Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ortenzi and ScaleMatrix show what's possible when data center experts start their cloud from scratch

Imagine for a moment that you could take all the smart things that you and a few of the smarter people you know have learned about setting up and running data centers over the past 20 years and apply it, right now. No legacy systems to worry about – you could start over using hardware configurations on the cutting edge of efficiency and a pretty hot software platform to base your cloud services on.

Too late. Mark Ortenzi and his cohorts at ScaleMatrix just built that company.

ScaleMatrix, a new Southern California-based managed service provider (MSP), started up in the middle of last year. Mark and the guys running ScaleMatrix have been in the data center space for years, and decided now was the time to get financial backing, invest in the right amount and kind of infrastructure, and run data centers the way they ought to be run. Their goal? To become an MSP offering a wide variety of cloud services that are in demand with customers while building a great business for ScaleMatrix. They became a big CA 3Tera AppLogic partner following a $3.06 million deal we (CA Technologies & ScaleMatrix) did together in January.

I asked Mark, their CEO, if he’d provide a little background on what ScaleMatrix is up to for the blog. Mark’s background includes senior executive positions with several data center and dedicated server companies. As you might guess, Mark has a strong background in data center design and he has written several industry standards articles relating to data center operations, design, and efficiency. He has several patents pending relating to his latest enclosure design that will be deployed at ScaleMatrix, one piece of their secret sauce. Read on:

Jay Fry, Data Center Dialog: ScaleMatrix is a brand new entity, but your team is made up of data center veterans. What’s your unique pitch to customers and what are you mainly focusing on?

Mark Ortenzi, ScaleMatrix: We’re different. We’ve been in the industry for 20 years, and things have changed in the area of heating and cooling efficiencies. And in being able to grow data centers in an environment without having to spend $50-100 million overnight.

What sets ScaleMatrix apart from other so called “cloud computing companies” is our ability to control the entire process. We’ll be able to architect, deploy, and manage the entire solution in any one of our 12 data centers across the United States or in your own private data center. By controlling the entire process we are able to offer our private cloud solution as a service. Thus, we become an operating expense and not a capital expenditure.

Plus, everybody in our org is a systems engineer. We don’t hire door openers.

DCD: Some have said that cloud computing might be the new innovation that came out of the recent big recession. Whether that ends up being true or not, there’s no doubt that you guys are making a big bet in the hopes that the timing is right for both service providers and cloud services. What market conditions convinced you to strike out on your own with ScaleMatrix right now?

Mark Ortenzi: Flat budgets in the traditional data center realm are a new norm. The role of IT must adjust to [that of] “service provider,” creating internal and external services to deliver on needs. Just about everyone is aware that IT needs to drive revenue…but the reality is that business demand is outpacing IT budgets and resources. IT had been the sole source of IT services in the enterprise until cloud computing options appeared, promising fast, simple access to new services. Instead of going to IT for everything, the business can now go around IT to cloud alternatives.

The low-hanging fruit right now for us is SMBs. Everyone has an initiative in the cloud, and we have a really affordable plan. We can bring it up, run your model, and have a presentation to the CTO – to show them that it works in an affordable manner.

DCD: We’ve recently published the results of an IDG survey about how cloud computing is affecting the IT role that pointed to the importance of many of the business skills. I’ve also talked here about IT titles that may be on their way out, and others that are now appearing. How do you see cloud computing changing the role of IT inside enterprises?

Mark Ortenzi: I see IT becoming an operating expense. The days of owning and maintaining a private data center are nearing an end. Demand for IT within the enterprise will continue to climb. Providing a “pay-as-you-go” model for IT just makes sense. Cloud computing also provides the enterprise the ability to adjust to the current IT atmosphere faster than ever before. Nowadays, it is much easier to develop flexible, scalable and reliable services on the fly.

DCD: You’re banking on some pretty innovative components and operations approaches to run data centers. Can you describe how you guys are doing things differently for your customers?

Mark Ortenzi: There are many different aspects of our business model that differentiate us from our competitors. Our newest data center is being built out on an as-need-basis. We only utilize hardware, electricity and manpower needed for the clients we currently have. Our data center is scalable, energy efficient [a PUE of 1.1 is the number Mark touts, by the way] and our proprietary rack system using commodity servers is fully self-contained. We also are the only private cloud solutions provider that manages, maintains, trains and deploys the entire solution from soup to nuts.

DCD: How are you and your team measuring your success with customers?

Mark Ortenzi: Initially every customer is asked; “What are you trying to achieve by utilizing our private cloud solution?” Once the solution is in place and fully operational, success is measured by our ability to meet their goals, our ability to save the customer money and reducing their IT capital expense.

DCD: You’re using CA 3Tera AppLogic as a basis for your new business. Why did you take that approach versus what else you could have done?

Mark Ortenzi: It’s simple, CA 3Tera AppLogic is a fundamental piece in the ScaleMatrix business model. It provides us the ability to be scalable within our organization and the ability to extend this to our customers. There isn’t any other product on the market today, to our knowledge, that provides the ability to virtualize the entire IT infrastructure of a business while maintaining ease of use and cost effectiveness.

DCD: Regarding cloud computing in general, what’s the most compelling benefit you see organizations getting from cloud computing?

Mark Ortenzi: Maximizing ROI and reducing operating cost while eliminating IT capital expense.

DCD: What are still the biggest hurdles for cloud computing, and for ScaleMatrix? How are you helping folks get over those?

Mark Ortenzi: Bringing awareness to the AppLogic product, how cloud computing works, and how to take advantage of it – these have been the most challenging. It’s so fundamentally different from how business-class computing has been done in the past. Getting the potential customer to understand that is difficult; [using cloud computing and AppLogic] is easy and we make it this way for a reason.

It’s difficult wrapping our customers’ minds around how cloud computing works and how to take advantage of it. The smarter they are, the harder it is to get. They wrap too much into it– they have a cloud initiative, but they don’t know what to do. We put a plan together for them. What you focus on to get them past the hump comes down to figuring out what their business model is and what their pain is at the moment. You find it to be different with everybody. Usually, when you’re partway through it, a light bulb goes off.

DCD: Any advice on where to start with enterprises?

Mark Ortenzi: You have to get their feedback on what they’re thinking, what they’ve learned, who they’ve worked with. Don’t go after the big animal – converting their whole infrastructure over to cloud in one shot – boy, don’t ever do that. Instead, you find that little thing that is troubling them and show them how to resolve it, the pet project that they want to do more cheaply, more quickly.

It will be interesting to watch how Mark and the ScaleMatrix team progress over the next few months. One way of looking at the ScaleMatrix business is that they are putting the elasticity and dynamic qualities that cloud brings customers, and using them to support their own cloud services business. Their customers get state-of-the-art data centers and cloud-ready hardware and software infrastructure, but also direct access to Mark and his team with years of operational experience. These guys have been through a lot of real-world scenarios, and it takes quite a lot to surprise them.

I’ll keep tabs on ScaleMatrix and provide updates here and on my Twitter feed about what’s going on with them. If you have questions, you can ping Mark or his team directly.

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