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97. Is SASE going to empower networks of the future? with Dan Truong of AOS Consulting

November 29, 2023

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Listen in as Dan and I venture down the path around SDWAN as it evolves into Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and we learn why the convergence is so important right now! Dan brings to the call some incredible sales strategies and discussion tips. Get ready because your customers as asking for it and if they haven’t yet, they will.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode. Today we have on the topic, is the SASE revolution going to empower networks and secure the future? For that, we’ve got Mr. Dan Truong from AOS Consulting. Dan, welcome on, my friend.

Thank you for having me. Dan, we’re going to learn a little bit about who AOS here is in just a second, but I want to hear about you. You and I were sharing all kinds of cool background stories. Probably should have had the record on for those. But tell me a little bit about your background story. Where did you start out? How did you get into doing AOS? But has it been a direct path or just kind of a crazy winding path? Just like life, it’s a crazy winding path for us here. So I originally wanted to be a lawyer.

I then I was back then in probably mid 90s, 94, still going to school. I was working for a small law firm in San Diego as like a legal clerk, you know, typing up unlawful detainers and serving eviction notices at night to pay the rent. And one of those nights I was happened to be out happy with a friend that worked in the provisioning department of a long distance care in San Diego. And her boss, who’s happened to be there, heard our conversations and heard that I was unhappy where I was at. And I don’t think I want to be a lawyer because I thought I was going to provide justice, but really most of it’s just negotiations. And so that was just not for me.

The next day I received a call and she said, “Hey, we have a job opening for a, you know, provisioner in our department. Would you like to come and interview for it?” And I’m like, “Sure.”

And fast forward, you know, a couple of days later, I was working in the provisioning department at the small, you know, LD company. Fast forward another six months, I want to say, it was pretty quick. I replaced the manager as the provisioning manager. And so she went to pursue other opportunities and the CEO thought I was doing a good enough job to replace her. And I did. After that, I went to work like many of us, the C-LEC industry opened up in the late 90s, right? And I went to work as an SC, as a sales engineer for one of the C-LECs and then hopped on to another one. And before I knew it, I was offered a position to be a partner in one of the tech companies. And so I went ahead and took advantage of that to be a small partner in one of these small companies. And we ended up buying AOS consulting three days after I started at this other company. And my seat wasn’t even warm yet, you know, coffee was still hot, you know. And we ended up purchasing AOS consulting three days later. So yeah. I love it. I love it. So there’s some lessons I got out of that. One, alcohol brings us all together and gives us great opportunities because great conversations happen.

But more importantly, no, you just outworked everybody and look where it’s gotten you. I love that. I love that story. That’s awesome for everybody to hear.

Thank you. All right. So tell us then about for anybody that is not familiar with AOS, give us tell us about the company, kind of what some of your focus is on and go to market, all that good stuff.

Okay. Well, the company was not started by us. As I mentioned, we acquired it in 2004.

It started in 1998. And it was built as an AT&T agency. It was the second largest AT&T agency in the West. We cannot take credit for that. That was that all the credit needs to be given to the founder and his team. But unfortunately, for personal reasons, he put up for sale in 2004. And thus we went ahead and purchased it. The reason behind it was to feed the long distance company we had at the time, right? And you can sell your analog lines or your PRIs, and you slap on your long distance and then ta-da, there was the business plan at the time. We were originally going to build an agency, but it was much easier to purchase one that was already running with partners and everything, you know, there you had system in place. And then 2008, I purchased a company from my partners. I immediately then decided to go non-exclusive with AT&T, nothing against AT&T. But with my engineering background, I found it just a little boring to offer one product to our customers. You know, you weren’t solving multiple issues, you were just solving whatever they wanted to solve, right? The one problem they had. So then when we went non-exclusive, we started to sell other providers. And then here we are today with, what, over 400 or so providers underneath the portfolio. And it was within a blink of an eye, it seems like.

Love it. Just flies by and look where you are now. Awesome stuff. Okay, so the topic today is about, you know, SASE and SD-WAN, which is really an evolution of

SASE being an evolution of SD-WAN. So for anybody that’s not familiar, you know, I think we saw SD-WAN come into the channel, you know, years ago, but maybe walk us through from your seat, Dan, a little bit of an overview. SD-WAN is this kind of has transitioned into SASE, you know, from a partner’s view. Okay. Well, first of all, I wish SD-WAN was around when I was a customer facing engineering, because I would have seen a lot less trouble tickets and would have been yelled at a lot less. I just, you know, but for those who are either not familiar with SD-WAN or, you know, new to the environment here, I mean, SD-WAN basically, it drastically improves the way a customer manages their wide-air network. So the descriptions in the name, software-defined wide-air network. So it allows, you know, multiple offices to use various types of internet connections to connect to each other, to speak with each other, right? And it’s done in a much, much more cost-effective solution than the older network designs, such as, you know, point-to-point, point-to-multi-point, MPLS, Metro Ease, etc., etc. And it also provides a superior circuit aggregation for failover and bandwidth aggregation, right, compared to like the older load balancing or bonding, right? But like most things, the benefits are different depending on the business type. So if it’s a single site business, you probably benefit more from the bandwidth aggregation, okay? So instead of, you know, buying a real expensive DIA, you can have, you know, a less expensive either two, you know, broadband circuits possibly, you know, and a higher, you know, higher speeds and, you know, less cost, you know, that gave you failover. And at that point in time, you know, VoIP was coming out, right? So VoIP was a big thing. And, you know, SD-WAN allowed it to failover a lot more smoothly, you know, in my opinion. So, you know, traditional failovers, okay, one circuit takes a hit, then all the calls drop, right? And then it fails over, your router fails over to the second connection, and then you have to reestablish everything. And it’s clunky, and it works, but it’s clunky. You know, SD-WAN just made it a lot smoother, because of the active, active, you know, you know, setup. And so then in case one circuit had packet loss or jitter latency, you know, your VoIP calls stayed up, right? And who doesn’t want that, especially people that run, you know, contact centers or have calls are super important, they don’t want to drop the call, right? Yeah.

Most site-site businesses, go ahead. I’m sorry. No, so those are all incredible valuable points right? So if I listen to that, and I hear that, I think, how does it possibly get any better? Because that dramatically revolutionized everything. So why then, what does the SASE component come into that? How can we possibly add any more value at this point? Well, SASE is the evolution to combine the SD-WAN components and security, right? So, I mean, it’s just, it’s combined in a unified cloud-based solution. So, you know, it leverages this, you know, SD-WAN capabilities, but it goes a step further by providing more robust security all the way to the end users that may not be sitting on premise, right? Today, as we know, COVID brought change, a lot of changes, you get all the time. A lot of people are working either permanently remote or some kind of hybrid solution. So now how do you protect, you know, the business and the SASE model, you know, does that pretty well? So by combining the SD-WAN and robust security. So in life, things are about timing.

And this is about timing has to be right. This is about the need. And really, it’s about convergence from what I’ve heard you describe. So, you know, if I look back years ago, you know, people would say, “Oh my gosh, no, I’m on my SASE 5505 on-premise. Great. It’s going to last me 345 years. I will never want to see that be gone. Don’t you dare talk to me about replacing that. That will be my box. I will hug it and hold it forever.” Here we are, fast forward a bunch of years. And we’re talking about convergence and security. And we’re talking about lack of staff. And we’re talking about, to your point, people going, “Okay, well, this box is great. It’s got a lot of benefits or this license is great. It’s got a lot of benefits.” And we’re talking about now converging. So how does being able to talk to a customer about the convergence of these two technologies helped you in those conversations? Well, we weren’t selling a whole lot of security as a standalone product in the past. We are, right? Because in our mind, it was, there was a lot of competition. We weren’t specialists in it. And so we felt that, you know, we should just stay in our lane. We tried to go in the lane, but we felt uncomfortable and just came back into our lane because you know, you do what you’re comfortable with, right? And so now with the evolution or combination of what we are familiar with, network and SD-WAN, right? And with the security, it just allowed us to be more comfortable speaking about it, you know, under one roof, you know? And especially when you start to reduce the number of vendors, you know, providing these services, it was huge. Because before you come in and you’re like, “Okay, well, this type of security is provided by this vendor or these vendors. And this security is provided by these vendors.” And well, we don’t know, you know, we’re not sure who’s better and why and explain it. Well, now you can talk about more comfortably under one roof because it involves something, again, we are more comfortable with, which is network. And, you know, I like to say that customers, much like us as people, we don’t want to go and visit multiple stores to buy what we need for our household goods. Right? So people, you know, so if you’re able to offer groceries, furniture, electronics, and medication under one roof, you’re more likely to get those customers versus, you know, a place a store that sells just one of those items. And so this allowed us to be more comfortable speaking with the client and offer those products. Love it. Okay, so you and I were also before this call talking about kind of old school sales training, right? Flipping through the binder, getting people to subliminally say yes to this question, yes to this question. So when it’s time to ask them, “Are you ready to buy?” They say yes to that question too, and they sign here and press hard. But that’s not how this conversation goes when we’re talking to network architects, we’re talking to enterprise customers, we’re talking about security and all these different things in the environment. So we talked all the good, but I want to hear from you. What are you hearing from customers about? Is there hesitations? Is there objections? What’s the customer feedback when you first start to pitch them on this idea of SASE and security and convergence? Some of them, it’s so new. And so when people hear or see change, they get nervous, right? That’s a natural thing for all of us as humans. Most of the concerns are revolved around security. Is it really that secure? Because it’s not here, I can’t see it, I can’t hold it, right? It’s somewhere else, you know, in the cloud, it’s a mystery. They don’t trust the cost and ROI. So that’s a big one. Like, wow, you’re providing all these things under one roof. You know, how much are you going to, is this going to really end up costing me? Because they’ve known what they’ve known, they’ve had very predictive spending in the past. And now when you change it, you know, they get very nervous with that. So we spend a lot of time proving or showing the true ROI for these services. Luckily for us, it’s been the positive, right? I mean, it’s the numbers speak for themselves. Not what they say, numbers never lie. And you know, there it is. The third one, I have to say, it’s probably training and management of these systems. That’s another concern, because again, they’ve been working on these systems they have, they’re familiar, and now you’re changing it, you know, who managed it, you know, where does the line of the sand drawn, where my people take care versus the provider, right? So we spend quite a few times there explaining that and how that works out. And every client feel different, because every client’s needs are different. And we never, ever, ever try to shove, you know, a solution that we have from another client into the existing client, we just got to listen to what they have to say, and address their very, very specific needs. Great points. Yeah, great, great points. Drive it down the ROI. I think there’s a lot of misunderstood in that people forget to add certain things to that of how hard it is to find security based employees, how hard it is to maintain them is one person resilient, what if I can give you more, you know, blah, blah, blah, great points. And I think we can’t make any assumptions that people already know those things, because I’ve seen a lot of conversations, and I know you’ve seen them too. Yes, absolutely. All right. Let’s talk about let’s get into a scenario here. So can you walk us through a scenario where you’ve you’ve sold some of this, you know, SD-WAN, SASE, and really, what I want to hear is, take me from initial customer, hey, I need help on this thing to, hey, we found they had this old technology, it was this, we replaced it with this. And then what really what kind of improvements and help did that bring to the customer’s environment? Okay. We have a recent example of that. This company is a managed health care provider. So not a health. Excuse me, I said that wrong. A managed health plan provider, not a managed health care provider. So not a hospital, not whatever they are. They manage your health plans, right? Like a Aetna, Blue Shield, Blue Cross, I don’t know how I’m supposed to name names, but you get the picture. And they’re in very serious growth mode, because of some changes with the state and how they manage their health plans. And so they brought us in to take a look and at their entire infrastructure, and see, you know, what changes that, you know, needed to be made.

They start off with, we have their existing solutions were an on-prem Avaya, we’ve all seen that on-prem firewall for a very reputable name, firewall, based firewall. They had two massive DIA circuits, I think one was a two gig, one was a one gig primary and backup.

Then they had an MPLS to their backup data center in Las Vegas. I think that was two gigs also, quite a big of a pipe. And they use VPN for remote users that didn’t exist until COVID hit. So, you know, they had to adapt really quickly in the last few years to the remote users.

We went in and obviously we suggested they, you know, go to a cloud-based contact center, and UC, which we did. And as a matter of fact, we just went through the deployment just eight days ago. So yeah, but the other things we did were we were trying to reduce the failover time, right? Because now you’re going from a non-prem base, which had decent failover for the voice, they had multiple SIP trunks coming in for it. It’s great design, but once they went to a cloud base, you know, what do you do? And so we brought in an SD-WAN solution for that. We were able to reduce the bandwidth requirements at the time. We went from, like I said, two gig and one gig and an MPLS two gig down to 500 meg circuits. And it works fantastic, right? You know, it works unbelievably well. So we reduced the overall network costs. We simplified, you know, the management. And then we also addressed the security piece of it for the remote users. So, you know, with ZTNA, with, we’re looking at, you know, web browser, you know, what am I trying to say here? Security also. Yeah. So, but we improved our overall company’s cyber security posture too. So there are a bunch of other things that we did that were not related to this. But, you know, that was the SD-WAN and SASE piece of it. I love it. Now, in the end of that, you know, it’s always interesting when a customer hears me say, or hears a partner say, I know you’ve got these circuits and you’re paying this amount of money for it, but I mean, I actually ask you to reduce your cost on that because you don’t need it anymore. And I think that sometimes that approach makes people go, wait, wait, you’re going to lower my costs in this. I thought you were here to sell me something. So I’d imagine there’s a lot of, a lot of moments in that conversation. You know, I’m hearing consolidation. I’m hearing visual. I’m hearing failover resiliency, lowering the security, you know, the overall attack surface. It’s just benefit after benefit in that story. So I love, love that example. Mm-hmm. Okay. You know, as we get to the end here, we’re going to call this Dan’s advice.

So look, you’re a successful partner in this space. I would love to hear whether it’s questions or it’s messaging. You’ve moved down the road of advanced services to where, you know, where you’re at now selling these complex products. And so maybe you have a partner that hasn’t gone down this journey yet. Maybe I’m selling completely different technology. Maybe I haven’t even touched network andSD-WAN and security at all. What’s, what are a couple questions? What’s the approach? What do you want to share with other partners?

I really like this piece of the conversation, because we went through this journey ourselves, right? Me personally, my team. And what I would advise to other partners is don’t try to be the specialist. That’s going to go against what a lot of people say. This is my opinion, obviously, because sometimes we go out there and we learn all these acronyms, these technologies and whatnot. We feel that we need to go and sit in front of an IT director or manager or CIO and be fully competent to have an engaging conversation with this person. But guess what? That doesn’t exist, right? Because most of us aren’t engineers. Most of us aren’t whatever specialists. We’re not. And so I would advise you to be comfortable in your own skin and to go in there. And here’s my, here’s my example. Pretend you are a hospital. Okay. And urgent care or whatever the ER, okay. When you come in as a patient, this is your client coming in, right? They have some kind of issue, do or don’t know what it is. They have some kind of pain, right? That’s where they’re there to see you for. You can either be the first person that greets them is taking the name, their insurance. What hurts is your head, your arm, you know, what happened, right? Or you could be the next person they see the nurse that takes your pulse, you know, they know a little more than dress it. Okay. You can’t breathe properly. So it’s, you know, it’s more important that you go see somebody quicker, right? And maybe a heart doctor or whatever. And then you may go see the next person, you know, is an actual doctor, some kind of general practitioner, right? And then after that is a specialist, a heart, you know, a podiatrist, whatever. You are one of those people in that line. Don’t feel you need to be the heart specialist.

Don’t feel you need to be the podiatrist because you’re not right. If you are great, but don’t feel that you have to be there. It’s okay for you to be the person sitting there in the first meeting, just taking notes on what their pain points are. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Now, but if you do the opposite and you try to be the specialist and you try to throw out certain words and things, whatever, and you point yourself in a corner and you say the wrong things, now you potentially could give them a bad impression of you. That’s my opinion, right? So stay in your lane. And I guarantee you that if you start off, you know, in the front desk, taking the names, you will eventually become the nurse, the RN or whatever, and hopefully, you know, a doctor one day, right? So that’s my suggestion to people. So there’s no tech there at all. No tech from an ex engineer. I can’t love that anymore. That is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever heard. I love that. I think it gives people an exact example. If I’m a partner and I hear that, I just get so much more comfortable. So nice story. I love that one. Good. Okay.

Final thoughts here. Again, we’ve gone to Dan’s advice section. Now we’re going to future projections from Dan. So we’ve talked evolution. We’ve talked about, you know, where this has come from network resiliency to security to all kinds of things. So anything outside of kind of what you just mentioned from an advice perspective, from a tech stack perspective, trends, developments that you think partners should pay attention to over the next 12 months, anything different coming from your perspective, or just do we double down on everything that we talked about?

We double down everything we talked about. But you hear this a lot from, you know, our industry, where the growth of this, that, you know, all the previous products and services that, you know, have been presented to us to allow us to sell. This is no different. This really is the future. I mean, it’s very blatantly obvious, because of all the cybersecurity issues that we’re all experiencing. I mean, literally just one of our healthcare providers that actually, you know, provide healthcare, they were hacked. I think I want to say it was like six days ago or so, you know, as we’re deploying for this other healthcare plan. So it’s happening, and it happens to everybody. And we all want to all these companies who want to do better at, you know, securing their business. And so don’t feel uncomfortable talking about it. It’s here. You know, it’s here. I mean, I’ll quote Gardner, right? They say that, you know, according to them by 2024, 40% of enterprises will explicitly, you know, expedite strategies in place of SASE adoption, compared to like 1% in 2018. And that 2018 was not that long ago, right? It does this just a couple years ago, now it’s gonna be 40%, you know, in the couple of months here. So they gather real data that’s not, you know, made up data that’s not, you know, a buddy of yours having a beer and telling you something to random numbers. Gardner is very good at gathering, you know, live and real data and presenting it. And so I would pay very close attention to that, trust it. And so, you know, go out there and have those conversations with these clients, because they’re ready to have it. They’re absolutely ready to have it. Okay, great stuff. Dan, I’m question it out, man. You crushed it. I really appreciate you coming on, buddy.

Thank you very much for having me. It was great catching up with you this morning. And good luck to everybody out there. You know, be comfortable in your own skin. Stay in your lane. Okay, love it.

All right, everybody. That wraps us up for today. Dan Truong from AOS Consulting. I’m your host, Josh Lupresto SVP of Sales Engineering from Telarus talking about the SASE revolution.