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Partner Q&A with WWT – Customer Success, AI and The Future of the Data Center

Ranked by Fortune Magazine as one of the best companies to work for[i], considered by Gartner to be a global top 20 digital transformation consulting company[ii], and awarded a coveted CRN triple crown for growth[iii], World Wide Technology (WWT) is a tech company worth watching. I wanted to learn more about the success behind WWT and was delighted to sit down recently with Sebastien Berube, Technical Solutions Architect, and Darren Livingston, Global Technical Solution Architect, of WWT, to understand the secret of their success, their view of their relationship with NetApp, and why customers keep coming back for more.

PF: Welcome and thanks for your time today. To set the background, could you tell me a little bit about your roles here at WWT and what you love best about what you do?

SB: Certainly. I’m the Technical Solutions Architect supporting our enterprise storage business, with a specific focus on NetApp. My key objectives are to engage with our field team to ensure that they understand the value proposition of each solution, and to help them position the right technology for each customer.

What really makes this job a lot of fun is that I get to preview (and provide feedback on) new product development. This means we can influence how solutions evolve based on industry trends we witness in the field.

DL: My role is slightly different from Sebastien’s in that my focus here at WWT is on converged and hyperconverged infrastructure, across all our OEMs. I spend my time getting knee-deep into everybody’s technology. Sebastien is right: We often have new product access as early as three-to-six months before they are generally available. We can test, provide feedback, and influence changes before these products go to market.

PF: You’ve been incredibly successful in helping clients transition to cloud and next-generation data centers; how does WWT differentiate in the marketplace?        

SB: Our go-to-market strategy relies on breadth and depth; breadth of OEMs and products we work with and can help our customers evaluate, and the depth of skills we bring to the table. Our Advanced Technology Center is an expansive lab where customers that wish to evaluate technologies can come in, set up, and play with hundreds of different technologies from dozens of different manufacturers, while being supported by a team of incredibly talented engineers to help them along the way. We also have a large commercial software development group, an integration center where we can assemble and configure systems for customers that wish to receive fully functional solutions, and a cloud group that focuses on helping customers transition or adopt the cloud.

PF: How has your relationship with NetApp accelerated your ability to provide value to clients?

DL: Throughout the years, NetApp has always been an extremely supportive partner in our projects. Any time we have customers that want to leverage our Advanced Technology Center labs to do solution testing, NetApp supports us, whether with extra equipment we may not have handy because of the scale of the test, or with technical expertise. If we run into an unexpected behavior or outcome, our Technical Partner Manager at NetApp will immediately connect us to someone with deep technical skills in NetApp engineering who can help us understand what we are seeing and make recommendations. This is incredibly useful for our customers and a testament to our long relationship.

PF: Are your clients driving better business value as a result?

SB: Absolutely. Data is today’s digital currency. Take Uber, for example. They are the largest taxi company in the world, yet they don’t own any cars. In the last decade or so, companies have realized that their most important asset is the data they own. 

Working with NetApp, whether it’s with their FlexPod AI, ONTAP AI, or Hadoop reference architecture in conjunction with our AI and Analytics practice, we help customers leverage that data to derive better business insights, therefore reducing cost, risk, and ultimately becoming more competitive in their industry.

PF:  What are some of the biggest innovations that you have seen in the past 2 years?

SB: The mainstream adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has enabled massive shifts in how companies operate and go to market. Amazon, Google, and Apple inspired much of this with the introduction of Siri, Alexa, and the Google home assistant. What those companies realized was that this is a new and very effective way to collect more data. More recently, we’ve seen a lot of progress in AI-based self-driven cars. Maybe it’s because I have two kids who will start driving within the next five years, but I have very high hopes for the mainstream adoption of this technology.

PF: Yes – I want that for my kids too! But let’s expand on that thought; how is mainstream adoption of AI going to impact the data center?

DL: I’m really excited because the recent FlexPod AI and machine learning announcement is a game changer for connecting the business to the data center. That’s where the brilliance is going to come – when the infrastructure people and the data analytics people can converge in one world and speak a similar language.

SB: AI is one of those spaces where we do a lot here at WWT. We have a very large team focused on providing professional services, creating AI with our customers, and figuring out how to address business requirements with AI without compromising infrastructure. The capabilities that FlexPod now offers is going to make it easier to have those AI conversations with IT infrastructure teams.

Much of AI machine learning is foreign to infrastructure people who have to stand up an environment when they don’t truly understand the end goal. With their understanding of FlexPod, they’re more comfortable. Knowing that there’s an actual solution for AI that’s supported, they can now offer that service to an internal business group.

DL: Agreed. In the past, groups that wanted to employ AI turned to IT infrastructure, and IT would say, “Well, we don’t really know how to deploy an AI environment.” Then, they would turn around and swipe their credit cards with Google or Amazon and start doing AI in the cloud. This transition is going to enable customers to say, “Yes, there’s a reference architecture for that with FlexPod with a CVD. We can implement that for you with something that’s going to compete and be a lot more cost effective than developing AI in the cloud.”

PF: Any final thoughts?

SB: Over the last few years, I would say FlexPod has really clarified its market position. It may sound a little weird given the panoply of hyperconverged and converged solutions and appliances that have surfaced in the market over the last five years, but we are really at a point where we have seen a lot of different implementations of those solutions, some more successful than others, and while initially the perception was that FlexPod and some HCI solutions had a lot of overlapping use cases, the reality is quite different. In my view, FlexPod and the multitude of validated designs available to customers reduces risk by providing great predictability for those use cases.

DL:  If you’ve been in the pre-sale industry for any amount of time, you’ve seen customers test a subset of their workload with a solution, then deploy the solution at full scale only to realize that the solution didn’t scale linearly. The solution testing that’s done in the validated designs is one of the most thorough you will find. This, compounded with the flexibility of scale that the reference architecture provides, allows customers to scale compute and storage independently. It’s a big advantage. When you are talking about some of the new solutions being developed around AI, the value of not having to worry about performance, scale, or support lets IT become much more strategic.

DL: The new Converged System Advisor is a great addition to the FlexPod architecture. It provides health and insight into a customer’s FlexPod infrastructure through a single pane of glass across an entire FlexPod estate.

 SB: By looking at market trends, identifying solutions that are relevant to customers, and developing validated designs around those solutions, NetApp and Cisco have kept FlexPod as an incredibly relevant architecture in the data transformation journey. For our customers, that is a really good thing.

For more information visit World Wide Technology’s website.


[i]https://www.wwt.com/latest-news/2018-best-workplaces-technology/ [ii]https://www.wwt.com/latest-news/wwt-gartners-2018-market-guide-digital-business-consulting/ [iii]https://www.wwt.com/latest-news/wwt-crn-triple-crown-award-winner/

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