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.

In this episode of Spill the IT, our Solutions Consultant, Gary Bliss, and BDM, Tom Thompson, dive into what separates Fasthosts ProActive from the competition. From our transparent billing and clear cost structure, to our highly personal customer service and sales approach, we explore how choosing ProActive can save SMEs time and money when it comes to their cloud and IT infrastructure.

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Episode transcript:

Charlotte (00:05):

Hi, and welcome to the latest ProActive podcast episode, where we are back with Gary and Tom. Hi guys.

Gary (00:12):


Tom (00:12):


Charlotte (00:13):

And, really, what we want to talk about today is, there are lots of different options out there for cloud IT infrastructure. And I think SMEs sometimes struggle to really navigate the landscape and understand when it's appropriate for them to look at hyperscalers, when they maybe need to look at somebody with more of a service proposition. And one of the things we see is often really tech-savvy SMEs are typically presumed to be quite suited to the hyperscaler environment because they can understand it. But that's not always the case?

Gary (00:58):

No. And I think that, let's be honest, the hyperscalers have fantastic platforms. They have the ability to scale. They have some really interesting, unique technologies and features. But those aren't always needed, and a lot of those things we can already offer. So I think a great example of where we can give clients the best of both worlds is a customer that we have recently taken on board, who were with one of the hyperscalers. The platform suited their application really well. Where they were struggling was with transparency of billing.


And I think a quote that I got from them, which was great and really illustrated it to me was, they described the hyperscalers cost calculation spreadsheet, which most of the hyperscalers have, as "it may as well have been a random number generator." Which obviously they're not. But in many cases they're enormously complex. And so whether an SME is technical or not, they might not necessarily want or have the ability to decipher some of these cost calculations, which again makes budgeting really, really difficult.


And that's where we differ. So our costs are very transparent. When you receive a proposal or a quotation from Tom and the team, you can see exactly what you're getting, exactly what you're paying, what the unit costs are. Everything's broken down, nothing's hidden. So it's really, really, really easy to understand what your initial outlay is going to be. We break down initial costs to... You should do that bit. Sorry, can we go back?

Charlotte (02:56):


Tom (02:56):

Yeah, of course. Yeah.

Gary (02:57):

You should do the bit about transparency of the quotations, talk about how we do the... You know what your upfront costs are, then you also know what your recurring monthly is going to be. You've got the ability to sort of estimate, "Well that's going to scale up." Where should I start from?

Charlotte (03:15):

Just start again and we'll figure it out.

Gary (03:16):

Yep. Cool. So we were talking about... Okay. Yep. Yeah, so we have a client who we're onboarding at the moment, who is currently with one of the hyperscalers. They're very technical, they understand their own application, what that needs. And actually, on the technical front, they don't really need any hand-holding from us. The reason they're coming to us is the transparency of billing.


So a great quote that they've given me is that this particular hyperscaler's cost calculation spreadsheet may as well be a random number generator. Because it is so complex that you need a finance degree to work out what your next month's bill's going to be. Whereas with us, we've got a very, very transparent billing model and it's very simple to understand.

Tom (04:11):

We basically break it down for them, step by step. So before they agree, sign anything, they know exactly what they're going to be paying for. Right from the different sorts of infrastructure they're going to get to the services that we're providing. And they can see it in one place. It's there, it's clear, they know exactly what it is. They don't have to spend any time thinking about that or worrying about that because we've told them up from exactly what they're going to be paying.

Charlotte (04:34):

Yeah. Including the resources, I guess, because that can often be where hyperscalers get a bit out of control.

Tom (04:37):

Yup. And then if we're going to increase anything or something's going to change, we're going to talk to them about it beforehand as well and discuss the changes, so they know exactly where they're going to be. And then if they've got any questions afterwards, as we move through the process with them, they start off with me and we'll have the discussions and they've gone live, and things change and we move on to our client success manager, Claire, who then takes over.


So if they've got a question, they come back to a human. And whether it's me because we put it together in the first place, or whether it's something from onwards, then Claire will be able to discuss it with them. Just to keep it easy for them and keep their mind at ease, that they're not going to be paying for things that they don't know what they're paying for or why.

Charlotte (05:14):

Yeah. Yeah, it takes all the stress out, doesn't it? Because when you've got unpredictability of cost, especially for an SME, that can be quite painful because for that SME, that fluctuation in cost could represent quite a big margin.

Tom (05:28):

Yeah. And if their invoices are coming from different areas as well. So they've got several invoices for several different things. Ours is all put into one place that they can see it with ease. And a few of the customers have said, "Actually, this is perfect for us because we're not spending time like accountants. We're concentrating on developing our business." Is what the feedback we're getting from them, and just make it so simple for them.

Gary (05:49):

That's always one of the common objections to the journey to the cloud for a lot of SMEs, is the fear of spiralling cloud costs. With our solutions, you can very clearly see what they're going to be. You've got the ability to calculate if you want to up some resource. You know the unit costs, so you know that this is going to have an impact in this direction. And again, we're here to support during that. So yeah, it removes that fear.

Charlotte (06:19):

So it's interesting, isn't it? Because SMEs, I think because they're more nimble than large enterprises, they have been by far the more aggressive adopters of moving to the cloud. And it's just convenient, isn't it? Because SMEs don't want to run data centres, typically. So they have quite high workloads, but their requirements obviously don't tend to be as complex as large enterprises. So do you think that's another reason that sometimes they sort of over-consume from the hyperscalers?

Gary (06:54):

Yeah, it can be. And again, I think this is where it's really important to have a good understanding of what those workloads are going to be. And I think we've mentioned on some of the other episodes around observability and the fact that a lot of SMEs don't have that observability. And that's something that we can offer.


And I think because we have flexibility that some of the larger organisations, some of the larger hyperscalers, don't have. When we're talking about bespoke solutions, we're not just talking about bespoke tech, we're talking about operating processes. A couple of examples when it comes down to resource management is we have some clients who, if we notice that we feel there's going to be a need for additional resources, we sit down, we discuss it. In some cases, the finance for those additional resources is perhaps not there. And so we look at other ways that we can potentially reduce workload or spread workload and make it more cost-effective.


We have other clients who say, "Look, if we need more, give us more. We're confident that that's going to show up in the bills. We know why it's there. We know you haven't just thrown it in. There's a reason for that.” And we discuss it in the monthly service reviews. So again, we have that flexibility where we can adapt to how our clients want to work, to a certain extent, that you just don't get with the hyperscalers.

Charlotte (08:33):

Yeah. And have you got any examples of where you've done that, where you've sort of had to look at bespoke requirements?

Gary (08:42):

I'm going to pause and think of some.

Charlotte (08:43):

That's fine. We can connect the dots later.

Gary (08:46):


Charlotte (08:47):


Tom (08:50):

[inaudible 00:08:48]. That's a forever change, doesn't it? It hasn't been just whatever we quoted in the first place. It's constantly growing, if you like.

Gary (08:56):


Tom (08:57):

As we've come to find out what their requirements are, the deeper we delve, the more they need.

Gary (09:04):

Yeah, that's true. I don't know how to phrase that. Do you want to do that one or what?

Tom (09:11):


Gary (09:11):

No? All right.

Tom (09:11):

I don't know what you're doing, I just know the bill keeps going up.

Charlotte (09:11):

That's all you're happy about.

Gary (09:22):

Yeah. Okay. Yeah, so we have one particular client, who have a bespoke application that they provide to their clients. It's grown and been developed very organically. And what we've discovered along the journey is that the initial solution, whilst it was providing them what they needed, once we've been operating for a couple of months, we noticed that there were perhaps some efficiencies that we could make. And so, again, we sit down with the client, we explain what we found.


We, in this case, noticed that we were seeing some resource spikes in a particular area. When we looked at what those were, we discovered that, actually, they would've been better suited to being stripped out to a separate, lower-cost piece of infrastructure, which in turn then meant they could be running 24 hours, as opposed to a set period of batch processing.


So it meant adding in additional infrastructure into the solution, but the end result has been that there is no longer a very small window where all these batch processes can take place because you're not then concerned about the resource taking away from other things that are needed in the working day. So again, we've managed to work with that client and to help them, I suppose, tune their solution to benefit the actual needs.

Tom (10:54):

And I think, yeah, with that particular client as well, it's not been a case of we're just making all the suggestions. They're coming to us with suggestions that suits their business and we're open to all that as well. It's not like, well no, this is all we do and that's all we can do. It's like, do you know what? We're not sure, but let's figure out a way. We've got a team behind us, of the people that are looking at the solutions that can come up with all these different suggestions. And between us and the client, we get exactly what they want rather than just saying, "No, you've got to do this," or "We can only do so much." It's like, right, let's get to a solution that suits everybody. And mostly benefits the customer.

Gary (11:26):

And I think that's, again, another kind of key difference between us and some of the hyperscalers. In that we have equal technical resources to the vast majority of the hyperscalers. But unlike the hyperscalers, those resources are accessible and usable by our clients. So it's the age-old adage, isn't it? If you're phoning a service provider and you get through to an IVR system, just press two for sales because eventually you'll get through to a human.

Charlotte (11:58):

That's what I always do.

Gary (11:58):

Everybody does, right? Because you know it's the only way you're going to get to speak to an actual person. We don't have that. We've got multiple paths into obtaining support. So, as Tom mentioned, you've got Tom, you've got myself, you have our phenomenally good support team who are there 24/7, they're technical specialists there. They're ready to physically speak to people.


We don't just have this single path, you're not being forced down a particular route to get what you need. And we have, on a number of occasions, engaged some of our very high-level systems architects to collaborate with customers to say, "Is there a different way that we can do this?" The end result is what matters. With the bits in between.

Charlotte (12:44):

Well, it makes it more interesting for you guys too, doesn't it?

Gary (12:46):

It's really good.

Charlotte (12:47):

Who doesn't love a problem to solve?

Gary (12:48):


Charlotte (12:51):

Yeah. So just finally then, do you find, I know this is something we've touched on a little bit before, but do you find SMEs are concerned about vendor lock-in? Is that something that you see?

Gary (13:03):

I think they should be. I don't think they're always aware that it's a thing. Which, it's a thing for all of us. If you have an Android phone or you have an iPhone, you are locked in, to a very large extent, to that particular vendor's ecosystem. Yes, there are migration tools that you can use, but, really, how often do people actually go down that route? And the same can be true with a lot of the hyperscalers, for a couple of reasons.


A, there is, in many cases, bespoke technologies in place that will only work on that particular platform. So if you have a solution that uses those technologies, that's where you're staying. Unless you want to re-architect your whole infrastructure. I think another area where there is distinct vendor lock-in is with skills. So, with a lot of the hyperscalers, you have to have a reasonable level of skill with their platform in order to be able to operate it. Or if we're using a third party, that third party has to have skills in that particular platform.


We don't use any proprietary technologies that are exposed to the client. So skills that exist within their organisation are just as applicable on our platform as they are on, say, on-premise solutions. The solution that you get is transferable. So if you ever came to a point where you thought, "Do you know what? I want to go somewhere else." Not only is that possible with our platform, we'll help you do it. So again, we're wanting our clients to stay with us for the right reasons as opposed to forcing them by stealth, by giving them this shiny new feature that's great, but also means you can never leave.

Tom (15:09):

And I think when we speak to them as well, there's concerns that they can't do that because they won't know how to do that. And they won't know how to use the new stuff that they're using. And we will, again, talk them through on how to do that. And we had that recently with one that was like, "Oh, we can't do that because we're used to this." So then actually this is an easier way. And you'll see it's an easy way once we show you.

Charlotte (15:27):

Once they get over that initial change requirement.

Tom (15:29):

Yeah. And a little bit of training on how, and all of a sudden it's like, "All right, actually yeah." There was no fear there. But a lot of them, as well, don't know that they can sort of chop and change, if you like. Because they're just used to what they're always being told or expecting.

Charlotte (15:43):

Yeah. So, I know I said to finish up with the last bit, but actually I'm going to add a little bit more in. To finish up properly this time, if you've got an SME founder who is looking at, okay, either a hyperscaler or a more proactive service, like ProActive. Clue's in the name. What advice would you give them?

Gary (16:08):

For me, it's around transparency, is a big one. So the word "managed" is a very broad word, right? So always check, how transparent is the provider with what you are and what you're not getting? Everybody will talk about what you are getting. Not many people will talk about what you're not. We are always very clear about where the demarcation points are.


We've spoken about costs. Don't make it harder for yourself by... I'm going to start that again. We've spoken about costs. You need to be able to understand your invoicing and what you're paying for very, very easily. And I think the biggie for me is, how easy is it to contact this organisation? Can you get in and speak to a person? Do they have the option where you don't have to speak to a person or you can just self-serve. Have a look at all of those things.

Charlotte (17:04):

And what your preference is around that, I guess.

Gary (17:06):

Absolutely. Yeah.

Tom (17:08):

I'd say as well, from the start, they get my mobile number. So I'm not going to help them tech wise...

Charlotte (17:13):

Well, that's a bit different.

Tom (17:14):

Yeah, they've got someone to speak to and that goes all the way through until they're up and live and running. So I think the big thing is, before making a decision, come and speak to us. We'll tell you what's out there and if we're not right for you, we'll be totally honest. We don't want unhappy customers, we want to help other people do it. So speak to us and we'll freely tell you what we think the right route is, or maybe go somewhere else. That will be the honest answer to it. 9 times out of 10, we've got geniuses like Gary and his team that can work a solution around it because of everything that we've got available to us, really. But yeah, have a chat with us.

Charlotte (17:48):

Brilliant. Great. Well, thanks guys. I enjoyed that part two of helping SMEs. I think that gives people a lot of clarity about what they should be looking at. Because, as you say, a lot of times they don't know. So thank you very much for your time today.

Tom (18:03):

Thank you.

Charlotte (18:04):

We'll be seeing you again soon.

Gary (18:04):


Charlotte (18:04):


Gary (18:04):


Orlaith Palmer

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