those milestone markers. We received rave reviews from all of our clients on the speed and grace with which we were able to bring them and their teams into a full work from home mode without disruption to their production business, or business as usual models.

The ability to be fleet-footed, and the ability to look for a provider who can do that is imperative – if it wasn't already critical before the pandemic,  recent events in the world have really highlighted the importance of having a strong team behind you.

How do you think firms still relying on on-premise solutions are competing in today’s markets?

It's a mixed basket. I'm sure there are firms operating in an on-premise model that are sustaining business. More and more companies however, have looked to outsourced solutions given the breadth and depth of services offered. Companies are exploring the hybrid and public side with outsourced management versus going with your traditional on-premise mode and/or on-premise teams.

Yes, there are companies that have fairly robust IT teams – many, however, don't. Many simply do not have the appetite to either ramp up or grow their existing teams. The trend we’ve seen is moving away from the traditional on-premise models and going into more of the “as a service” model.  The fact Options managed services are fully SLA backed also yields an attractive, value add difference when compared to the traditional on prem model.

Third-party software as a service (SaaS) solutions are becoming more popular. How do those solutions hook into a cloud IT network?

There's been quite a few models in market through the years. Some long standing, enterprise software providers want to cloud-enable their solution. They often partner with firms like Options to do just that, in the sense that it requires no CAP/OPEX investment to redevelop   their application to become cloud native or single instance multi-tenant. When you start to think about  newer,  challenger companies that are  being developed in the cloud, for the cloud, we often partner with those firms as there is still an overarching management and security component that critical to stability, growth, and success.

Regardless of how cloud native an application may be, the management aspect, making sure that all the lights are green, that the database is in good health, and that the network connectivity and latency is correct across regions remains.  Many offerings are trending more towards the, “as a service” model andthe managed solutions Options offer pair extremely well with them. The fact that we have moved with the market and   offer both hybrid and full public solution management has really positioned us well to remain current and viewed as a trusted advisor/partner.

What difficulties will firms face when transitioning to cloud managed applications, especially if they rely on legacy systems?

There could be multiple challenges out there. The ones that probably make people lose the most sleep at night are things like overall architecture design and the security and monitoring of their technology estate. Often when switching from either one provider to another or from a legacy or premise solution to a cloud-based solution, people are looking at: “what is this going to look and feel like” and, “how can I be sure that everything is in compliance”, essentially that they're not leaving a gaping hole that one day may come back and haunt them.  In short, no one wants to end up on the front page of the Financial Times due to a security breach.

When bringing new clients and partners onto our platform we’re working directly with their on-premise team(s) or their legacy vendor provider(s) to ensure we are building and deploying a framework that is fit for purpose, performant, cost effective, and secure.
Many companies are indicating they are making remote working a more prominent if not a permanent fixture. What kind of pressures does that put for the IT department and can this be sustained in the long term?
For existing IT departments out there, the pressure is tremendous. Few moments compare to an event like COVID, where there's been such a huge shift into the work from home/remote model. I also think at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people thought, “this is going to be a temporary thing, we won't really have to plan for the long term.”
That has changed quite a bit. It's presented tech teams with huge challenges, because what they thought was once going to be temporary, is now something that's more permanent. There are probably some out there that must be scrambling trying to figure out: “How do we build a longer-term, stable/scalable model?”
For Options, we had very good usage statistics, as far as things not being overburdened. Our network latency is great. We're not seeing any overburden or any use overuse on our side. Many of our clients have decided to shutter and work remotely forever. What we're seeing these days are companies coming to us looking for a potential all remote model that is as performant and resilient as their former on prem structure.

Assuming this trend continues, what do you see for the future of infrastructure as a service (IaaS)?

It will become more diverse … You'll see more things like micro services coming out and software companies developing micro services off the back of their platform-based applications. There will be greater flexibility.

I think we will also start to see managed micro services like disaster recovery, backup and storage as a service. It won't be the all or nothing model that we've seen in the past where you have your traditional IaaS, platform as a service (PaaS) and SaaS.
There’ll be a bigger marketplace for the, “as a service” offerings as a whole, allowing companies to really have greater flexibility than they've ever had before where they don't potentially have to choose one. They can further diversify their strategy and have a broader array of solutions managed externally versus internally.

You think the market will be more compartmentalised?

There are still plenty of people out there that are looking for the full infrastructure, the front to back end management. Then there are some that are probably going to potentially test the water with a smaller offering and others who don’t want to change their current strategy on certain things but want to look to enhance their solutions in other areas.

Options is a Gold Partner with Microsoft Azure. What does this mean for your clients?

. It's something that really helps us advance our existing industry leading offerings in the marketplace. Strategically, we are looking to enhance partnerships with other major cloud public cloud providers as well.

Traditionally, Options had been a pure private cloud offering. We made the pivot toward public and hybrid because we had healthy interest from clients and internally were also deploying both hybrid and public cloud services for some of our operations.
While the private cloud is a reliable, secure, and dedicated model, it's not where people found the most value. At the end of the day, when you think about any cloud it's really just physical and/or a virtualised kit. That's fairly commoditised at this point. It's the services that one wraps around that; so the monitoring, security, all the administration of the various layers from the [operating system] downwards. That's what really brings true value to companies.

What advice would you give for firms that are looking at cloud-based solutions.

The question starts with, what kind of data is it that you're processing? Or what kind of data is it that you would potentially be storing and processing through a solution or system? In some cases, there are regulations in place where certain types of data cannot reside in the public cloud. There are also certain types of data such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that companies are just terrified of putting in the public cloud.

Cost is still a huge factor as well. People will read the high-level details and think, “public looks great.” You could turn it on and turn it off at the flip of a switch, which they equate as a great way to bring cost savings. In some cases, that's correct., but depending on the nature of the solution, if it doesn't easily turn on and off or where data needs to move in and out frequently in large volumes, there has to be some cost analysis performed as well.

In a public or hybrid model, one could actually end up incurring much greater operating expenses than they would in a private cloud. When working with new clients and partners, we identify what the model will look like in private versus hybrid versus public, allowing them to make an educated decision.  When paired with our managed service offering it becomes a true, win-win.
 

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