On this episode of Status Go, host Jeff Ton speaks with cloud expert Rob Spitzer from InterVision Systems about the benefits of the cloud for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). They discuss the misconceptions surrounding cloud computing and the three levels of cloud: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. They also touch on the journey to the cloud and how companies can prioritize their IT infrastructure in a cost-effective and secure way. Rob Spitzer shares a case study of an InterVision client who successfully migrated to the cloud and saw improved customer experiences and security. The episode also covers cloud phone systems, cybersecurity measures, and new functionality in cloud solutions. Overall, the episode emphasizes how cloud computing can provide enterprise-class infrastructure and services for SMBs.
About Rob Spitzer
Rob Spitzer serves as the Director of Microsoft Cloud Professional Services as InterVision. He has over 25 years of experience designing, planning, implementing, and maintaining Microsoft cloud and infrastructure solutions and managing high performance Microsoft teams. Rob can help your organization on its cloud journey.
[00:00:40]: Welcome and Context
[00:01:38]: Rob Spitzer’s career journey
[00:02:31]: Tech stack pre-cloud
[00:06:36]: Level the playing field
[00:07:40]: SMB Issues pre-cloud
[00:10:25]: Common starting points in a Cloud Journey
[00:14:52]: Weinstein Properties’ Cloud Journey
[00:20:27]: Cloud Trends for the SMB
[00:24:45]: Cyber Insurance and Cloud
[00:27:30]: Choose Your Own Adventure
[00:30:12]: Rob’s Call-to-Action
Jeff Ton [00:00:40]:
Welcome back to Myth Busters by InterVision, our continuing series that debunks many of the common myths about cloud security and innovation. This month, we are focusing on the myth that the cloud is only for large enterprises. Spoiler alert! It is not! You may recall from our episode two weeks ago, Troy Collison, the CIO of Weinstein Properties, shared how his 600-person organization leverages the cloud. Today we are joined by InterVision expert Rob Spitzer. Rob is the director of InterVision’s Microsoft cloud services practice. He has helped many companies, large and, yes, small, to take full advantage of all things the cloud has to offer. Together, we are going to bust that myth. Rob, welcome to Status Go!
Rob Spitzer [00:01:35]:
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Jeff Ton [00:01:38]:
Would you mind sharing a little bit about your career journey, Rob? I always love for our listeners to learn a little bit about our guests, so they understand the perspective that they’re coming from.
Rob Spitzer [00:01:50]:
Sure, yeah. I’ve been with InterVision for about 18 years, but I’ve been in the IT space since about the mid-90s. I’ve primarily focused on Microsoft technologies that entire time. Obviously, that predates the cloud. So, my background was Active Directory and Exchange, and as Microsoft moved to the cloud, we kind of pivoted along with it. So started to get involved in things like Office 365 and the rest of the Microsoft suite. And in my time here, I’ve worked with companies from about 20 people up to about 20,000. So have covered a large swath of orgs.
Jeff Ton [00:02:31]:
Yeah, and I imagine those challenges are different when you talk about a 20-person company versus a 2000-person company or a 20,000-person company. Take us back. Pre-cloud, what does the tech stack look like? What’s typical in that small to medium-sized business space?
Rob Spitzer [00:02:52]:
Yeah, so the SMB market has always been really interesting prior to the cloud, I mean, they still needed IT services mattered a lot, but a lot of the SMB organizations didn’t have dedicated IT staff. A lot of times it was maybe an organization. I worked with, it was an executive secretary that was kind of managing the day-to-day IT operations. Actually, had a couple of CEOs and presidents that were managing IT for the organization. And I kind of use the phrase they keep the lights on because that’s exactly how they treat it.
It’s like a light bulb. If the lights are working, they’re fine. If the lights stop working, that’s when they react and start trying to figure out what’s going on. So, it’s not that a lot of times these folks were pretty darn savvy in the IT space. It just wasn’t their main job. They had other things to do, and this was kind of a secondary task. The actual IT infrastructure and I’m putting air quotes around that, a lot of times was pretty limited as well. Again, these companies weren’t huge. It wasn’t their main focus in life. And so, some of these organizations, their entire IT infrastructure, fit in a closet, right? It was maybe like a half rack of servers and networking gear living in a closet somewhere. Typically, systems, they ran them until they were passed into life. Security wasn’t the main concern. Again, these were tools to get the job done.
One of the funnier stories I’ve heard, it’s not uncommon for some of these really small shops not even have a closet. They might just have a server plugged into the copy room or something like that. And there was an IT director or a CEO that contacted me and let me know that, hey, about twice a week, the server keeps going down. And it always happens after hours. Of course. It’s the way it always is, right?
Jeff Ton [00:05:01]:
When no one’s around. Yeah.
Rob Spitzer [00:05:03]:
So, they can’t figure out what’s going on. And so, we took a look, and we could sure enough see. Yeah, the server went down. The server came back up a couple of times. He tried to drive back over and check things out, but inevitably, by the time he got back, it was back up and running, and could never quite figure it out. So fast forward a couple of months, and he happened to be working late one night, and the same thing happened. He was in the middle of a spreadsheet. Bam. Everything went down. In frustration, he walked out of his office to go see what was going on and realized, oh, the cleaning crew is here. Well, the center of their office was the copy room, and they were looking for a nice central place to plug in the vacuum. And hey, there’s this box sitting here that doesn’t seem to be doing anything. I’ll just unplug it, plug the vacuum in, vacuum, and plug it back in when we’re done. That kind of stuff happened, right? Because there wasn’t this dedicated forget dedicated infrastructure, there just wasn’t again, these were just tools to kind of get the job done. So, the cloud, when it kind of entered the equation, not only is it something that was good for SMB, it really kind of fit their model well because it allowed them to get some of these enterprise features anywhere, access, things like that, and kind of get on a level playing field with other IT organizations.
Jeff Ton [00:06:36]:
Yeah, I love how when we were talking a couple of weeks ago, you talked about the Internet and what was that, maybe 1999? 2000-ish kind of time frame around in there, that the Internet really leveled the playing field and that the cloud does the same thing, but on steroids. I think that was a great analogy, as you were talking about your clients over the last several years.
Rob Spitzer [00:07:07]:
Yeah, it really is. I mean, it makes it pretty the way the Internet kind of worked before it was whether you were somebody the size of Amazon or kind of a small Etsy shop, it’s easy to kind of spin up and have a storefront and have that consistent feel of the larger organizations and, yeah, kind of the same with cloud computing, right? You kind of get to take advantage of that. You kind of get to take advantage of what the enterprise has to offer without having to kind of pay the enterprise price tag.
Jeff Ton [00:07:40]:
Yeah. And you’re talking about the cleaning crew unplugging the server. For a time, I was the CIO for a large retailer, and we’d go into our retail locations. I’ll call it the server closet, the telecom room. You land a couple of switches and things like that also doubled as where they would store the soft drinks before they took them out on the floor and put them in the machines. So, we’d go into those locations and have to move a carton or two of Coke out of the way before we could get to the rack. It’s really a challenging situation. So, in those days, what were the primary problems that you saw these small to medium-sized businesses struggling with when it comes to their technology? What were typical…other than the cleaning crew that unplugs your server?
Rob Spitzer [00:08:44]:
I mean, it’s it was really the same problems everybody had, right? Their security, performance, and reliability. The difference is there just was never the budget to really, you know, address those things directly, but yeah, it’s an interesting world. You know, you need, you need all these pieces to operate, but it’s hard when that’s not your main business.
Jeff Ton [00:09:12]:
Yeah, yeah. When it’s not your main business, and you don’t have the staffing. What about the companies that maybe are a little bit larger, and they’ve got, I don’t know, a handful of IT professionals that work? What kind of problems were they encountering pre-cloud that you helped help them navigate?
Rob Spitzer [00:09:37]:
So, things like redundancy have always plagued even the largest organizations. Right. It’s tough to have a big enough investment and a big enough footprint to have servers in multiple locations, data replicated, and a good solid disaster recovery plan. Those things are just they’re hard even for the largest organizations to do. And as you kind of move down the stack, it gets even tougher. So, the cloud really does kind of help to level that playing field out a lot. We’ll probably need to talk through some of the kind of the various levels and kind of where we saw people jump in at, but to kind of really get into that. But yeah, really, at the end of the day, that reliability, that security performance, it’s what everybody kind of needs.
Jeff Ton [00:10:25]:
Yeah, well, so set the context for us a little bit. You mentioned that different people encounter the clouds in different ways. Every cloud journey is different, but what are some of the common threads, and where are some of the common starting points that you’ve seen?
Rob Spitzer [00:10:44]:
Sure. So let’s start with the various cloud levels. And you may have heard these before. So there’s basically three levels when we talk cloud software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service.
Software as a service, or SaaS. This is kind of the highest level of the cloud model. So in this world, an application or a service is being delivered through the cloud. You might have to configure the user accounts that are in it, stick data in it, but everything kind of below that level is managed by the cloud provider.
The next level down is Platform as a Service. This is a lot of times, if you’re trying to build the next Uber, you don’t want to go invest in a ton of compute and storage. You just really need somebody to provide the platform to build your application on, to provide the web application and database storage that’s needed to build that next application. That’s platform as a service. So, you kind of are responsible for the application up and the cloud vendor is responsible for everything below that.
And then kind of the lowest tier is Infrastructure as a Service. In that model, the cloud provider is providing compute and storage, but everything from the server up is your responsibility as the vendor.
So, there are these three levels, and depending on the cloud vendor kind of depends on their approach. Some vendors do all three of these pieces like Microsoft. Some do part, maybe do one or two of these pieces, and then just really kind of where a vendor came into their cloud strategy will also kind of dictate where their focus is.
So, in the case of Microsoft, one of the big things they provided organizations was productivity software. Things like Exchange, SharePoint, and Link Server. And one of the big things they wanted to do initially in their cloud journey was to make those applications available in the cloud as SaaS applications. So, a lot of the Microsoft approach is SaaS first, right? Do things like migrate, Exchange out to Exchange Online, migrate file and print out to SharePoint, telephony or instant messaging out to Teams, and so on and so forth.
And then kind of when you get to the end of this journey, what’s left ultimately can move out to infrastructure as a service. So, we’ve seen a lot of organizations kind of do exactly that, right? They’ll move the workloads that make sense ton SaaS applications. They may be Microsoft’s. In the case of Exchange or SharePoint or some of those other pieces, maybe a third-party line of business provider. But they’ll migrate out workloads to SaaS applications first, and then they’ll kind of look around their data center, and okay, what do we have left? What do we need to keep? And then if they can also migrate those things to the cloud as infrastructure as a service.
Kind of, then the third piece of this can become the platform as a service. We’ve seen organizations that have done this initial migration to SaaS. They’ve lifted and shifted additional workloads out to Azure as infrastructure as a service. And then they may take a look at, hey, we have this homegrown application. We really don’t want to keep it on a Windows server any longer. We’d like to migrate it out to a modern web application. We worked with one customer who had exactly this. They had this old Access 2013 application. Again, I’m putting air quotes around that that ran on top of Remote Desktop Services, and it was kind of the bane of their existence. It got the job done during the day, but it was very clunky. It was a lot of infrastructure. And then, we worked with them to take that and migrate it to a modern web front end and SQL Server back end.
Jeff Ton [00:14:52]:
Well, and I think that what you were talking about there, Rob, that a lot of times the companies will follow the path that the cloud providers actually had gone through to get there. And I can remember from my own time as a CIO when the cloud started, we started with email, and we did, we went the SaaS route, right? The other thing that jumps out at me as you were talking about that is many times the colleagues in the business, not necessarily in the IT shop, may be using an application that’s a SaaS based application and not even really know that that’s cloud. Right? Back in my Bluelock days, before we were doing disaster recovery as a service, and we’d go into law firms, and we were talking with this one law firm, and they said, well, we can’t do cloud, we don’t do cloud here. Yet, their document management system was something called Doc Net. And it’s like, well, what do you think the Net part of the net title is? It’s the Internet. It’s Internet-based, SaaS-based document management system. But they didn’t allow cloud. So, I think there are still some of those misconceptions out there.
Right now, we’re talking with Rob Spitzer. Rob is one of the cloud experts at InterVision, and we’re talking about the myth that the cloud is only for large companies. We’ve already seen through the first part of this conversation that there are a lot of things that small companies, small and medium-sized companies, can take advantage of when they go to the cloud. And, Rob, a couple of weeks ago, as this is airing, we talked with Troy Collison, and Troy is one of your clients. You worked with him quite extensively. On their cloud journey. When you think about their cloud journey, what stands out for you? Kind of lessons learned, maybe some things that they learned that surprised them, anything that stands out for you.
Rob Spitzer [00:18:00]:
So, they followed almost exactly this model we laid out. Now, part of that is they started down this journey a long time ago. Really, I think what was driving their initial move was they had an aging data center, right? They’re not the smallest shop by any stretch of the imagination, but IT is not their core. That’s not their core business had an aging data center that they need to decide what to do with. And so, they were kind of looking at this about the time that cloud was starting to gain some traction. And similar to what you mentioned, Jeff, their kind of first move was Exchange. Here’s a big beast of an application that required lots of compute, lots of storage, lots of care, and feeding. A lot of IT guys and IT people have got horror stories of Thanksgiving meals that have been ruined by Exchange servers running out of disk space, and things like that. So, getting off of Exchange on Prem was really kind of their first move.
And that first move a lot of times is a little bit scary, but Exchange tends to be a nice one because, from a customer perspective, the IT shop gets out of the day-to-day management of Exchange, but from a customer perspective, it’s still the same thing. It’s still Outlook, it’s still OWA, it’s still your smartphone. However, everything you’re familiar with continues. And that kind of tends to be a good kind of gets folks comfortable with the idea.
From there, they moved into other things. You kind of get used to that anytime, anywhere, access to email, and hey, can we do similar with file shares? Sure. So, we started looking at things like SharePoint, started looking at teams. Security became a big piece of this as well, right? In the meantime, they also had some line of business applications that they were modernizing and bringing out to the cloud as well. And then, kind of like we mentioned, they kind of looked around and went, we got a handful of things left; maybe it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep that on-premises. Maybe we’ll just migrate the remaining servers out to Azure as well and just really kind of get out of that traditional data center business.
Jeff Ton [00:20:27]:
I think that is so true from a lot of companies. And I know Troy’s company, 600-person, that’s not a small organization. And I know they’ve got a national footprint for the work that they do. So, I think a lot of our listeners would probably find themselves in that same boat. Let’s turn our attention a little bit towards the future. Where are we today with cloud and cloud technology? And what are some of the trends you’re seeing that those that are in the SMB space need to be paying attention to?
Rob Spitzer [00:21:11]:
So, the first thing to be aware of is cloud is a journey. We’ve seen some folks that have, I moved email to the cloud. I can check the I can check the cloud box, right? We’ve done. We’ve done the cloud journey. We’ve completed it. And really, that’s just the beginning, right? It is like everything in it. This is a constantly evolving space. Whether it’s workloads, you’ve already migrated to the cloud. There’s always new pieces that are being implemented and released, new functionality, new features, new security mechanisms, things like that, or additional workloads.
Again, it’s been interesting. When we’re dealing with customers, typically when we start this journey, there’s a little bit of “come with me, follow me, I’ll show you the way.” And at some point, it feels like we kind of go over the top of the hill, and all of a sudden, we’re trying to keep up. The customers are like, wait a minute, I really like how this exchange online thing works. I really like this anytime, anywhere, access to my email. Can I do that with my file shares? Sure, yeah. Can I do that with my phone system?
During COVID, we were talking to customers about different strategies for folks to work at home. And a common one we heard during that time period was, yeah, our work-from-home strategy is working great, except for our receptionist, they’re having to go into the office because the phone system is like literally glued to the wall in the office. Hey, it would be great to have that anytime, anywhere access to our phones. Just like we do files and email. And you can there’s cloud-based phone systems, like Team’s phone system, where you can do that exact same model. Once you migrate the phone out to the cloud, the receptionist can sit at their house, answer the main line, forward calls to other personnel in the organization that are sitting at their house. You no longer really matter. Physical location doesn’t matter so much.
So, we’re constantly seeing more and more services and kinds of features move that direction. The other thing specifically we’ve seen with Microsoft is they continue to kind of build these pieces together, right? We talk a lot about Exchange or Teams or Intune or the various kind of pieces. But what Microsoft has kind of done is take a Lego approach with this, and these pieces start to it together to build greater and greater solutions. So, we see a lot of that going on as well.
And then kind of the final bit. There is historically kind of a common feeling about Microsoft as well. It’s good enough, but if you really need like a top-tier solution, you got to go with Solution X. Well, so more and more, we’re seeing Microsoft moving up into that top right quadrant for the Gartner Magic quadrant. Again, if you haven’t looked at your…kind of reevaluated your cloud stack lately or your cloud journey, it’s always kind of a good time to look and see what’s new, what the new trends are, things like that.
Jeff Ton [00:24:45]:
Well, I know another issue that you and I have talked about Rob and most CIOs are facing this is the rising cost and the increased scrutiny related to cyber insurance. It seems like over the last two years or so, it has become one of the things that gets talked about a lot. How are you advising clients to tackle this whole pressure of their cyber insurance when it comes to their cloud journey?
Rob Spitzer [00:25:18]:
Yeah, so this has been an interesting one. We’ve seen pop up as ransomware continues to be a problem, and more and more cyber insurance companies have had to pay out ransoms. The rules are getting tighter. They obviously don’t want to do that, so they’re trying to put some basic controls in place to make sure there are at least some minimum-security components in place. And one of the common ones that’s coming up has been multifactor authentication. At a minimum, they want to see MFA in place now again, especially when you’re getting into small and mid-sized businesses. A lot of times they’re finding this out as they’re coming up for renewal for their cyber insurance. A, they don’t have a lot of time. A lot of times, they’re in the last myth of their current contract, and they certainly haven’t budgeted for this. Right. It’s a requirement that they now need to meet that they just haven’t been prepared for. This has been one of those kind of really great stories with customers who have gone to Microsoft 365 already. One of the components that’s in the box with that is Azure MFA. So, we’ve been able to go into many customers and say, hey, I got good news for you. You have the components; we just need to turn it ton. That’s great news. But what’s also really nice is we can extend that out to other applications through single sign-on. And all of a sudden, because typically then, the other place that customers are getting asked to turn this on is kind of any place where users are coming through the internet into the inside environment. So, Office 365 is big. But also, things like VPN solutions, things like that, they need MFA in front of those, and through things like Azure MFA and Azure single sign-on we’re pretty easily, pretty quickly in a lot of cases without any additional monthly expense are able to put those tools in place and check that box well.
Jeff Ton [00:27:30]:
And I think that goes back to one of the things that you said at the outset was that the cloud gives the SMB business access to enterprise-level technology for a fraction of the cost. Rob, as you think about the SMB space, specifically, what are some other thoughts about cloud that you want to convey to our listeners?
Rob Spitzer [00:27:58]:
Yeah, like I mentioned earlier, like you just mentioned, cloud is a great equalizer, right? That is kind of one of the beauties of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing 20 users, 20,000 users, you’re getting to take advantage of enterprise class infrastructure and services regardless of the size of your organization.
It is a journey though, right? It’s one of these things like everything else in IT, even though Exchange Online may be an evergreen service, there’s always new functionality being rolled out. There’s always kind of learning to be done around products you own. But there’s also always new solutions being released, and a lot of times they’re coming out just in time with new issues like the cyber insurance that we brought up.
The beauty of this is it’s a choose your own adventure model, right? Whatever your…there are some kind of basic things to get in place. Email does tend to be one of those starting places for so many people. But kind of once you’ve started down the road, it really is choose your own adventure. Like I mentioned, we had some organizations that file sharing was a big concern. Phone system has been a big concern for others. Again, back during COVID we had a school system reach out to us that was trying to figure out what they’re going to do with, quote, dirty computers. And what they were referring to was…I thought initially they were talking about the computers had COVID on them and how they were clean them. But what they were concerned about was, hey, inside of the school we had built systems to manage and maintain a base level of security and configuration on these machines. But we don’t have that out on the internet. Once these things got out of they got outside of our walls, we kind of lost control. Intune can be a good answer for that question. But really, again, the beauty is you can kind of attack this in whatever order makes the most sense for your organization.
Jeff Ton [00:30:12]:
I love the choose your own adventure. Well, to our listeners, there you have it, myth busted! The cloud is for all sizes of organizations. And Rob, as you know, we are all about action here on Status Go. What are one or two things that our listeners should go do tomorrow because they listen to our conversation today?
Rob Spitzer [00:30:38]:
Sure. Especially if you haven’t done so in a while. Take a look at where you are. My guess again, like I said, this is a journey. I have yet to meet anybody who’s found themselves at the end of it. So, look at where you currently are, and if you have not looked at cloud solutions lately, whether it’s looking at what you already have, looking at what new things are out there, let’s talk. Give us a shout. We’d love to kind of talk through trends. We’d love to talk through what we see other organizations doing and help you choose your own adventure.
Jeff Ton [00:31:13]:
Well, Rob, I have to thank you so much for being on the show today. I’ve enjoyed our conversations. I know we both have been at InterVision and InterVision is now one of my clients. But this was the first opportunity for you and I to chat and I’ve really enjoyed it. And I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us here on Status Go.
Rob Spitzer [00:31:35]:
Me as well. I really enjoyed this too. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to do it again soon.
Jeff Ton [00:31:40]:
Absolutely. To our listeners. If you have a question or want to learn more, visit intervision.com/myths…M-Y-T-H-S. Or, if you want to go directly to the Status Go website, that’s InterVision.com/status-go. The show notes will provide links and contact information. This is Jeff Ton for Rob Spitzer. Thank you very much for listening.
Knowledge is power
Our experts have compiled research and recommendations to help you better understand threats, protection, and solutions.