Welcome to the Fasthosts ProActive Podcast: Spill the IT. Each episode, we'll sit down with some of the amazing ProActive team and chat through their experiences of the ups and downs of IT infrastructure management in small businesses. There's always plenty to chat about.
Infrastructure metrics - the bread and butter of managing infrastructure. Our team take us through where 'fully managed' infrastructure gives business data real value.
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Welcome to the Fasthost ProActive podcast: Spill The IT. Each episode, we'll sit down with some of the amazing ProActive team and chat through their experiences of the ups and downs of IT infrastructure management in small businesses. There's always plenty to chat about.
Well, hello again. And here we are for episode six of the Fasthost ProActive podcast. My name's Graham, and I'm going to be your host again for today's recording. And with me this time, I've got Dan and Gary back. So welcome back, guys. And I also have Claire. Claire is Fasthost ProActive's Client Success Manager, and Dan is Senior Service Owner and Gary is the Solutions Consultant, but they're going to do a far better job. For people who have not listened in before, they're going to do a far better job at introducing themselves. I'm going to shake it up a bit this time, actually. Claire, why don't you go first and why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello everybody. I have been in the IT industry for, oh, quite a long time and everybody's laughing now, because they know it'd be quite a long time. So my job basically is building customer loyalty and fostering long-term customer relationships by ensuring that we give a very positive experience to our customers. I'm like the link between the operations and the customer. I'm the customer champion, shall we say.
Yeah, I'm Solutions Consultant. I've been in IT for quite a bit of time on both ends of the fence, so both working in service providers, but also consuming those services, heading up IT departments in a big broad number of organisations. And now I design the solutions that solve our client's problems.
Fantastic. And Dan?
Yep. I'm the senior service owner here at Fasthost ProActive. So for me, that's all about shaping the managed services to make sure they meet the client's needs and I have survived more than 20 years, I think, I would describe it as this week, but yeah. So both sides of the fence, like Gary.
You've survived, but maybe you've evolved as well.
I have. I had more hair when I started, but that's a story for another podcast.
Well at least you get out of the basement now. At least you got an office with windows.
Which is a benefit. So before we get into the main thrust of today's podcast, we've got another listener question coming, which is good. We get one of these every month, it's good, which means we've got a fan base, which is really good and that's growing. So last episode session was all around security, and this really did field quite a bit of debate actually. We had quite a few interactions with people and questions coming in, but something we didn't cover off last time was around procedures and standards. And we got this question in from Grace in Worcester, and Grace says, "I know security is important to my online business, but every vendor I talk to, you all have something slightly different in your favour, all to do with security around your service. Do you think the industry needs to start stepping up and creating a standard that entrepreneurs and business people can really follow and understand?". And Dan, I know you are quite strongly opinionated on this one.
Yeah, so I think the answer is definitely yes. So the industry has tried and I think Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus, by the NCSC, has been one of the most adopted frameworks for small to medium business. You contrast that to some of the other frameworks out there, like ISO 27,001, heavyweight, very good, but very heavyweight and not quite as accessible. So I think definitely the set of guidelines that a framework provides, so Cyber Essentials looks at five areas in particular. It's firewalls, it's secure config, it's access control, it's malware, it's patch management. You see a lot of MSP vendors anchor their solutions around those five pillars, those five areas. But the industry definitely can do more to make these frameworks more accessible, more understandable for small to medium business. And I think once you make them more understandable, once you make them easy to access, then that starts to shape the way in which people approach those security consents.
And Claire, from a customer success perspective, are you seeing your clients wanting to understand that just a little bit more? Are they a little bit confused with it or where would you say that sits with you?
Absolutely, they really do, because that's one of the first questions that they actually ask and they constantly ask, because they hear things, they see things.
And that you're constantly getting bombarded with stuff in the media, so yeah, absolutely. And it's great here, because I can just introduce them to people who can talk to them about it.
Yeah, I think from my perspective in IT, we love a TLA, which is three letter acronym. Please don't lose the irony.
I look like slightly blankly at you when you use that one.
But it's a really good point, because we love talking our own language and we get very, very carried away with it. And like Grace said, there are lots of plus points to all the different offerings. And actually I think if we strip those back, they're all the same thing, but with different brand names attached to them. And I think really what needs to be the focus is; what are those things delivering and just make it understandable for people, so that when they buy product X, they know that they're getting similar functionality to product Y and this is ticking the right boxes that they need to for that particular activity.
Yeah, right. Well, but maybe Fasthost ProActive need to put together the charter then, maybe that's something that you want to...
Or release the glossary.
Yeah, maybe, maybe, maybe. Well, we've got a future podcast coming up, haven't we? About myths. Myths busting. We might weave some of that in today. I don't know. So this episode, we're going to be talking about deciphering infrastructure metrics and what are the challenges in this area? So two pillars of understanding infrastructure are logs and metrics. Is that the right thing or are there more?
So much data. So, so much data. I think even within the logs and metrics and all the other observable entities out there, there are two camps of thoughts. One is data on everything, and then there's the slightly more only collect data on the things that you need, and the pros and cons for both of them, so I think just volume for me is the number one challenge. And it's either because you've got too much of it or you've got too little of it.
Yeah, yeah, totally. Just within Fasthost ProActive can collect an inordinate amount of data on all of our client solutions. But what it comes down to for me is the so what factor. When we're having these early stage conversations with our clients, one of the really big elements of that is finding out; what data do we need to collect on the solution? And the question is always, so what? So, if we're collecting a metric on a particular application, if that metric falls without agreed bounds or are there even any agreed bounds, what are we going to do? Are we going to take an action? And I'm a big fan of keeping things simple and making sure that the only things that we are having eyes on are the data points where if it changes, we have to take a given action.
Yeah, and that was, for me, from a client success management perspective, it's really about what I can produce for the client on a monthly basis in the service reviews. And really we need to help identify and diagnose any issues and ourselves, Fasthost ProActive, we need to come up with any remediation or any suggestions that can help them improve their infrastructure. And it's just looking at those figures and just pulling it out and showing them rather than giving them everything, we're putting out the things that matter.
So does that evolve over time? So when you start a journey with a customer, when you first onboard them and then you're getting all this data in and you're looking at that and you're going back to the suggestions or they're seeing that data in some way, do they drive it? Do you drive it? Where's the drive on configuring that to create more meaningful data? I suppose, to have meaningful data is the most important thing, isn't it?
Yeah, absolutely. You've got that meaningful data, but it's also when you say, "Who instigates it?", well, we get that information, but at the same time it could be... The client might be asking us about something, they might have something coming up within their company that could create storage issues or something. So they might be saying, "Have we got enough storage?". We're looking at those figures going; actually yes or no. If there's going to be a spike, do we increase it for a period of time? And it also builds trust as well with the customer. And that's all about, that's what my position is, building that trust. They know that we are managing their infrastructure, they know that we are looking at things and that we will come up with any concerns or whatever it is, any solutions, like Gary's job is. So it's really important to how we look after them.
And I suppose, looking at that spike, so if you're managing those spikes, both from Dan and Gary's perspective, understanding when they're coming, when you're reading that data-
And doing something with that. Gary, is it like a constant; you're getting this information and you are evolving it, as you rightfully said, proactively? You're looking at where is it going to fall over?
Everything evolves. So we may find that some particular part of the data that we're collecting becomes more pertinent over time. And this is where Claire comes into the relationship perfectly. Her focus isn't the technology.
So her focus is the client's business and how are we able to support that with the technology solutions that we're implementing? And I think for us, the big challenge with this data is, again, is how we're using it. So any organisation can produce pretty graphs and tables of numbers. Where I think we add value into that equation is providing the narrative behind that data. So we're not just saying, "Right, this is what your month has looked like in numbers.". What we're saying is, "These are the numbers we've collected over the month and these are the triggers that we see within your business that are making these numbers relevant.". And Claire has those conversations with all of our clients on a monthly basis, and also from a slightly longer term perspective, we look at the suitability of the solutions as well. So we're not just grabbing a month's worth of data, putting it on paper and then abandoning it. We're retaining this, so that we can analyse this data over the mid and longer terms with the view to saying, "Is what we designed, at the beginning of this journey, still achieving what we need it to achieve six months down the line? Where does it need to be in 12 months?". So it's about not just collecting this data, but actually using it for valuable purposes.
I think the big word is probably putting context onto it, isn't it? And Claire being able to understand the business, align with the data and putting context over it. Dan, do you see that?
Yeah, definitely. And I think the thing that really echoes for me is; what allows us to do that? What? What's unique about Fasthost ProActive in this space? And we've been managing enterprise grade infrastructures for many, many years now, and I think it's that wealth of experience, of that we've done this for ourselves. We're not just doing this for other people. We've had to learn over time, understand what those important metrics are, understand what those important triggers and actions might be. I think that's where, going back to Gary's point, I think that's where we provide real value, is we can jumpstart a lot of the other players in the market, because we've been doing this for large scale for a number of years.
Yeah, so I guess you're recognizing those trigger points, aren't you?
So if you've got similar businesses, not necessarily competing, but similar businesses, and you're saying, "Actually, something's going off here, that we've recognized somewhere else. You remember that client, we did that for it.". Is that the sort of thing that you're seeing and getting involved with your... You're obviously drawing on that previous experience, I guess.
Yeah, but it's about doing that in a way which isn't cookie cutter. So each of our solutions spoke to the customer's needs and then that allows us to take a step back and say, "So what are the important observables for this particular solution?". Going back to that term that we keep using about us as a managed service provider, being extension to other businesses, we want to be there. We want to be in that embedded space, so that we're not just rolling out the same old reports month on month. It's got to be tangible. It's got to be actionable for that particular business.
Yeah. I think looking at today's environment and today's business, collaboration is everything. And I know it's an overused term, but actually collaboration is everything. It's, from a service perspective, really getting under the skin of those businesses, understanding what they're trying to achieve. And then you bring that back to your area of specialism, I'm sure Claire you've seen it on a regular basis.
Yeah, and that's what the service reviews are for really. And it's like I said, with building the relationship, you've got to talk to them and say to them, "What are your plans? What are you doing?". Then I can draw somebody like Gary in to say to them, "Okay, look, this is your solution as it stands. You need to do this, this and this to actually give you a better performance, create better stability, if you're going to be doing that in the future.". And it's all about working together as a team. And we've got that expertise, and years and years of expertise, as we all keep saying, but that's what you need. It's all about discussion with your clients, just keeping them informed.
And how often... You talk about those client services review and analysing that data. How often do you all get together? You can't just measure... Is it month to month? Is it every quarter? Over what period of time are you analysing that data to then make informed decisions and suggestions? As the name says, ProActively going back to the customers and saying, "Look, we are seeing this. This is a trend, this is what we are seeing.".
So there's multiple points that we're analysing. So when we look at metrics, our network operations centres are watching the threshold breaches 24/7, 365, real time. So they are observing those data points continually. When we're talking to clients, we tend to have a scheduled review session, which is monthly, bimonthly, again, whatever fits with the client's needs. And we'll be generally talking about the previous period and what we've seen. But again, it's got to be relevant and it's got to be usable. So we're not just going to sit and talk through a bunch of data if there's no business value to it. We're not just going to sit there and go, "Yep, everything's the same as it was last month. Happy days, great meeting guys. Off we go.".
We have various points where we'll get involved and that might be; ad hoc, we've noticed a thing happened last night, so we're speaking to you about it this morning. We'll then analyse that to see if that becomes a trend. We have six monthly business reviews, we spoke about that solution suitability, where we'll go into things in a little bit of greater depth. But again, if a client comes to Claire and says, "I am planning on increasing my marketing spend by 200% starting in July.", for example, we may then choose to change those thresholds or focus in a little bit more in depth in the data analysis for a period. It's all about making sure that the output provides value, as opposed to just numbers.
So getting that whole 360 perspective. So how much of an issue is it when you have applications running on-prem, but also in the cloud? Are there issues with data incompatibility and extracting key information and allowing you to report successfully? Dan, is that a thing? Is that getting in the way? Or is it becoming easier?
It is definitely a thing. There isn't a common set of standards for this type of data across those two ecosystems. So I'm sure some of the hyperscalers will tell you they've got a massive amount of observability within their ecosystem, but we all know that those ecosystems don't work in isolation. So you might have a genuinely hybrid model, where you've got some on-prem and some in the cloud, but also your customers aren't in the cloud as well. So data always has got to cross boundaries. Wherever data crosses boundaries, you've got to make sure that those systems and those observable items are talking the same language as well. So yeah, it is a concern and I think we are seeing more software products are capitalising on the different and disparate sources of data in order to try and aggregate them and do some very clever functional work on them, to bring them together and make them more useful. So yes, it is an issue. Yes, there are some sticky plasters out there in the market available, but it doesn't solve the underlying point, which is you need to be consistent in what you're measuring and you need to understand what you're measuring as well, so that you can make some tangible actions from it.
And I think it's really important to look at what you're measuring and why you're measuring it in those scenarios. So when you're talking about these products that correlate disparate data sources, some of them have a pricing model on the amount of data that's correlated. That can get really expensive really, really quickly. And so making sure, and as I say, going back to this; so what principle. Well, what are you going to do with the data once you've got it? If you see change X, are you actually going to do anything, or does it not really matter? Knowledge is power, they say, but actually it can also be quite crippling if you've got too much data. A, it costs you a bomb, and B, you have no idea what to do with it and you can become a little bit data blind.
And I think some of those aggregation vendors that are out there are actively pushing; collect all the data, so that you can magically in a time machine type fashion look back six months, which caused this problem. But essentially they're just propagating the massive collection of data, which is obviously underpinned by their licensing model.
Interesting. You used a term there, you called it an aggregation vendor. So that's the thing. So people are taking information from you, they're taking information from the on-prem, facility within your customers, and they're bringing it together. So are they the ones that are adding context to it, or do you have a layer on that to add?
I think it depends.
Where's the input?
It depends on the you in that question really. So you, as the end business owner, it depends on whether you've got those skills and expertise in order to make use of it, because an aggregation vendor will do exactly that. They will glue a load of data together, based on a common set of essentially primary keys for lack of another term. Actually making sense of that and adding context to that is something completely different. And I think a lot of those aggregation vendors will just provide you large skips of data, to which you then have to go dumpster diving through in order to find your answers.
So I guess what you're saying is, that you can have too much data?
And that can be a bad thing.
Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed this episode. You can subscribe on Spotify or Apple Podcast or visit proactive.fasthost.co.uk for more info. See you next time.