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Cloud Services

Interview with Techminds Group

 
Clutch spoke with Mani S, Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Techminds Group, and Raymond Shupak, Director of Business Development, about Microsoft Azure – a leading Cloud computing platform.

Learn more about Techminds Group at TechmindsLLC.com.

Background

Please describe your organization.

Mani: Techminds Group has been operating since 2007, when it was started as a small business with a focus on specific technologies and offerings. We have been a Microsoft Certified Partner for the last 8 or 9 years, and are also a Microsoft Certified Education Partner. We are certified in data management and business intelligence solutions. Our core offerings revolve around cloud enablement, managed IT, and software development. Our main focus is on Microsoft Azure and SQL database products, but we also offer IT staffing and have around 35 certified Salesforce developers, which is an out-of-the-box platform for application development. When it comes to cloud computing, infrastructure, and business productivity apps, we favor Microsoft. When it comes to software-as-a-service applications, we prefer Salesforce.

We're also an Amazon registered consulting partner so we can assist customers who need specific platforms to be hosted on Amazon Web Services [AWS].

What is your position?

M: I am the Chief Executive Officer and founder of the company.

Ray: I’m the Director of Business Development.

What trends have you seen with clients moving to the cloud?

R: The new driver of our business will come from customers who are looking to migrate their applications to the cloud. Many customers are starting to experience hardware attrition, and are ready to replace, upgrade, or refresh their infrastructure. Companies are starting to consider moving their applications to the cloud, in lieu of purchasing on premise hardware, because of cost and the additional benefits that a cloud platform provides like backup, security, and redundancy. Clients are also changing their model from CAPEX to OPEX, or operating expenditures. It looks more attractive to utilize a subscription-based service, as opposed to putting out hundreds of thousands of dollars for capital expense.

M: By the end of 2016, the entire cloud services market is expected to grow by 13%, or by 200 billion dollars according to recent data by Gartner. There's a huge market created by companies looking to swap their legacy infrastructure into the cloud. There are many options from Google Cloud, AWS, and Microsoft Azure for companies looking to move to the cloud, but they can also opt for a hybrid environment.

Solution

What type of approach do you recommend for clients migrating to the cloud from legacy hardware?

M: The first step involves understanding what the pain points are. Does the customer aim for mobility or for disaster recovery options? We need to understand the reasons behind their choice. It may be the 24/7 availability, a lack of in-house talent in dealing with certain problems and challenges, the need for proper backup, or simply cost-cutting. Based on the compelling reasons they offer, we will try to create a proof-of-concept or sample application, and have constant back-and-forth discussions, document all requirements, and provide all the services needed in terms of customization.

R: Not all legacy applications will run at their maximum performance levels once they're ported to the cloud. We offer redesign or redevelopment of those applications, regardless of their type. We may change an outdated database, switching to a SQL backend, in order to take advantage of the available technology. This seems to be a challenge and warning flag for many companies: their apps can't simply be thrown into the cloud. They need to be tested and tuned before being released as enterprise-wide solutions.

What were your reasons for choosing Azure rather than AWS or Google Cloud?

R: As Microsoft partners, we're getting special treatment from them in order to peel back the services and products that Microsoft has offered through Azure. I've been in this business for 35 years. One of the reasons for becoming a Microsoft proponent was the enhanced support and sales help we've received by becoming partners. Microsoft has become much more personal and support has become more direct and responsive. In turn, this helps us provide better support for clients.

M: We like the way Microsoft empowers different small businesses and educational institutions. We have posted some recent articles on our website in which we talk about how Azure impacts the education and healthcare industries, and how they're changing manufacturing. Most middle schools and high schools want access to digital technology. Many of them are using Google devices at the moment, but there are many applications and products from Microsoft which help specific industries. OneNote, Skype, and the Surface Tablet Pen are some examples.

GE Healthcare and Boeing have announced that they'd be moving to Microsoft Azure, while Facebook will start using Office 365 for their business productivity email applications. As a Microsoft partner, we feel great to have such strong support from them. This directly helps us obtain more business. Microsoft is a known platform and it offers many options when it comes to integration.

It takes a lot less time for us to train a customer using well-known applications. Many of them will already be familiar with Microsoft products, compared to those from Amazon or Google. Microsoft has also been increasing its datacenters, which come with extended capabilities and support. We've always been able to call Microsoft whenever we had an issue and receive support.

Given migration costs, have you seen customers obtain better cost efficiency over time?

R: The return on investment and total cost of ownership for migrating to the cloud isn’t immediate, but rather something that becomes beneficial within the first 18 months to 2 years, after which the client will realize the true benefits of migrating applications. Many companies are looking forward to new releases from Microsoft, particularly Dynamics 365 and other applications which will be usable on a subscription basis, as opposed to developing specialized software from scratch for their business.

Microsoft came late to the cloud market compared to Amazon and Google, but they have become as competitive in terms of pricing as the other cloud platforms. We have a level of comfort in running apps like Microsoft Office and SharePoint in an environment that is being provided by their manufacturer. There's a security and compatibility level which come from knowing that we're dealing with one vendor that supports all the products that we need for daily business operations.

Based upon current stats, 50% of Fortune 500 companies are using Azure in some fashion. We're confident that, although late to the game, Microsoft will be making some tremendous progress in the next 2 to 5 years. Clients will be attracted to the many factors offered by Microsoft.

Features

Are there current features, or anything on the horizon for Azure, which you've found to be unique?

R: I recently attended the Microsoft World Partner Conference 2016 in Toronto. There were several key features announced, one of them being Windows as a Service [WaaS]. This means that users will be able to have a virtual desktop environment in the Azure platform for around $7 per month. This will be very attractive not only at a business level, but also for consumers. People will be able to access their desktops from the cloud anywhere, at any time, having access to a full Windows 10 environment on up to 5 devices. The same desktop environment will be available on a PC, a tablet, laptop, smartphone or any other device able to run it. I think that the service is slated to be launched in October 2016. Windows as a Service, or WaaS, was a surprising announcement for me, and I'm sure it will be big.

M: Other Azure services that are compelling for most businesses include machine learning, a better-established support environment, and better security and integration. These things have attracted companies from the small business to enterprises. Getting rid of the overhead which comes with infrastructure updates is a major consideration. Businesses no longer have to upgrade their hardware every 3 years.

R: The world is moving towards a subscription-based system. Another encouraging announcement from Microsoft was Dynamics 365. Divisions and GreatPlains will now be hosted under the Dynamics umbrella, which will become available on the cloud 24/7, enabling businesses to run their manufacturing and distribution environments under the same umbrella, as a subscription-based service.

We're also aware of tools like Microsoft HoloLens and other engineering and artificial intelligence systems that are slowly creeping their way in. We see Microsoft as a true engineering company, with businesses in mind unlike Amazon and Google. After asking who does it best, we feel confident in putting our eggs in Microsoft's basket.

Are there any areas of the platform which you think could be improved? Are there features which could be added to the platform in order to make it more attractive?

R: Things are changing every day, and the environment will never be static and perfect. Because the services that we've mentioned are still new, and we're just now getting fresh exposure to them, there will always be room for improvement. On certain scales, Microsoft has gotten an 80 to 90% approval rating. I couldn't name any specific improvements right now, because we're still living in a limited environment. As clients come to us with more requests, we will have Microsoft's ear in order to offer feedback.

M: Microsoft entered the small and medium business world by offering more than an online hosting email platform, but have offered services like Skype, storage, SharePoint, and so on. Microsoft's package beats Google Docs and others with its safety and integration. There is a lot to be said about the features offered by Office 365 in terms of integration and safety. I haven't heard complaints from people about having their data stolen or used for advertising.

Overview

We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate Microsoft Azure on a scale of one to 5, with 5 being the best score.
How would you rate Microsoft Azure for its functionality and available features?

5 – I give the rating especially after the new announcements from the World Partner Conference.

How would you rate Microsoft Azure for ease of use and ease of implementation?

4 – There's room for improvement, which Microsoft is taking care of, in terms of certifications, instructions, and training. These have gotten much better than they were 5 years ago, but still need to be made easier to access, understand, and implement.

How would you rate Microsoft Azure for support, as in the response of their team, and the helpfulness of available resources online?

4.5 – Microsoft has improved support tremendously and has become very responsive. I usually receive callbacks and deal directly with support reps as a Microsoft partner, not an end-user. We're able to log calls and receive responses within 6-12 hours from level 1 support, either online or through a call.

How likely are you to recommend Microsoft Azure to a friend or colleague?

5 – We feel that, overall, we're dealing with a software manufacturer. From a business standpoint, we have access to every solution that a client may need.

How would you rate Microsoft Azure for overall satisfaction with the platform?

4.5 – There have been a few hiccups in the past with setting up backup and site recovery, but Microsoft was on top of the situation and resolved my problems within a day or two. Many of these issues were due to hardware incompatibility on the client side.