Managed Services Ensure the Availability of Complex IT Environments: A Spotlight Q&A with Jack Dziak of SunGard Availability Services

Originally published January 28, 2013

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with Jack Dziak, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Managed Services at SunGard Availability Services. Ron and Jack discuss the core infrastructure services that SunGard Availability Services provides for their customers. They also discuss the major IT trends enterprises will see in the next few years, including migration from legacy to hybrid environments.

Jack, for those in our audience who are not familiar with SunGard Availability Services, could you give us a brief overview?

Jack Dziak: SunGard Availability Services partners with more than 9,000 customers in North America and Europe, including 70 percent of the Fortune 50 and representing every major business sector. We custom tailor our availability services to each of them and their unique requirements. That applies to our data recovery, consulting and managed services – a business that I oversee – as well as our application software. We’re different than our competitors because we – 2,500-plus information availability experts – offer three decades of disaster-recovery experience; indeed, we started that business. And we offer over a decade of know-how in managed services. Our flexibility and versatility means we can work with the most complex infrastructures and hybrid deployments. We’re the experts in availability as our customers are the experts in their fields. Our availability services are continuous – whether they apply to our data centers (of which we operate more than 40), at our customers’ sites or in the Cloud (where we provide multiple platforms and service levels). As for reliability, we maintain a secure and highly reliable infrastructure and our services are backed by service level agreements that we commit to, contractually.

Well, you've covered a lot of areas that are of great interest to our audience. Obviously, managed services is pretty key. We now live in a global world with everybody connected. You mentioned cloud; could you talk about the major IT trends that you see happening within the next one to two years?

Jack Dziak: I think first and foremost, the biggest trend we see is this whole migration from legacy to hybrid environments, and we see that picking up a tremendous amount of pace over the next couple of years. What do I mean by that? A customer who has historically managed in whole or in part their own infrastructure, their own IT environments, and their own applications are increasingly looking to SunGard to manage on their behalf some or all of those environments, whether they be for purposes of test and development, for production, or both. 

If you think of some of the factors that are pushing our customers towards that migration, there are a couple of things to consider. One is the most obvious one, which is economic. The cost of managing IT is very high; it's extremely concentrated. That cost is driven by everything from the increased complexity of the range of applications that have to be managed to the types of use cases that those applications support as well as the physical breadth of how far those applications have to reach across an employee base, across a customer base, or both. And so at the highest economic level, a lot of the migration toward cloud or toward virtualized services is around the lowering of overall total costs of ownership, but also the trading of capital for operating expense. 

Heretofore, an enterprise customer would have to expend capital to add compute capability to support its customers, but now enterprise customers are looking to companies like SunGard to provide that on the behalf of the enterprise. This means they no longer spend capital, but basically buy a virtual machine. And in buying a virtual machine, they’re now trading capital for operating expense. 

The other factor here that's at work in migrating from legacy to hybrid environments is the whole issue of complexity. There are a lot more moving parts in IT than there were five years ago, let alone ten years ago. You think of things like mobility and the disparate portfolio of devices, over which applications will be driven, that need to be managed. Those environments are exceedingly complex. 

If you think of the use cases that applications out there are supporting in terms of remote workers, in terms of Web-enabled transaction capabilities and other things of that ilk, there are more things that can go wrong that need to be managed. And because of that level of complexity, outsourcing of that IT infrastructure and elements that reach up to and, in many cases, include the applications layer are becoming increasingly prevalent. And frankly, it's that migration from legacy to hybrid that drives our business – hybrid being defined as having part of the environment behind the firewall and part of the environment managed by a third party. The environment that is managed by a third party can be dedicated or it could be shared with other users. It really gets down to the use case and the total cost of ownership of managing those environments in-house versus outside.

You mentioned, obviously, the cloud. A lot of companies may need a certain amount of CPU power at certain times and at other times they don’t need it. Is part of the justification for SunGard that you have the ability to adjust or flex capacity on the fly?

Jack Dziak: That is all part of our value proposition. I’d say, as you put it, the ability to flex into and out of compute capabilities is one side of this. But really, where we differentiate ourselves is ensuring that there is a high availability component to that flex. This means that when our customers flex into a cloud environment, it is going to be associated with an SLA around availability of all of the working components associated with that virtual environment, starting all the way down at the networking layer and moving up into the applications layer. Our value proposition is all wrapped around managing that end-to-end environment to provide high availability. That's where we differentiate ourselves.

You mentioned a number of trends, how are these trends going to affect businesses?

Jack Dziak: I’ll start with one that you and your readers are very familiar with – big data. In the context of virtualized environments, databases are just as subject to the rules of economics and technology as anything else. I see the world of big data impacting businesses in the same way as virtualization is impacting folks. And that means there's an economic facet to it and there's a technical and operations facet to it. Let me talk about the latter first, the technical and operations side of this.

In a very simplistic example, in the old world if you will – which isn't too terribly old on the calendar level – if your applications  were supported by a relational database, you had to force feed unrelated data into some sort of relational database construct in order for that data to be managed. And I think as use of the Internet and the amount of data – particularly metadata – have both exploded, that usage of the Internet and the “webification,” if you will, of many applications has produced a flood of data that's unstructured. And getting a cost-effective way to handle metadata and highly unstructured data has really been a vexing issue for a lot of IT managers. 

There are a lot of protocols out there. Basho runs something called Riak. Couchbase has their own protocol. Hadoop is another protocol out there. There are many different ways to skin the data cat, but the value proposition is all around being able to access and manipulate data in a very unstructured fashion and, therefore, in a distributed fashion so that you don't necessarily have to rely upon a central physical repository of your data in order to manipulate it and understand it. You can let economic considerations be the driving force in your decisions.

So instead of having to buy iron that has on top of it a processor, now I can buy raw storage and concentrate the processing around that storage in a modular fashion. That has the impact of driving down not only my processing cost, but also driving down my storage costs because now I'm buying cheaper gear. And when you get back to the value proposition of this migration from legacy to hybrid, part of what drives that migration is a cost consideration of not only trading capital for operating expense, but also driving total cost of ownership down. And that's good for us because as that data and the manipulation of that data becomes distributed, it becomes virtual. And as it becomes virtual, it becomes subject to third-party management, which makes the delivery of that data and that functional capability better, faster, cheaper than arguably an enterprise could do in its own right.

And so to my mind, the migration of big data presents an enormous opportunity for us principally because it fits right into our value proposition of providing a lower total cost of ownership and delivery capability for our customers in a highly available fashion. That's just another facet of storage and database management that we do every day.

The government is mandating that specific industries, such as healthcare, have data available for compliance reasons. Is that a major concern for your customers?

Jack Dziak: We do a lot of work in the healthcare world. And why is that? Healthcare is going to have and has had over the last several years a very heavy compliance requirement. And compliance has as one of its facets availability. So I as a provider of healthcare services need to have 24/7 access to patient records. I need to be able to store those records and make them readily accessible in not only a highly available fashion, but also in a highly redundant fashion with redundancy both at the network layer and at the database level.

So for us, the healthcare industry at large and a lot of its attendant pieces, like health insurance to name one, are a natural constituency for us both in terms of recovery and also in terms of availability and, therefore, of a managed service capability that has as its differentiator highly available – always on, always accessible, always available. 

Another area where we focus is the IT outsourcers themselves. We manage complex infrastructure, and having spent eight years at a systems integrator called Accenture, the one thing I know they really hated to do was to be responsible for a network, to be responsible for iron, and to be responsible for a data center. That's the kind of thing they’d just as soon outsource and drive to a service provider that can ensure a certain availability and redundancy profile, which again is our stock and trade. 

Those are just two examples of where we have great success and clearly are areas where we’re going to be focusing an intense amount of effort and resource over the next several years.

If I'm a healthcare provider or an IT outsourcer, what factors should I consider when developing a strategy to address a lot of these future challenges I'm going to have?

Jack Dziak: I think there are three. First – and Hurricane Sandy, for better or for worse, demonstrated this in spades – is the location of where you put your infrastructure. We run a lot of failover facilities on behalf of our customers, and they tend to be away from "strike zones," if you will, where natural disasters can occur. That's one facet from a healthcare provider perspective that I'd be looking at: Where do I put my facility? 

And the second facet you have to look at is what am I putting where I'm putting it. So you're not going to want to put your core production environment in an area that's subject to an annual hurricane path. By the same token, you're not going to want to put your recovery center in an area that's subject to fairly predictable weather events, for example. 

I think the third piece really gets directly into our stock and trade: What are the processes, the procedures, the tools, and the delivery capabilities that a service provider has to ensure uptime 24/7, not only through an event, but 365 days a year. 

And so there again, we focus on our differentiator of high-availability – always accessible, always on, always available. That’s our mantra for our customers. And so if I'm a healthcare provider, that's going to get down to very specific SLAs around network uptime – and that's the WAN as well as the network that resides within a data center – the availability of the infrastructure within the data center, the visibility into the infrastructure through monitoring tools if there are alert mechanisms, and then the response time when invariably things go wrong. What's the meantime to repair? When I get an alert, how quickly does the service provider rectify and get to root cause and solve it? Those are exactly the kinds of things that our healthcare customers and customers in other segments look at when considering a third party.

So when I look at those challenges, how would a service provider like SunGard help me handle that complexity and address these challenges?

Jack Dziak: We do that in a couple of ways. One is a simple trade-off that an enterprise IT manager has to look at. I could manage it myself or I can manage it in partnership with a third party. And in managing it with a third-party, the factors that they're going to look at will be everything from service delivery SLAs in terms of when things go wrong how quickly can they be rectified, to the speed with which new services, new functional capabilities can be dialed up on that infrastructure. 

And again, it's not a simple trade-off; it's actually a fairly complex trade-off, but the assessment that you do is very straightforward. I have a certain set of parameters around which I can do that myself and/or my third party has a certain set of parameters around which they can do that. And as we go to our customers, we look at that very holistically from test DEV all the way through production from core infrastructure and network, all the way up through and including the applications layer. Those are the types of requirements that our customers request from us that we have to be very credible in delivering.

Jack, you mentioned Hurricane Sandy earlier. Seeing that that's a core part of your business, how did Hurricane Sandy affect you?

Jack Dziak: We had four centers that were directly in the path of Hurricane Sandy, just outside of New York City in northern New Jersey. We had 100% uptime throughout that entire event and its aftermath, which was a lot longer than the event itself. To put some metrics against it, we received 342 alerts and 117 disaster declarations for our disaster recovery customers. More importantly, hundreds of our managed hosting customers who trust us to keep their production applications and IT environments always available had no interruption of service, 100% uptime. 

Now to put into context, this is where that entire region lost core power, where the main power lines were down for a good ten business days, where we ran on generator power, and where we sourced fuel for our generators when the local refineries were all literally underwater. So we had no interruption of service. And in fact, our Carlstadt data center also served as an impromptu community command center for local law enforcement, medical, and first response teams as well. 

Again, having been one of the guys who was on the phone with our data center managers for about 48 hours straight during that whole thing, it was quite an experience. But in such an unfortunate event, we kept our customers up, we kept ourselves dry, and everybody was the better for it.

Well, Jack, you certainly can’t do better than 100% uptime. 
Jack Dziak: Unless you put more time in the day, but I don't see that happening.

I don't either! Jack, thank you for taking the time to provide our readers with a thorough understanding of SunGard Availability Services and the capabilities you have to keep them up and running, even through disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. 

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward Show. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel. Be sure to visit today!

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