If you visit the “About Us” page on the ePlus website, it will tell you that ePlus engineers transformative technology solutions for the most visionary companies in the world.
Those words are much more than mere corporate speak. With ePlus, it is in their culture, their DNA, to think big on behalf of customers. They tackle tough projects with some of the best architects, engineers, and consultants working in IT today.
It’s simple when you are laser-focused on driving results.
Recently, we sat down with Mark Melvin, CTO of ePlus, to get his thoughts on where the market is going and how the enterprise can leverage cloud technology. An IT veteran with a career spanning 25-plus years, Mark Melvin is the chief technology officer for ePlus. Mark has worked on projects such as the Space Station Freedom, Army RCAS Global Network, and numerous Enterprise LAN, WAN, IP Telephony, wireless, data center, and virtualization designs. He believes that partnerships are crucial for business success, and counts NetApp as a key partner.
ePlus is one of the most successful technology companies today. Why do you think you have sustained such long-term success?
There are a few things that separate us. First, it’s our people. We have more than 1,000 employees across 26 locations, many of them representing a lengthy tenure. In our industry, longevity with staff can be unusual. But people stay where they are happy. When they are doing work that is challenging and fulfilling, collaborating with colleagues who are both smart and respectful-those are critical ingredients for employee retention. And employee retention helps us maintain a tradition of excellence that clients rely on and trust.
Second, it’s our offerings. We are a full-service shop. From strategy to fulfillment to managed services, our solutions are engineering-centric. But more than that, we are incredibly passionate about driving business objectives forward so our clients realize what it means for technology to do more.
Finally, it’s our partnerships. Our deep partnerships with leading edge technology manufacturers, such as NetApp, keep us immersed across the broad spectrum of the IT ecosystem. We have pretty much tried everything ourselves before we introduce anything to our clients.
You are known as a partner who was ahead of the curve with cloud. Can you tell us more?
It’s a good story. One of our customers, a large service provider, started ordering equipment from us that quite simply didn’t make sense. We called and asked, What are you planning to do with this? You know it doesn’t work well together, right? Initially, they were reluctant to tell us, but we persisted, and eventually they shared their plans for building a new set of services.
We sat down with them and said, Okay, but you might want to think about this differently. At the time, we were experimenting with consolidated infrastructures and we had some experience they could leverage. That was seven years ago, well before FlexPod, and it became the first large service provider cloud that we built. Of course, it has been incredibly successful for this customer, and we continue to work with them today.
Cloud has been around for a while now, but do you think there are still cloud misconceptions?
I do. There is still a lot of confusion about what cloud is. For example, many companies have developed highly virtualized architectures that they are calling cloud. We get that; even our own early solutions were simply heavy virtualization with some light automation. But you need to move beyond that to get to the full cloud model and associated benefits.
Does that mean customers are making mistakes in their cloud decisions?
One of the biggest challenges, and misses, for customers is how to take advantage of management tools to understand where their workloads need to be.
Most customers have a combination of public, private and hybrid cloud architectures, although only some of them have a way of interconnecting them. They need to understand where their applications should live as well as what the true costs are, not just what they think their costs are supposed to be. There are a lot of nuances to getting your cloud cost-model right. What works for one customer is not necessarily going to work for another.
For example, a mission-critical application that does well in the cloud for one type of customer might not work well for someone else. But they may benefit from mobile apps, and it might not have been something they had even considered as an option. We’ve also been involved in building some of the largest community clouds available today, and sometimes clients need to think about where a community cloud would better serve their needs.
What else do customers need to think about with their cloud?
One of the things we have learned in building clouds for multiple service providers is seeing the different ways these providers work through specific problems, because everything they are doing is revenue-centric. It enables us to bring a mindset, along with best-practice models, to the enterprise and help with revenue-focused thinking. Investing in technology in the real world is all about making money.
What about data?
A big element is the data. Companies want to own and protect their data. They want to serve it to stakeholders when and where the data is needed. That is why NetApp’s data fabric strategy is so critical in our solution set.
You mentioned FlexPod earlier.
We were selling FlexPod long before there was a FlexPod. We were simply designing our own converged infrastructure solutions to simplify project lifecycles for our clients. We actually began with SMT (Secure Multi-Tenancy), which helped bring together data center silos by isolating virtual machines/groups, clients, business units, and security zones.
We had been pushing data center consolidation for a long time. We saw the advantages for our clients and could envision the future. But it was five years ago at VMworld when NetApp invited us into a room with a handful of other partners to ask our opinion. They said they had been thinking about a flexible, scalable, converged infrastructure that could offer validated designs and a cooperative support model.
We were excited because this would take what we were already doing to a whole new level of customer value.
Your partnership with NetApp is very collaborative.
Absolutely. I think it is one of our key strengths. In our world, community means everything. ePlus is close to our customers. We grapple on a daily basis with real-world business challenges with some of the largest private and public sector clients in the world. We are in a position to provide direct feedback to NetApp, and NetApp takes that feedback seriously. We listen to each other. We share ideas for innovation.
You are one of the top FlexPod partners-in fact, you just won several awards at Insight 2015. Congratulations.
Thank you. We have been recognized over several years by both NetApp and Cisco with awards for our cloud-building capabilities. It is very gratifying for our company and our people, who both invest so much.
For so many years, IT has been viewed as a cost center. While most organizations want to shift the view to IT as a revenue generator, that is not always easy to do. They aren’t certain how to go about it. Workloads are the key to helping make that migration happen. Viewing workloads in terms of how they provide revenue to the company, how they bring a new product to market, how they deliver a more efficient, better customer experience – these are the questions that help the enterprise make the right cloud decisions and define better strategies for IT and the business to work together.