2013 IP Expo, London

2013 IP Expo, London

With our vantage point and close proximity to the Amazon Web Services Lab at IP Expo, we were eye witnesses to the ongoing popularity of AWS.  You would never have known it was Amazon’s first time at IP Expo; their AWS Labs sessions were packed out all day long. We didn’t see that sort of traffic anywhere else in the hall.

This sent a strong signal that only underlines the leader position that Amazon has fought for, and won, in the UK.  They are in front by a country mile.

Which suited us down to the ground, of course.

We were beneficiaries of all that goodwill and warm buzz it generated.  After each Lab session, attendees polarised to the Amazon Partner Village to ask questions and to see for themselves what Amazon Partners are up to.

Enterprise Cloud. Ask us how.

Anticipating high levels of interest, we staffed our stand with senior Cloud Architects as well as with Account Managers, all of whom were able to take questions and talk about how Smart421 is helping large UK companies on their separate cloud adoption journeys.

As evidence, we showcased a set of case studies covering a selection of customer engagements: Big Data analytics on the AWS Cloud for Aviva Quotemehappy.com, Services Transition to the AWS Cloud for ATOC Rail Settlement Plan and National Rail Enquiries, and Disaster Recovery on the AWS Cloud for Haven Power – part of Drax.

These real war stories certainly caught people’s attention.   It seems that Smart421 is still one of the only IT services firms able to put up so much in the way of proof that we’ve done it for real.

As well as those case studies, my colleagues tell me that our AWS Competencies logos had a remarkable “magnetic effect” on drawing visitors to the stand.

Over-the shoulder. AWS Lab session

Over-the shoulder. An AWS Lab session

But we didn’t just absorb all the goodness from the AWS Labs.  We went out and hunted down prospects for ourselves.  Glad we did.  Evaluating the results today tells us that it really was worth all the hard work. We met some great people.

IP Expo was for us a trade show with a difference.  As well as meeting people we already know (good), it has put us in touch with a whole new audience. OK, so we didn’t get to speak with everyone (with 12,500 attendees it would have taken some doing) but the 200 or so we did speak with were engaged enough to want know more about us and what we are doing with AWS. Therefore, mission accomplished.

We were pleased that our colleagues in Kcom and Eclipse (other brands in the KCOM Group plc) were exhibiting. By all accounts they had a great show too.

Well, I’m off to give our stand team a well-deserved pat on the back.

We’ve got a few emails to send and some calls to make…

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After all, there was really no need for our MD or our guests to become dispondent.

Having been named as a Finalist in the ‘Best Use of Cloud Services’ category, Smart421 may have been a tad surprised that the judges went for another Finalist at the UK IT Industry Awards.

In fact we were rather impressed with, and pleased for, The Met Office and PA Consulting who together saw off some pretty stiff competition to get the gong at the Awards Dinner in Battersea, London last Wednesday night (14 November).

And I was surprised that there actually wasn’t more gloating by the victors. You know how some marketing types can behave when tanked up on too much champers.

The UK IT Industry Awards did a great job to properly recognise the role of Cloud Computing for the first time when they selected the Weather Observations Website (WOW) which is currently available online as beta. See http://wow.metoffice.gov.uk/

And we think that this actually bodes well for the entire IT industry in the near and long term. It means that Cloud has proven that it has learned to crawl, walk and run. In other words, it means that Cloud Computing is winning its place as a resilient and credible alternative to on-premise-only lock in. And at an enterprise level, we think that must be a good thing.

As our customer Haven Power will tell you, being selected as Finalist at all was very encouraging. Their Disaster Recovery system architected by Smart421 and built in the AWS Cloud drew some significant attention from the press when it was first announced and, most likely, gave The Met Office a fair run for its money in front of the judging panel.

But putting the industry high jinks aside, the real winners are our customers who have fully functioning Cloud DR in place today as part of their business continuity planning strategy. Stuff like this is the sharp end of the Cloud revolution.

It has to be said, attendees were also impressed with our colleagues at Kcom (neighbour brand in the KCOM Group stable) who sponsored the on-site Twitter Wall. It turned out to be the unexpected big hit of the night and Kcom ranked top for tweets.

Never mind the X factor – Cloud Computing showed it has the WOW factor at the UK IT Industry Awards.

It’s an exciting day today as it has just been announced that Smart421 is an Amazon Web Services launch partner in the UK for the latest expansion of their Direct Connect offering. Up until today Direct Connect has only been available to certain regions in the US, but now UK customers can get the benefits of this improved connectivity as well. Smart421′s role as an AWS Solution Provider is to help customers reap those benefits by giving them a one-stop shop for full end-to-end connectivity from their premise(s) to the AWS EU region without relying on the Internet at all – except as a backup mechanism.

Our offering is actually a seamlessly managed combination of services from two parts of our parent company, the KCOM group. Smart421 provide an end-to-end experience for the customer and manage the provisioning of the AWS Direct Connect connection at Telecity Sovereign House in London, and we use our sister company Kcom to deploy and manage the “last mile” connection from Telecity to the customer’s premises. The immediate benefit to the customer is that they have one party responsible for a direct private connection from their premises to the cloud – not multiple suppliers to manage and triage etc.

DIRECT CONNECT SCHEMA3 cropped

I thought I’d just cover a few basic questions about Direct Connect that I’d expect to come up with customers…

Why would I want it?

The usual mechanism of accessing AWS is over the Internet, with user and/or administration traffic secured using a virtual private network (VPN). This gives privacy and authentication, but the network traffic is fundamentally still sharing your organisation’s Internet pipe and still going via the Internet along with everyone else’s traffic. Many of our customers have a default security policy that certain classes of network traffic must be deployed on a more private infrastructure, e.g. MPLS links etc – to give a greater degree of privacy, predictability and control, especially in terms of improved bandwidth, latency and availability.

Secondly, there is a perception issue with using the Internet – which often becomes more marked the further you move up the management chain :). In fact, when talking to customers this is a classic objection that I sometimes hear – “we’re not comfortable using the cloud over the Internet”. Well now you’ve got a real choice – we can deploy an end-to-end private connection to AWS when required.

Also, you might be shifting significant volumes of data into and out of your cloud deployment, e.g. if you are performing big data processing using Hadoop/Elastic Map Reduce etc, or frequent data replication for disaster recovery purposes when you are using AWS as a logical extension to your on-premise data centres. In these circumstances, having greater control and certainty over the end-to-end connection between your premises and the AWS deployment is attractive.

What are the benefits?

In a nutshell, the key benefit is that your traffic is no longer subject to the unpredictability of the general Internet, and so basic metrics such as band with and latency will be far more predictable. For the connection from the customer’s premises to Telecity in London these metrics will be subject to strict quality of service guarantees, i.e. a bandwidth of X (you choose) with a defined maximum latency and an SLA (service level agreement) for the connection. For the second half of the connection from Telecity to the EU region in Dublin, you can expect superior network characteristics but there is not an SLA that defines guaranteed bandwidth etc. The initial adopters of Direct Connect in the EU region can expect an amazingly good network service given the price point – and our expectation is that over time AWS will have to introduce a degree of throttling/bandwidth management in order to maintain service levels…

What will it cost me?

…which brings me on to the costs. The bottom line is that Direct Connect is amazingly good value in our opinion. For a 1Gb/s port at Telecity it’s of the order of $216/month – i.e. virtually nothing. Unless you have your “on-premise” servers co-located at Telecity, then the costs for the “last mile” connection backed up by a strong SLA back to the customer premises will be much more significant. So guess what – you get what you pay for – no surprise there! For organisations relatively close to Telecity Sovereign House in network terms (e.g. in London) this makes Direct Connect a no-brainer really once your AWS usage becomes significant in terms of business criticality or data volumes, and it’s still highly attractive for an UK-based organisation.

Where might all this be going?

Finally – I just wanted to finish on why we think this is a really exciting development. For the EU region, this is the first step on the road for Smart421 to be able to offer a truly end-to-end service management offering – backed by strong SLAs for the end-to-end network connection and the AWS deployment itself. Over time we expect AWS to enhance Direct Connect with QoS (quality of service) guarantees, and we’re delighted to be in there at the start.

freedigitalphotos.net - graur razvan ionutAt long last we’re now outside the closed KCOM financial reporting period, and therefore Smart421′s 2010/11 financial results are out in the public domain…and so I can crow about them :). There’s some brief analysis of our parent company’s results here, and the phrase used about the Smart421 results is “Managed services outfit Smart421 enjoyed a year of particularly impressive growth in FY11, with turnover rising 42 per cent to £23m“.

Obviously we’ve known about this rate of growth internally for pretty much the whole financial year, and it’s been frustrating to have to keep it under wraps. For example in recent briefings to Gartner analysts I’ve had to skirt around the actual numbers which I felt was selling ourselves a bit short really. It’s been an absolutely stellar year – and I thought I’d just take a breath to pick out three of the many things that made this happen:

  • Amazon Web Services partnership – we’ve been waiting for the cloud computing market to mature to the point that we felt we could credibly offer the benefits to our enterprise customers, and in Q4 2010 decided the time was right and signed up with AWS in the UK as AWS Solution Providers. Since then we’ve closed customer deals in Q1 2011 and have now won our first piece of repeat business in this area – so the strategy is bearing fruit.
  • SOA v2 – there’s been a lot of interest in SOA this year, and a key win for us in this area is our relationship with Virgin Atlantic. My view is that many enterprises made their first foray into SOA a few years ago, built some services, and often not seen the ROI and reuse that they expected. This attached a rather bad smell to SOA for a while, but the harsh reality is that these enterprises still have integration needs – they don’t and won’t go away. And so what we’ve seen in the market is a resurgence of interest in more structured and strategic adoption of SOA.
  • Doing a good job – It’s a truism that’s it’s easier to sell to an existing customer than find a new one – but the fact is that a significant part of our growth has come from repeat business. If we weren’t delivering what our existing customers wanted (or maybe it’s better to say, what they needed!) with the highest quality, then this wouldn’t happen. In the end, this all comes back to having the right people on the bus, which we clearly have. And they’ve worked very hard to make this happen.

Here’s to the next financial year!

successOur parent company posted their half-year results today, and there are some great quotes about Smart421′s contribution to those figures here from CRN Channelweb. These are my favourites…

Systems integrator Smart421 was the star performer for KCOM Group as the comms group issued a buoyant interim statement

…its Smart421 arm, which specialises in systems integration and managed services of business-critical systems, saw sales boom 33 per cent to £10.8m. KCOM Group said this reflects the growing demand for the provision of applications integration and consultancy

We’ve had a cracking last 6-12 months and everyone (and I mean everyone) in the company has pulled together and worked their socks off to support the huge growth phase we’ve been going through, so it’s really nice to see this recognised in the public domain. We all need a pat on the back sometimes. It’s also great to see the buzz around the company with real excitement about how we are going to continue this momentum in the next 18 months by taking new offerings to the market.

This year’s Xmas party is going to be a brilliant, letting the hair down do – looking forward to it!

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