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Today we wrap up our first series of 2024 as we venture into Unlocking Cloud Potential with strategies that will work in this year and beyond! On with us for this episode, we have Daniel Beckworth of WhiteOak Solutions. Daniel originally joined us in Season 1 for SASE and SDWAN, but now we talk infrastructure and transformation. Daniel gives some great advice along with some customer trends he sees in the market. We even talk Open AI framework, 2024 Cloud Sales approaches, how to confidently employ to your customer where you can help them and more!

Hey everybody, welcome back here as we are embarking into 2024. Today we’re talking about unlocking cloud potential with some key strategies for 2024 and beyond. On with us we have returning guests, Mr. Daniel Beckworth from White Oak Solutions. Dan, welcome on, man.

Josh Lupresto thanks for having me back, my dude. Much appreciated. I love it. You might get the vote for coolest background for those of you on the video, man. It really makes me want to step up my background game. Listen, I am the king, somebody come take the throne. There’s the challenge.

Love it. Listen, let’s, let’s kick this thing off. You know, we had you back on for anybody that hasn’t heard your backstory. We covered that back in Episode 66. We talked about Sassy, gave us some awesome notes on on global backbones, the importance of that. If you guys haven’t heard it, Dan drops some amazing knowledge, go back and listen to that. So Dan, I want to kick us off, man with walk us through, you got a lot of lessons learned out there. Give me something for the other partners out there. Something you’ve learned, something a mistake you made, a mentor, a boss, something valuable to kick us off.

Yeah, listen, when you’re when you start a business, you’re gonna make a ton of mistakes, right? So our business is 15 months old, and it’s going surprisingly well, although we still have time to poop the sheets. So there’s always time to ruin things. But so far, so good. But so many lessons that we learned through, through our engagements, through our deployments, and just through our internal conversations and doing post wardens to see how we can improve. When we started the business, I had a genuine interest in trying to build something different than what I’d seen in the marketplace. I don’t like the sales aspect of what we do that is kind of cringy. And I especially don’t like the hokey sales stuff that you see a lot of folks in our industry do. And so I wanted to take a different approach, I wanted to come in and be agnostic across the board, and truly try to just listen to the end user and then go design and build solutions that perfectly match the requirements, things they want their budget, and their security posture. I grew up in the bar space. And what struck me about the first bar that I worked at, and it was a very large bar, is they would say, their sales pitch was Mr. customer, Miss customer, we want to build this awesome storage array for you. And we want to deliver something that’s custom just for you. And I noticed every time they’d slide a proposal across the desk, it was one manufacturer, it was because they’re getting back in dollars and rebates from the manufacturer. So they’re kind of handcuffed, they have to sell it. But it’s the same thing in the TSD community, right? So at previous places, employment, I’ve gone through engagements where corporately, the mandate has been, hey, you can’t sell that thing. I don’t care if it’s the right fit for the customer. This is our flagship product. It has to be this. I hate that passionately. In fact, Josh, I want to say something kind of controversial. Yeah, you ready to if you sell a solution purely based off compensation or a spiff, you’re a nerd.

Yeah, that doesn’t work, man. What my mentor is a guy named Greg. He’s the first person that hired me in it. And he’s a hillbilly from Alabama, like overalls beard, like, looks like a biker kind of crazy. But he’s a master at engineering and walking through a cell cycle with the C-suite. He’s just very, very good at it. The thing that he taught me that I’m trying to apply to this journey is this is about long ball. It’s actually understanding what that end user wants, what they believe their roadmap should be, what they’re trying to accomplish, the struggles that they face, and you try to align with their goals and make them successful. And as a result, you’re probably going to be successful as well. But it’s a it’s a whole different mindset, excuse me mindset than what I typically see in our space. So if anything, I have validated to ourselves that this is truly the path to walk down, man. It’s been awesome to see it put in practice, and to actually execute on that thing. And I’m hyper committed to this journey. And doing it in a way that I think is, this sounds lame, but kind of pure. No, no, it really is. I mean, you bring up a good point. I forget the old adage of how this goes, right? But if they if they came to you for $1, they’ll leave you for $1. But if you’re ultimately adding a lot of value in their mind, then all the other things and all the work behind the scenes will prevail. And that that really I mean, that’s that’s how relationships are built that and going through the trenches, going through battle together, and how we respond in those really defines it. Yeah, we like solving hard problems, right? If I can solve an extremely difficult problem, and make it easier for you, and you have a positive experience of the engagement, we’re going to keep calling me over and over again. So that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do, right? Like repeat customers, because the quality of the service is is through the roof. Yeah, great. Okay, so let’s talk for anybody that’s not familiar. Let’s talk a little bit about white oak. So tell us about who white oak is, what you got going on and how people can find you if they want to hear more.

Yeah, so we’ll we’re a full stack consulting agency. And I truly mean that it’s everything from complex networking, contact center and UC, basic connectivity, but where we really start to shine is the advanced solution. So you got a complex contact center engagement. Well, I’m your Huckleberry for that. You’ve got an infrastructure project, whether that’s private cloud, hyperscaler doesn’t matter. We want to meet you right where you are, and give you the best solution for that workload. And then we really shine with cybersecurity. So we have multiple architects as part of our team. So we’re able to consult around those things, design, implement and and support those on the back end. So we’re all about the technical experience, very, very light on sales, heavy on technical expertise. And we we, we genuinely like building really cool stuff. And so it’s cool having all those architects on board. If you want to get up with me, I’m active on LinkedIn, Daniel Beckworth, you can hit me up. My email is Daniel at wideexolutionsllc.com. Or you can catch our website. But LinkedIn is the easy spot. My man. Love it. LinkedIn always is what do we do before? I don’t know. I don’t know how we found people before LinkedIn, man. Our business.

Facebook, yeah, would have been overrun by our grandparents. Yeah, that’s fair. Got out to the grandparents. Fair enough. All right, let’s, let’s jump into some cloud content here. So with what you see in the broader market, where do you find when you get into an opportunity and a customer does start to lean on you for cloud? What’s the web service, right? Are they coming to you for backup, dr, infrastructure, you know, where do they start?

Yeah, so we catch in users at every phase of the journey. So we’ve got some in users that we work with are that are truly cloud first. I mean, everything is in the cloud somewhere, zero premise base footprint. And then we have customers that have zero and I truly mean zero cloud utilization, including SaaS, like I just took a very large customer for Microsoft prim to cloud this year, like that’s in 2023. I thought I thought everybody done that years ago, but we still see stuff like that. So there’s a wide range in the mix. And we’re truly trying to catch people wherever they are on that journey. But some of the easy things that we see. So let’s say you’ve got any user that approaches you and they’re trying to understand what the cloud journey looks like. SaaS options are really easy way to dip your toes in the water, to get used to things living in the cloud, that nefarious place that most in users don’t understand if they’re not technical. So we start that SaaS is pretty easy one like mail, you see voice, that’s just all easy button. SD win has really made that an easy conversation as well with the software overlays for that. But if you don’t have a real like infrastructure footprint that’s in the cloud environment, disaster recovery and backup as a service is a great jumping off point, so that you can get used to the experience. And it also leads into all these other services that end users tend to want to consume.

Yeah, I mean, if you think about it from a DR perspective, curious what you’re seeing. We tend to make assumptions, you know, like you said, it’s 2023. Surely everybody’s moved to cloud or some flavor of mail, right? But I mean, how many people do you come in contact with that say, Oh, yeah, I don’t I don’t have a really good DR plan. I thought x had a built in DR plan. I mean, do you use that as a wedge from to an infrastructure perspective ever?

Oh, dude, of course. So virtually, nobody has a great business continuity plan. It’s almost non existent. Man, just shooting from the hip. I’d like to say that it’s 10% of or less customers that actually have a written, definable disaster recovery and business continuity plan that’s updated on a regular cadence. Because if you wrote one five years ago, you don’t have a DR plan. That’s make believe believe right like that’s, that’s fantasy land. So having the actual written plan actually doing the testing and having the software and infrastructure layer to actually go stand up that environment is less than 10%. So this is a massive conversation. We’ve spent quite a bit of time this year doing everything from writing business continuity and disaster recovery plans for end users, testing on their behalf on a biannual basis, then updating the runbook, of course. And then of course, that pivots into what type of solution are we designing to actually meet your RPO and RTO goals. And that’s different for every end user for their budget and their requirements for the business. But we’ll help them pick the solutions, build those. And that always or tends to lead into an infrastructure play. So a recent example of that is I was approached by a healthcare organization. They’re quite large. They’ve got around 20,000 employees. And the person that approached me is a part of their business continuity and disaster recovery squad. He’s leading the engagement and it started with help me make sense of this and now is pivoted into infrastructure as a service. Yeah, I love that. I mean, it really does. I don’t know that there’s ever a situation that a customer brings any of us that it stops exactly the way that it started, right? It always we just find more. I think we just we have a purview into seeing what so many customers are doing. It’s really hard being a customer, because you’re expected to know all this tech and know all this stack. But maybe you’ve had one or two or three other jobs ever in your life. And technologies changed. I don’t know. It’s gotta be really hard being a customer out there. I guess if you’re not in our shoes, right?

Yeah, I mean, think about the amount of time so staffing is a problem for everybody. Less we forget the turnover that we experienced coming out of 2020. With a great resignation. You had some jobs that turned over at a rate of 25 to 40%. And there’s a shocking percentage of those that rolled over multiple times in a two year period. So you’ve lost all this tribal knowledge, you’ve got people being forced into retirement. And they probably had all that info in their head, because it’s not documented anywhere. So now you’re expected to manage an environment that has zero documentation. We this is like every day that we bump into this same scenario. And somehow you got to keep all those lights on. Without the amount of talent you probably need to make that magic happen. And you’ve got to stay up to date on new trends. There’s no no chance that’s impossible. Yeah, and the reason I dive into this is because I want you know, the feedback is the partners that listen to this, most commonly say, okay, listening to this and listening to other partners, you’ve helped me transition from here to here. And it’s important. I think that’s why I want to dive into that. And I appreciate you elaborating on that, that’s what customers are going through. So if you understand what they’re going through, you can use some of these things that we’re going to talk about in the end of door openers and conversation starters and how to understand where they are. So great stuff. And I love hearing, you know, 10% because 80% of them might say, yeah, we have a plan. 50% of them might say, well, yeah, I mean, I think it works. And 10% of them then say, yeah, we tested it and it worked recently. Right. So great, great data there.

That’s right. Let’s let’s talk about my favorite three words of 2023. Let’s talk about large language models. So a lot of things out there on the forefront. I think that we’re going to see a lot of people tell their direct reports, hey, we got to go look at this, we got to go implement this. Have you done this yet? So curious your perspective on how you think LLMs, you know, open AI or whatever it might be, are going to drive some of these infrastructure conversations for the upcoming year. Man, shout out to all the marketers out there that decided that 2023 was the year of AI. That has been totally abused in in the sales cycle. Y’all know we’ve been using AI for a minute now, like automation has been baked into a lot of these solutions or part of what we do day to day. So it, it is a little silly that we’ve decided to, you know, really focus on that. But the good news is for the non techies out there, so the folks that are on the boards or C-suite and the shareholders and stakeholders rather inside of these organizations are hearing it for the first time. And they’re just asking questions like what is it? How can we utilize it? And what does it mean for our business? Those are great questions. You know, as technology professionals, we should be ready right then to answer that question, because we should have been doing this for a minute. If you decided in 2023, that you were going to focus on AI, well, you’re behind, or you weren’t paying attention. It’s just been so much a part of what we’ve been doing over the past several years. So with LLMs, I think it’s going to cause a couple of changes that we’re going to see. I do see end users that are going all in with like a Microsoft co pilot. And it’s effectively these low code, no code solutions. And they’re going to pay a subscription fee have some layer of customization for their organization, although most aren’t going to take it to the depths in which it should go. They’re just going to try to buy something off the shelf, and they’re going to have a pretty poor return on investment. This is all about the customization and tuning it to meet your needs and your environment, the data that you have on hand. So we’ll see some that go to like a Microsoft co pilot. But I’m seeing a tremendous amount of end users that actually are trying to develop robust policy and procedure around AI, LLMs, and who has access and control of their data. And so they’re looking at companies like Microsoft and Google and saying, maybe I don’t want to send all of my data to live in your cloud, where you were to share security model anyway, but how do I know if you’re actually living up to your end of the bargain. So I’m seeing some people press pause on that. Or there’s going to be a split in the mix, right? Some people are going to get on that path, and they’re going to feel comfortable with it and no shade one way or the other. But we’re also going to have a subset of end users that say this is going to live on infrastructure that’s private or that I own. So Kolo, Kolo is not dead. Kolo is actually exploding right now. Most people don’t know that but the ultra high density Kolo needs. There’s not enough power and cooling to meet all the demand. We’ve got large companies like Tesla and some others just snapping up whole data centers and buying out complete footprints because they want it. So Kolo is going to be extremely popular as our end users build out their own stack. So they’re not coming back to their like their office because they turn down those data centers and to stand those back up as a massive capital outlay. We now see that it makes much more sense to go stick that in a tier three, tier four data center that somebody else manages, redundant cooling power. It’s the Cadillac of data center, right? So that’s going to explode. And we’re going to see a ton of that. Now we’re also going to see a massive amount of private cloud. Private cloud is going to be insanely popular. And it’s already popular with my end users. I find that there’s an educational process. Most people don’t know what it is or how it works. The only thing they know about cloud is they think AWS or Azure. You have to walk through an educational process to say, listen, there’s actually another option for you with flat billing, better engineering and support. And your performance is probably going to be awesome. Yeah. Let’s wrap up one final thought on LLMs real quick. So let’s say people are exploring this, you’ve convinced them of the idea, but security, right? Does the, do we solve that with maybe saying, well, we don’t go to the hyperscalers, we don’t use some of their products or we don’t use this yet. How do you, this is almost its own podcast, right? Security with an LLM, but what’s your convince me why I should do this angle with regard to security in LLMs?

Yeah. So first step for me with security with LLMs is policy and procedure. That’s the part that nobody wants to do. They want to buy something off the shelf that makes that magic happen. You need to go address your policy and procedure right now today and define that upfront, because that will dictate the product solutions that you consume in the future and how you consume those things. You also need to protect your end users. This is the first step on that journey. So actually documenting the policy and procedure, allowing yourself to have a framework for how you secure those things in place, and then go, go pick the solution that works best for you. So with that being said, yet we can consume AI in a meaningful way that’s going to drive business outcomes. We can automate a ton of the workflows that we have in place without diminishing our security posture inside of our organization. But it starts first with not, you know, you don’t have somebody on the board or marketing that says we got to go use AI and automate all this stuff. And then they go buy it, build it and roll it out. And then ask the security team, oh, by the way, security team, can you make all this magic happen? That’s a terrible way to approach it. You’ve got to start with security upfront, define the policy procedure, then go construct a solution that mirrors or matches the procedure that your organization finds most valuable so that you can mitigate all of your risk on the back end. The risk mitigation portion is the part that nobody wants to focus on. Everybody wants to jump right into giving this really cool whiz bang tool.

Slow down, like go define what it is that you really need and then go build that thing. And it’s easy from there. Yeah, phenomenal answer. Good stuff. All right. For the other partners out there, let’s say I have a customer who already has you know, we’re talking about cloud strategies for the go forward, right? So we’re making some assumptions that maybe now I’ve got a customer who’s got some significant cloud investment, or they think they don’t need help. Maybe they use a little bit of the hyperscalers now. How do you approach that situation where we know we can help them? We absolutely know we can. What’s your play?

Yeah, so it’s in part educational in nature, we want to make sure that they understand the differences between clouds and what options are available to them. I’m a believer that the future is hybrid. We’re going to have a mixture of three things in most organizations for things really, you’re still going to have some stuff on prim, some organizations just can’t get away from it. And they’ll always have prim space footprint, it will play its part in it. We’re also going to have a private cloud model that’s going to be extremely popular, that’s going to be explosive and continue to be explosive. You’re going to have your hyperscale option. And then of course, you’re going to have SAS, and it’s going to be a mixture of all those things in the bulk of environments, unless you’re a startup, or you have these very, very specific compliance needs. The future is hybrid. And organizations need to learn how they consume those products and what’s available to them. So we like to start with actually evaluating your workload to determine where should this thing live to begin with, we want to put it in a place where the performance is going to be optimized. You have the most robust administrative experience, it also needs to match the type of talent you have on your team, by the way. And we also want to ensure that we’re doing it in a secure manner. And that could dictate where it lives, again, based off the services that you procure, or the type of talents you have internal to your shop. So we may, let’s say you consume a hyperscaler, whether it be AWS, Azure, or, or GPC. Part of what we’re brought in to do for those engagements is to help people understand, like, is this actually like billing the way it should be billing? Why do I have all this bursting? Can you help me understand why this is happening? Oh, by the way, like, this wasn’t really set up by a true cloud architect, could you come to a health assessment to make sure it’s, it’s accurate, and it’s built correctly, and I don’t have any buckets exposed to the open internet, and that can lead into a security assessment. We are seeing repeat repatriation, right? Like, it’s kind of happening in a massive form. You can check out some of the content that I’m seeing from all the DevOps community right now, where they are moving everything out of AWS and Azure specifically back into a private cloud or colo space that they build and manage at a fraction of the cost. And they’re saving tons of money by doing so. So part of what we look for, if you live, if you live in AWS, Azure, or GPC, how did you design it and build it? What we saw as the primary trend is that people just migrated VMs like for like, I hate that model. It’s going to be 20 to 30% more expensive every single time. You’ve got to do the hard work, the phase two to actually go build that environment out to live natively there, so that you optimize your costs and the performance is much, much better. If you’re just going to migrate light for light, go put it in a private cloud. Yeah.

Let’s walk through a specific opportunity. So what I’d like to talk about in this segment is take me through an opportunity. What was the customer saying the you know, the problem was and then what was the tech stack that they had that you displaced and then ultimately, you know, what was the end benefit long term? Yeah, I’ll tell you, but there’s a ton of examples that I could share in this realm, but I’ve got one that we just just knocked out. That thing is perfect for this. So when I met them, they were utilizing a supplier that we all know. And I won’t say we love them because this specific supplier has experienced several outages over the past 12-24 months. They’ve made several acquisitions. And as a result, that process of collapsing ticketing solutions and your knocks and cross training all your engineering teams like there’s a lot of complexity in that and occasionally the balls dropped and there’s some pain and weeping of gnashing of teeth. So this end user was feeling some of that over the course of 12 months, they’d had five or six outages, all for dumb reasons that could have easily been avoided. And there are SaaS companies like they’re they’re running what I call poor man SaaS. It’s not built out on micro services in the hyperscaler. It’s just a private cloud stack. And end users hit that VM to access their data. It’s easy. So in this scenario, they couldn’t continue to have outages because that’s downtime for the customers, they’ve got to issue credits, it is very, very painful. So for phase one of our journey, we are migrating them out of a private cloud stack that includes backup as a service and disaster recovery as a service. We’re going to land that. And I’ve just talked smack about this, but we’re going to land it like for like in Azure. Once we complete that migration and ensure that the environment is stable, and we stabilize the initial portion of the billing, the phase two of the journey begins where we are going to go rebuild their entire stack to live natively in Azure where it will run on micro services, we’re going to optimize the cost and keep that down. And we anticipate that it’s going to be on par with what their private cloud billing is today, after all the ROI calculations that we’ve done. And on top of that, so not only are we performing the migration, we’re also going to do the work to actually go redesign their applications to live natively in Azure. But from there, we’re also going to manage that Azure stack from top to bottom, and secure it all as a part of a monthly managed service agreement. So the end user truly gets a turn key holistic solution from scratch. And that’s a really cool one. That’s a fun project. I love I love that. I mean, there’s so many situations like that out there. People that made a choice and it didn’t work. I mean, it’s it is a little bit of a parallel back to the original telephony days, right? They made a phone system change and it didn’t work. They made a cloud change and it didn’t work. And there’s so much opportunity in that. I think you do a really good job of uncovering just what some of these pain points are. And this perceived idea that I just got to make do with it because I’ve sunk my infrastructure here and it’s going to be really hard and scary to move and how could I ever possibly do that. And so these customers just live in stagnation and there’s just a better way whether it’s a cost driver, whether it’s a performance, whether it’s scale, there’s just a better way. And so there’s so many of those opportunities like that out there because all these customers are struggling. And we’ll say resources, resources, resources forever, because that is just forever going to be a problem. Thus the reason that we have so many vendors that we can call on when we need them. So I love that example.

Staffing is not going to get any better, right? Like we’re just going to feel this pain for some time. And you either have to pony up the dough to go hire somebody that’s awesome. And I live in the southeast. I’m in Birmingham. We pay people too little here. Pay us more down here, darn it. Man, if you’re a great engineering resource and you live in Birmingham, you’re going to have a remote job working for somebody else that’s not based here. And you’re going to be crushing this monster salary. So either organizations have to pay what those roles are due and admit that they are expensive. Or you’ve got to move to the shared service model. Yeah, there is no other path. Fair point. Okay. Final couple thoughts here. So you’ve given us a lot of vision into the journey, the web services, some examples. Let’s say I’m a partner listening to this, I’m planning my 2024 of how I’m going to talk more in depth to my customers or my prospects about cloud. What are your three favorite door openers that will get you in but not into a tricky situation? Yeah, I’m here to optimize your cost. And I can do that no matter how you, you skin this, I can optimize your costs one way or the other. And I can put you in a place that will align with your goals as far as cost optimization goes. I’m here to perform as many workload, security and gap assessment of cloud environments as possible. So that we have the correct data to show that there’s a better path and then build that roadmap to show end users how they get there. And then finally, again, is the staffing component, especially with with cloud solutions. We just don’t have enough cloud architects available. And so that’s where we like to help we can give you the enterprise grade technology, but help layer in some services

to help fill in gaps with what you have. Love it. Love the confidence to that’s just what you got to go in with. Final thoughts here. All right, in in Daniel Beckworth opinion, besides everything that we’ve talked about, do we a do we double down on that? Or do we think there are other trends, developments coming in the next 12 months with regard to cloud and just further maturity that we want to pay attention to? What’s your thoughts there?

Yeah, listen, the hype that you’re going to see out of and this is probably being promoted by the infrastructure service vendors that want to say private cloud, but all they’re talking about is repatriation like this, and there’s going to be some of that that happens. It’s going to be based on cost optimization and security with large language models, most likely, there’s a two bit biggest driving trends I see for people getting out of a public cloud scenario. So Colo is going to crush it.

I am actively pursuing Colo engagements to help end users understand the footprint of data centers that is available to them across the US and globally to help land them there. It’s going to be extremely popular and I can’t overstate that. Now, the trick for that one is understanding how you enable end users to consume all the things that they need in Colo land, from hardware, software services. That’s the magic trick for building out a holistic solution. So even though Colo is going to be popular, and some people are going to repatriate, doesn’t matter. Hyper scalers are still going to crush it because people are looking to go to the OpEx model rather than the CapEx. So we have to move past the initial journey or phase of hyper scalers into actually doing it right, where we build these solutions to live there natively, so that we get a much better performance and experience for our end users. So 2024 is going to be the year of Colo actually doing hyper scalers right and private cloud still going to crush it, man. We have so many end users that do have to optimize their budget or they’re facing flat budgets. And they want to have something that’s easy to understand. And it’s predictable and private cloud is going to meet that need, especially if people don’t want to go through complex, pro serve engagements to retrofit those applications.

That’s a bow, baby. All right, Mr. Beckworth, thank you so much for coming on, man. We covered some great stuff. You killed it. Thanks, man. Always appreciate your time. Thank you for all that you do for the community. Awesome, man. Anytime, any day. Daniel Beckworth unlocking cloud strategies for 2024.White Oak Solutions. I’m your host, Josh Lupresto SVP of Sales Engineering at Telarus Next Level BizTech.