When Bob Venero founded technology solutions provider Future Tech in 1996, he never imagined that the company would grow to what is today: a multi-million -dollar enterprise operating in 39 nations. He does see parallels, however, in computing trends then and now. MeriTalk recently sat down with Venero, Future Tech’s president and CEO, to discuss those parallels and his take on the rapid move to cloud technologies – and why it should cause Federal system integrators (FSIs) and their agency customers to reflect on what is best for their organizational needs.
MeriTalk: You famously started Future Tech out of the basement of your home in 1996. Thinking about the years since, what surprises you the most?
Venero: Did I ever think that Future Tech would be where it is today? When I ask my 1996 self that, the answer is ‘Heck no.’ It’s really amazing how far we have come. As I think back, I see many similarities between 1996 and today. Everybody talks about cloud today. But I have always looked at cloud as a mainframe with a color screen, because at the end of the day, we’re basically doing the same thing. It’s just at a much different scale.
MeriTalk: The FSI community and Federal agencies have been moving workloads into public cloud services over the past several years. What are the risks, and what should they know?
Venero: Future Tech has a different take on cloud compared to a lot of other companies. I think that cloud for FSIs is a very risky endeavor, and we’re seeing the results of that now. In a couple of cases, we’ve seen sensitive human resources data unsecured, exposed on the public cloud. Government cloud is supposed to be more secure and protected, but we see risks with both government cloud and public cloud. The No. 1 risk is security. The data is not on your premises, it’s somewhere else, so you have to be concerned about the people running the cloud, because they are not your employees.
Another risk is productivity. When you are in the cloud, connectivity is king. If you don’t have connectivity, you don’t have access, and if you don’t have access, you can’t be productive. When we talk to FSIs, we want to understand their vision and mission in getting to the cloud, and whether they have done the due diligence to understand what each application set costs from a downtime perspective. Then they can make smart bets on what they put in the cloud. If it’s something that costs a million dollars a minute and they don’t control the connectivity to it, that’s extremely risky. But if it costs a dollar a minute, they can put that up.
MeriTalk: Let’s explore the benefits of on-prem data centers versus cloud environments. What decision factors help IT leaders make the best choice for their workload?
Venero: That’s a great question, and while it will depend to some degree on the mission, I believe hybrid on-prem cloud is an important option. Taking a step back, let’s consider what the cloud journey was supposed to be. It started as cost avoidance: I don’t need these data centers. I don’t need all these people on site. But the journey is well underway, and now folks are running into the inherent challenges we talked about. With on-prem hybrid cloud, you’ll get the same capabilities you would get in public or government cloud, but on your premises. That allows you to better cover yourself because you now have that data center or that application set on your premises. From a physical security standpoint, you’re at less risk. From a downtime perspective, you’re at less risk. From a connectivity perspective, you have more capabilities on-prem than you do off-prem. It’s the best of all worlds. And think it’s key for FSIs to understand that you can have a combination of both. We’ve been leading that charge at Future Tech and have had a lot of successes in a consumption model. Dell Technologies APEX, for example, has done a really good job in helping us create that consumption model. We don’t limit it to just traditional storage and servers; we expand it to high-performance computing, too.
MeriTalk: With advancements in software-defined data center technology, is it now possible to bring the best aspects of the cloud to on-prem infrastructure? If so, how so?
Venero: The answer is 100 percent yes: You can bring the best of cloud back into an on-prem environment. It goes back to the mainframe. That was a cloud solution. You had one big machine in one location, and users accessed it over the wire in an on-prem scenario. Cloud has provided quicker access, more data structure, the ability to burst up and down – things that weren’t readily available on-prem until recently. Now you can have a full, consumption-based, hybrid cloud, or a full on-prem cloud that can give you all of those things in a software-defined architecture. It’s the best of all worlds, especially for FSIs, because they have to deliver these capabilities in a fixed-cost environment. And with hybrid or on-prem cloud, they have control over that environment and over their costs.
MeriTalk: How can Future Tech help FSIs and their community navigate the on-prem versus cloud data center debate and develop a modern hybrid IT strategy? What are some solutions Future Tech can offer?
Venero: We firmly believe there will be a hybrid approach. Some things will go in the government cloud, and some things should stay on-prem from an infrastructure perspective. We will help organizations identify the best use cases in their environment. We will do application analysis to understand what makes the most sense to scale up and out, or to keep on-prem, and then we’ll present options. The great thing about Future Tech is that we have it all. We can offer the on-prem. We can offer hybrid. We can offer public cloud. We can offer government cloud. We make sure we’re offering the best option for the project or mission.
Our solutions include iFortress – pre-engineered, scalable, and secure data center facilities that can even become a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. We brought iFortress into our portfolio very early on and had major successes because it allows us to build a data center in places you would never think about. A very large energy company, for example, was running out of real estate space, and it was going to cost millions of dollars to go to cloud. We were able to build a few data centers in their parking lots – secure, hermetically sealed, and independent of the building’s architecture. When Superstorm Sandy flooded almost everything in its path, the only data centers this company had that didn’t get wet were the ones we built in their parking lots. And now, you can pay for that data center by usage, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, even the walls.
MeriTalk: What advice can you offer to Federal mission partners as they aim to reduce dependency on legacy IT and evolve their hybrid IT environments?
Venero: I think a nimble approach is important. It’s been key to Future Tech’s success. For small organizations, it’s easier to be nimble. Organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees need to figure out how to be as nimble as possible on their capture activities for the programs that they’re going after, so that they can spin them up very quickly and with minimal capital outlay. The old adage of, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ often isn’t applicable today. Today, it’s, ‘Go get it, make sure you can spin it up quickly, efficiently, and effectively.’ Those are the key tenets you need to thrive in the FSI space. My team provides strategic direction to FSIs on internal use and programs on how to build their hybrid environments safely, securely, and to maximize desired outcomes.