This episode is part of the podcast series “Myth Busters Cloud Security and Innovation” which aims to debunk common myths about technology through interviews, case studies, and data.
In this episode of Status Go, we dive into the world of cloud technology in the real estate and property management space with an experienced technology professional, Troy Collison, whose journey has led him to Weinstein Properties. We learn about the challenges they faced with infrastructure and application development and how moving to the cloud has provided increased stability and security. We also learn about the benefits of using a managed service provider and why Azure was chosen as the cloud provider. Join us as we explore the technical and financial perspectives of cloud migration and how it benefits both IT and the business.
About Troy Collison
Troy Collison is the Chief Information Security Officer at Weinstein Properties. Troy is an accomplished IT leader with a well-balanced blend of technology and business expertise gained by leading application development teams and IT operational/infrastructure teams in a corporate environment for over 20 years.
[00:00:43]: Launch of the Myth Buster Series & Welcome of guest, Troy Collison
[00:02:14]: Troy’s career journey
[00:05:37]: Technology Stack “pre-Cloud”
[00:08:31]: Weinstein’s Cloud Journey
[00:11:20]: The Business Drivers
[00:13:27]: Improving Uptime?
[00:16:26]: The “Intangible” benefits of cloud
[00:20:21]: Cloud Shared Security Model and Compliance
[00:23:31]: Time to innovate
[00:26:35]: Message to believers in the Myth
[00:31:48]: Thank You and Close
Jeff Ton [00:00:43]:
As we speak to CEOs, Coos, and CIOs and frankly, other business leaders around the country, we find that there are still a lot of myths about technology. So much so that we felt it was time to bust those myths once and for all. So welcome to our new series Myth Busters: Cloud Security and Innovation. Like the much more famous Mythbusters TV show, we’re going to dive into several myths and through interviews, case studies, and data, bust that myth. Follow us over the next six months as we share blogs, infographics, and of course, podcast episodes. On the second Monday of each month, we here on Status Go will interview a peer, CIO, CTO, or business owner who has successfully busted the myth that we’re talking about. Two weeks later, we will hear from an InterVision expert who will further destroy that myth.
Now, one of the myths that we most often hear when speaking with technology professionals in the SMB space is that cloud is only for large companies. Today we are joined by Troy Collison. Troy is the CIO for Weinstein Properties. Weinstein is a property management firm that specializes in multifamily units and communities.
So, Troy, welcome to status. Go.
Troy Collison [00:02:10]:
Hey Jeff, glad to be here.
Jeff Ton [00:02:14]:
Well, I always love to start with talking with the guest about their background, their career journey. I think our listeners appreciate hearing how other people have gotten to the position where they are today. So, share a little bit about your background and your journey and what brings you to Weinstein.
Troy Collison [00:02:34]:
Sure. Wow. I’ve been in it a long time, and I don’t want to refer to the number of years in that regard, just say well experienced. But I can remember the days of coding HTML and mainframes and all that fun technology. I basically grew up my career within the Richmond space. So, I’ve worked with a number of Richmond, Virginia companies over the years and had opportunities to get exposure both on the infrastructure side and the application development side.
So worked within the printing industry, worked within healthcare engineering, and then over that time period, I had the chance to experience both application development and the whole world that encompasses that and designing requirements and working through all that. And it’s certainly a lot of challenges and very interesting.
And then on the flip side, had the opportunity to work with the infrastructure side. So, this opportunity came open with Weinstein in terms of the opportunity to have exposure to both infrastructure and application development, and so said, hey, it’s a new space. Certainly, for me, I hadn’t worked in real estate and property management but took the leap. And it’s been a great ride so far.
Jeff Ton [00:04:10]:
Excellent. Real estate is an interesting sector to be in, isn’t it? Challenges?
Troy Collison [00:04:18]:
Very interesting, and certainly the opportunity to see how the space changes within aspects of the economy and how that then impacts. And then certainly there are aspects of regulation and all those different parameters have some sort of impact to how we manage our IT well.
Jeff Ton [00:04:40]:
And the technology that’s used in real estate, especially in multifamily, has got to be fascinating as well.
Troy Collison [00:04:49]:
Oh, it is, really is. As you look and see, my kids, for example, they’ve grown up. They don’t need a key, right? They’re used to a key lock. Right? And nowadays, of course, you have apps on your phone to be able to get into the garage or get into the door. And so, as you look at the next generation coming in, what they’re used to in terms of Alexa controlling the thermostat or the aspect of not having a key or being able to just give a virtual key for somebody to come up and visit, all those things are dramatically impacting the landscape of how you have apartment living and multifamily living.
Jeff Ton [00:05:37]:
Yeah, I bet it is. I was in the real estate space a number of years ago, but we were more on the retail, office space, and even that the technology was changing. But what I’d love to do is do a bit of time travel here. Let’s go back in time a bit. And what did the technology stack at Weinstein look like before they embarked on their cloud journey?
Troy Collison [00:06:05]:
Sure, it was an infrastructure very similar to other companies in terms of you had your typical Windows servers, you had Active Directory, and certainly you had aspects of Cisco in terms of switches and the routers, and then your wide area network connection, that kind of thing. So it was fairly straightforward infrastructure for an organization that was serving upwards of 400, 500 people in terms of file shares and your directory services and other aspects of applications that were housed locally. And certainly, you had the notion that corporate had a centralized data center, that data center had fire suppression, had obviously the temperature control and management, and then you had your aspects of alerting if the temperature went off, that kind of thing. So very straightforward in terms of using Dell and a mixture of HP infrastructure to support the various servers that were utilized within the day-to-day operations.
Jeff Ton [00:07:26]:
Was it a company owned data center or was it in a colo?
Troy Collison [00:07:31]:
It was a company owned data center. The corporate office had infrastructure built out to support various aspects of what a data center needs in terms of the monitoring, fire suppression, those kinds of things. Yeah.
Jeff Ton [00:07:50]:
And I know from my experience in the real estate world your cost per square foot of what you’re taking up is a big topic of conversation in the real estate space.
Troy Collison [00:08:00]:
Oh, yeah. You’re getting for your value per square foot. Yeah, that’s right.
Jeff Ton [00:08:05]:
And you’re taking it up to the data center.
Troy Collison [00:08:07]:
Yeah, that’s right. Can we be repurposing it for other opportunities in terms of any number of different areas for securing important inventory, like refrigerant, for example, or just different things that we would need to be storing mechanical wise, that kind of thing?
Jeff Ton [00:08:31]:
Yeah. So I know they started…Weinstein started a little bit on their cloud journey before you got there. But take us through that cloud journey. What were the first things that moved to the cloud? And then take us through what you’ve been doing since.
Troy Collison [00:08:50]:
Sure. So, what really took place was in-depth analysis of the different capabilities within that infrastructure. So looking at, like I said, file share, Print, Active Directory, email, Exchange, all those different capabilities were evaluated and said, okay, what makes the most sense in partnership with our technology vendor to be able to say, hey, how do we best structure this so that we can implement each component and then obviously test and validate?
And so it was a process by which working on weekends and overnight, that kind of thing, we would make the move to the cloud for a given set of services and then do a round of validation. Take the look for the edge cases, look for those things that there’s maybe some dependencies that you need to take into consideration. Right. If you move this server and this piece of application, they need to make sure that they’re in sync. Right. So you have to do various aspects of making sure that all those dependencies.
When you do test, you’re testing what you move to the cloud, not mapping back to the corporate data center. So there’s a lot to consider as you go through that. So, a phased approach so that eventually down the you know, over time, we were able to do the full migration and then have those capabilities all sitting, in our case, we made the decision to go with Azure. It was a Microsoft environment. It made sense to continue and support that Microsoft infrastructure. We’ve had good success with that. And it’s been stability, the aspects of supporting the various services that we have through like, Active Directory and integrated to our SSO, that kind of thing. We just found that Azure was a good It for us and continues to be a good fit.
Jeff Ton [00:11:20]:
What were some of the business drivers that Weinstein was looking at to move from an on-premises data center to a cloud-based data center?
Troy Collison [00:11:33]:
I think organizationally, the leadership consistently thinks, what makes sense for growth, what makes sense for the ability to respond quickly? And so, I’ve been very impressed. From a leadership perspective, as the organization looks, they quickly grasp the dynamics to be able to say hey, if we want to be able to spin up some new capability we can do that so much quicker from a cloud perspective. So I think the business tenents were one. The ability to have dynamic and very responsive capabilities of our infrastructure to meet those operational needs. So that if we wanted to try some aspect of a system or capability, we could respond quickly and put a POC up very quickly and be able to take a look at it and work with it and certainly other business drivers.
The organization continues to grow and have requirements that systems be up and be stable, and we don’t have a server crash or a router crash or some sort of issue. Right? And so I think when you look at the aspects of being able to respond quickly, the aspects of stability in terms of what you get with the cloud organizationally, they were very supportive and felt like that was a good business direction from an operational perspective.
Jeff Ton [00:13:27]:
Was system uptime one of the problems…I’ll use air quotes that our listeners can’t see…that the organization was trying to solve with the move to the cloud. Was that an issue that you were faced with?
Troy Collison [00:13:43]:
Some of that was a little before my time. Certainly, in the sense that they did have some issues classic, right situations where you may have spanning tree protocol blow up those types of types of situations that certainly would impact. And as today the organization is now over 60 properties. So having availability of those resources, I think, combined with some of the issues that had impacted downtime that kind of thing certainly came into play as a directional reason why we would want to make that kind of move. Because of the anticipated stability.
And obviously, from a cloud perspective, you’re taking advantage of a lot of benefits in the sense that you have those engineers, those knowledgeable staff that are dealing with that’s their job every day. Whereas we’re [a] smaller IT shop. We wear multiple hats. We don’t have the time to dive so deep into every aspect of what makes a tier one data center, whether that be the infrastructure of the fire suppression or the air conditioning or heating or humidifying or whether it be the monitoring and all the different capabilities that are in play there. It just makes more sense to be able to tap those resources and understand that you’ve got effectively a whole team of professionals that that’s what they do day in, day out supporting your infrastructure.
Jeff Ton [00:15:42]:
I want to dive more into some of those, I’ll call them the intangible benefits that you’ve gotten out of this cloud migration. But we’re going to pause right there and listen to a quick word from InterVision Systems. InterVision Systems is the publisher of the Status Go podcast.
Jeff Ton [00:16:26]:
So Troy, I want to get back to our conversation and you were getting into some of those intangible benefits that companies realize that maybe that’s not their initial driver for going to the cloud, but they begin to realize these benefits. What are some of those that you have encountered that you’ve gotten from this journey to the cloud?
Troy Collison [00:17:07]:
I think what I’ve seen is some of the capabilities that are available within Azure. So for example, directionally, we wanted to move to SSO as a key tenent for the organization. Just ease of navigation, streamlined for people. And then certainly we also had a lot of tickets for resetting passwords, that kind of thing. In that sense, we were able to use some of the capabilities that came with Active Directory or Azure AD and the supporting services that allowed us to effectively implement SSO. So, a lot of the applications that we use already had built-in connectors with Azure. We could tap and make use of those connectors. And pretty quickly, as compared to my previous experience when we would have to code that in Java and go through the various aspects of testing and so forth, it would work and then not work anyway. Those types of services are just so valuable for an organization our size where we don’t necessarily have the breadth and depth to be able to dive into the deep technical troubleshooting or issues or that kind of thing. It worked, right? We went through and certainly we had a couple of times where we had some things we had to work through, but most part it just worked, and it was already pre-built. So that’s just one example of those based services that we are tapping and making use of or have made use of that allow us to just organizationally, we were able to SSO enable a number of applications fairly quickly.
It was more of an operational thing than necessarily a technical thing that really impacted our pace because we were working with people and changing some of the policy and that kind of thing. So that would be one example. And certainly, there are many other Azure services that are out there that we’re continuing to explore and learn more about that from the cloud perspective, whether that’s better management of our infrastructure in terms of monitoring and logging, obviously, one of the key ones is security, right? So, the various aspects that come in play from a security perspective and being able to look at our compliance score within Azure, that has given us the ability to say directionally, this is where we need to go next in terms of focus for securing the external resources that we have from a cloud perspective. So, it’s just a wealth of information that we’re consistently learning and trying to grow in because it’s just so much.
Jeff Ton [00:20:21]:
I think that’s great. What I hear a lot is that it’s giving the SMB access to enterprise grade functionality for really a fraction, because you’re just buying what you need the speed to implement and the overall cost is incredible. When you think about the cloud and that concept of the shared security model where I think I’ve heard it stated as the cloud provider secures the cloud and the client, or in this case Weinstein, is responsible for securing inside the cloud, right? Their own applications and things like that. Has that gained you mentioned compliance and those types of frameworks. Has that gained you some speed in responding to those kind of compliance things? Because the infrastructure side is quote unquote. Again, I’ll use air quotes taken care of. Has that helped in that way as well?
Troy Collison [00:21:36]:
Oh, absolutely, because if you look at from a perimeter perspective, you have the notion of the network security groups and the way the cloud, at least in the context of Azure kind of clouds or guides you, is one that it’s locked down. So as you want to open up, you have to work through and identify those resources and services, whether it be ports, that kind of thing, that you want to open up. So you’re effectively, for the most part locked down and you then open up those respective pieces that you want to have externally. Right. And so that way you’re not working with, yeah, these are open and you’ve got to close everything, which is kind of a different mindset in terms of how you secure and make sure it’s so many aspects that you don’t have to think about in terms of the external router that’s connected. They’re maintaining the updates and the patching and all those different aspects that come into play with how you manage that network infrastructure. Right, certainly we make decisions in terms of some of the patching and kind of those types of components of our infrastructure. But when you look at the way the dynamics are set up, it tends to guide you and error on the side of being more secure than being less secure, certainly at 50,000 ft kind of level.
Jeff Ton [00:23:31]:
Yeah, I like that because I’ve just been talking with a future guest about zero trust and implementing that, and the whole concept of trust is a vulnerability, and so I like the concept of it’s more secure almost by default, and you have to open things up intentionally. Approach. The other thing I wanted to touch on Troy is innovation. And you mentioned that by moving to the Cloud, you’re getting access to tools and services that you might not have been able to implement on your own in your own data center. But I’m curious has moving to the Cloud freed up time on you and your team to allow you to focus on more of the business innovation, the wireless access, keyless access at the apartments, and things like that? Have you had more time to be able to do that?
Troy Collison [00:24:34]:
Certainly, it allows us to focus on those things that are really critical. So, whether that be the security of our infrastructure so as we look at the applications, as we look at those services that we enable, we’re able to focus on those aspects of security around them. So, say, for example, we’ve deployed tablets as a way for our teams to be able to work with and navigate it’s like more or less a portable PC, but they use those tablets. So having the expertise and knowing that the core components have been taken care of for us, right? That we can count on the fact that, hey, those edge routers or that infrastructure that is coming into play is A. secured. It’s A. patched. A. it’s maintained means that we focus on the very specific things that we’re looking to target to help improve operations. So, in the case, like I said, of the tablets, we could focus on the security of the tablets and the monitoring and using a mobile device management platform versus us having to worry about aspects of our infrastructure or the security of our edge parameter, those kinds of things.
Jeff Ton [00:26:11]:
Yeah, I think to me, as I was a CIO in the SMB space a few years ago, that was one of the drivers for us in going to the cloud. Was it really freed up the team to spend time more on the value-add to the business than the keeping the lights on of the infrastructure.
Troy Collison [00:26:34]:
Jeff Ton [00:26:35]:
So we’re here to talk about myths, right, and busting this myth. Troy, what would you say to a CIO or an It director of an SMB company if they told you, well, cloud is only for large companies, it’s only for the big enterprises, what message would you have for them?
Troy Collison [00:26:57]:
What I would say is take the time to do some of the analysis and certainly as an IT world where you’re looking and the expectation is 24/7 capability, the stability and the security that are just table stakes in terms of expectations from IT these days, I would struggle to be able to say, hey, can I, in the current world, maintain a data center and all the components around that and really and truly be able to compete with the services and the stability and security that a cloud provider is going to offer?
And certainly, there are different cloud providers out there for different levels of obviously there’s the financial piece of it, right? And you do have to think about it from a capex perspective versus operating expense perspective. There’s certainly financially there are pieces and parts of that and that I could buy a server and I could extend the life of that server. Right? Yeah, I was in control of that. And you’re converting to operating.
But to summarize, what I would say is that, yes, there’s definitely some mindset changes from a financial perspective. But I would say that in most cases, I would think operationally, the business would benefit from that foundational increase in stability and security. And as a team-wise, you don’t have to worry about the fire suppression testing that you have midnight on those types of things that come into play or the validation of so many pieces from an infrastructure perspective.
Jeff Ton [00:29:11]:
Yeah, I love that visual of doing the fire suppression testing at midnight on a Saturday night.
Troy Collison [00:29:18]:
Jeff Ton [00:29:19]:
You no longer have to do that.
Troy Collison [00:29:21]:
Jeff Ton [00:29:23]:
Yeah, I think that’s great. That, to me, for someone in a small mid sized company not having to do that. And I think what ends up happening a lot of times is they just don’t do those things.
Well, I want to end with a call to action. And I love how you answered the question about what would you tell the CIO or the director of It who thought it was for larger enterprises? You said start with assessing where you are and doing that analysis. What’s one or two things one of our listeners should go do tomorrow because they listen to our conversation today.
Troy Collison [00:30:13]:
What would you suggest in terms of from a cloud perspective if you’re not there? I would spend some time just reading and researching in terms of some of the major providers, some of the capabilities I would recommend. Obviously, there’s some very large players that are out there starting that analysis and thinking through from a technical perspective.
And then the flip side, I would say from a business perspective, give some thought to how you would approach that message, whether it’s back to your CFO or from a controller perspective. Hey, we want to think about some of the changes in terms of how we budget and how we spend our IT dollars. How would it make sense to convert some of that from an operating perspective and think through so that we don’t have these huge spikes in Capex expenditures? We can kind of smooth that out.
So, start that process of thinking through from both a technical and a financial perspective. Because I think at the end of the day, making that move is going to be beneficial for so many aspects of both IT and the business from a perspective of just moving into a technology direction that I think is well supported and well proven these days.
Jeff Ton [00:31:48]:
I think that is great advice for all of our listeners out there as they’re contemplating either initial steps into the cloud or the next steps that they may be taking.
Troy, I really want to take a second and thank you for being on Status Go today. I really appreciate it. I think your experience of moving Weinstein to the cloud really helps other of your peers out there who may be contemplating the same thing. So, thank you very much.
Troy Collison [00:32:21]:
Great. I’ve really enjoyed it, Jeff. And certainly, if folks have questions anytime, I’m available to discuss our experience and journey.
Jeff Ton [00:32:34]:
To our listeners. There you have it. Myth busted. The Cloud is an excellent option for companies of all sizes. I think you heard a lot of reasons here today from Troy that it’s worth looking into.
I invite you to learn more and dive deeper into these myths or review the show notes and the interview transcript. The Show Notes will provide links for Troy and contact information. And if you’re interested in continuing the discussion, we’ve launched a brand new group on LinkedIn called The Status Go Podcast. Look for us there and join the group to get involved in the continuing conversation. This is Jeff Ton for Troy Collison. Thank you very much for listening.
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