In this episode, Walter speaks with Chris Williamson, Field Chief Technology Officer at FNTS. They discuss mainframe modernizations trends, cloud adoption, post-Covid19 challenges, risk mitigation, the FNTS & Astadia partnership and more.
Walter Sweat: Hi everyone, welcome to the latest edition of the Walter’s World Podcast series from Astadia. My name is Walter Sweat and I'm the Astadia’s CTO.
Walter Sweat: We love to have these podcasts where we get to introduce industryleaders who know about the main free migration space and today I'm delighted to have Chris Williamson, who is the field CTO for one of our premier partners FNTS with us. Welcome, Chris!
Chris Williamson: Hi Walter, how are you today?
Walter Sweat: I'm doing very well, thank you, how about yourself?
Chris Williamson: Very good, thanks.
Walter Sweat: Good, good. Chris, for the audience members who may not have heard of FNTS yet, could you tell me a little bit about your organization and what it is that you do?
Chris Williamson: Yes, absolutely. So, FNTS is a multi cloud managed service provider, we're based in Omaha, Nebraska, and our offices are in DC and our staff are all based here in the US and several data centers around the upper Mid West.
Chris Williamson: Our clients are typically kind of upper mid market clients.
We've been in business for about 25 years, we're owned by First National Nebraska, which is a large privately held bank here in the US. The services we provide are really kind of across kind of three pillars of three cloud platforms around public cloud through our partnership with Microsoft, where we manage our clients' Azure assets.
Private cloud, that we deliver through our own data centers based on our Dell and VMware and Palo Alto technologies among others. We also provide mainframe as a service I series as 100 power, systems as a service, as well as DR and backup as a service through our IBM partnership.
We also provide managed security services kind of across all of our our cloud platform, so that's still a little bit about who we are we doing.
Walter Sweat: Well that's great, I mean it sounds like you're able to help customers in many ways cross a borrowed a broad spectrum, then.
Chris Williamson: yeah yeah that's the idea.
Walter Sweat: Are there any particular industries in which FNTS finds itself involved most often Chris?
Chris Williamson: Well, we have you know kind of a wide range of clients, whether it be a retail or manufacturing, some state agencies, but we seem to have depth in financial services and healthcare, particularly, I think, in part to our legacy and our banking history from our parent company, it's just kind of how we operate and secure workloads and stuff that's that seems to be where we've had a lot of our guests.
Walter Sweat: Okay, great, and Chris I know we had a chance to talk a little bit before we started the podcast today, and I was fascinated to hear about your personal background and the industries in which you work, I think the audience would love to get a chance to learn a little bit about what you've done over your career.
Chris Williamson: Sure yeah it's it's been, as they say it's been a long strange trip. I mean it for over 30 years and in a wide range of roles from development to network engineering to administration, while I read it read wide range of industries, including media and manufacturing and retail from Fortune 500 on the big end to start ups on the small end.
Chris Williamson: I spent on kind of the back half, I guess, if my career as a CIO and the CTO, so on the customer side of the fence before coming to FNTS two years ago, and most recently I was an interim CIO and a strategy consultant working with clients that were kind of looking to transform, modernize and just kind of stabilize to ship.
Chris Williamson: And, in fact, one of my roles as a CTO is an FNTS customer, so I guess now I'm kind of eating my own dogfood can work for the company.
Walter Sweat: Cool, cool. Chris from the perspective of your clients, could you share with us what you see driving their modernization efforts, what is it about modernization, now that is even more important to them than perhaps what was five years ago.
Chris Williamson: It has been a bit of a shift, but I will say you know it's kind of a variety of factors. Each client is you know a little different in terms of what they're really looking for from an outcome, a modernization outcome.
Chris Williamson: But you know, obviously cost is a big factor is it always is, but particularly you know capital avoidance, a lot of clients are trying to avoid that next big refresh cycle, you know and trying to you know optimize you know how they're delivering technology their organizations it's also you know, partly a capability aspect to that after the last couple of years, you know IT is really being progressive deliver new capabilities that they have an even more quickly than before.
Chris Williamson: And then the other kind of byproduct that is around agility, how quickly they can do those things, which is you know related to their staff skill and where they are from maturity standpoint a nd the degree that they can automate replicated you know delivering technology is quickly, you know, and then the I guess the other factor, too, is just how many of our clients are really following a multi-cloud strategy now trying to put the right booklets in the right class matter what that is so that's really kind of the scope of drivers that we're seeing from modernization.
Walter Sweat: That makes sense and could you kind of describe for us how FNTS has responded to these customers? Has your business changed, have you had to you know consider different alternatives, or is it through partnerships or what has been your model?
Chris Williamson: Yes, you know, I think like a lot of a lot of businesses we've been really trying to do some very active listening to our customer client base so I interact mostly with our you know our client leadership at the senior level and I think over the last several years we've kind of tailored our strategy to is there move to kind of a multi cloud strategy, putting the right workloads in the right place and really trying to help them move to simplify their IT delivery to get cost effectiveness until really leverage the way that we can deliver technologies at scale, so we've really tried to align ourselves with those customer wishes to you know move to consumption model and really tap the power of cloud for the things that matter most to them.
Walter Sweat: It makes sense. Talking about cloud, it's been fascinating for me over the years to see the adoption or the willingness for adoption of the cloud. And that it has become so integral to what people are looking to do now and going along with that.
Walter Sweat: The size of the companies that are now looking at the cloud has changed, have you seen the same thing that over the years that different sized companies are now willing to consider that cloud as a modernization alternative for them, than you would have seen years ago?
Chris Williamson: Yes, it has and it's interesting because I think where we've kind of seen the growth is really kind of on both ends of the spectrum. We've seen you know, smaller shops kind of looking to really you know either really tightly optimize what they're doing on the mainframe you know or maybe set a path of trying to get off, you know entirely, whereas, you know with larger shops in some cases they're really trying to drive out and lead the charge with a multi-cloud strategy with putting your core workloads on mainframe but tightly optimized you know and then moving other workloads to the public or private cloud, you know, in a very kind of cohesive architecture right so so it's interesting as we can see moving on both it all ends in terms of you know, the size of organizations that are trying to modernize.
Walter Sweat: You have a point, and let's have a look at both FNTS and Astadia, I think you know, we're both companies that want to earn that trusted advisor status, you know people would expect us to kind of know what to expect as they look at these efforts, what are some of the challenges that companies with whom you've spoken you know, need to be aware of, or can expect or need to evaluate as they look at migration and mainframe alternatives.
Chris Williamson: It is a complicated thing, which is part of the reason that the clients really need a very clear case for change right to change what they're doing and to try and move in that direction.
Chris Williamson: And, in many cases, you got platforms and apps that have been in place for very long time kind of in their associated business processes and that's very hard for people to organizations to change. It's harder up route those, especially in the organization change it kind of comes with it.
Chris Williamson: But I think that the the business cases are going to come to getting more and more compelling and I think the state of theartists change to with yourself with what you guys are doing at Astadia is a great example.
Walter Sweat: What about if I could ask, and this is something that we see all the time and I'm wondering if you see the same, we talked to companies who say one of their biggest concerns is that they're losing their staff, they are retiring, they're moving on after Covid, many of them didn't want to come back, you know they said this was a great time to move on. Is that a problem that you think is pretty consistent in the marketplace today?
Chris Williamson: Yeah, I mean that's that's almost inevitably a topic every CIO or CTO that I talk with it's inevitably, at some point in the conversation comes around to well gosh you know we're we're we're looking for a cloud engineer we're looking for, you know mainframe system programmers or you know there's there's just an enormous amount of pressure on technology providers to keep the boat filled with folks that have the skill sets they need so that's kind of one of the biggest factors of definitely in the last couple years with the amount of change it's really kind of put even more pressure on them.
Chris Williamson: So our clients tend to come to us to try and leverage our team, our experience, instead of trying to build that themselves and try and get that.
Chris Williamson: Immediate cost effectiveness of having an in place team that can can migrate and operate their workloads in you know multiple different clouds you know at scale because that's kind of you know what we're what we're doing for folks.
Walter Sweat: That makes sense. You know people talk about the the death of the COBOL programming that you can't find, finding a systems programmer, an established well versed systems programmer, terrible finding someone who knows model tool for any of the other technologies that are out there, it's truly is a challenge that people get caught in that what I call technological debt, where they were great choices at the time things work very well for them, but many people feel trapped so having an organization like yours, who can, whether it's those particular technologies or in general, being able to provide the environment and the personnel who know how to make things happen is is critically important.
Chris Williamson: Yeah, and it's interesting too, I had a conversation not too long ago with a CIO that had come out of a meeting with their board of directors not too long ago, and one of their chief's concerns was really just the inherent risk of not having the resources necessary to operate, you know their their bread and butter systems.
Chris Williamson: You know, and that really was the focal point for them was not just the you know the cost for the complexity, but just the you know the ongoing risk and how do we de risk, you know our operations, you know going forward.
Walter Sweat: The beauty of the mainframe, in my opinion, has always been that it is so risk averse, it's a risk averse choice for people right, so being able to have something that continues that risk aversion is critically important.
Chris Williamson: Well, I think it's kind of low of a lot of organizations to sleep, too, I mean the mainframe kind of hums away processing transactions, year after year, but then, if the folks that are carrying and feeding for it or not, there you know, then, then things are are getting kind of risky.
Walter Sweat: It can be indeed, Chris, I can't tell you the number of times when we've done the assessment for an organization and they'll say no, we have no Assembler and you start looking inside of the applications and sure enough there's a little Assembler application that George wrote 40 years ago and George is now retired, no one even knows it's still there, but it just as you say, humps along beautifully.
Chris Williamson: Yeah, and I think that's kind of what you know organizations have struggled with in their in their cloud migration is really kind of being able to envision that that full transformation from going in and assessing those those workloads to getting them into a steady state, you know cloud environment that, that is, you know cost effective and agile for them going forward right that's hard for them to kind of wrap their head around all the things again from soup to nuts.
Walter Sweat: You, and you have to account for them all, one of the things that I know I'm really excited about our companies partnership is that we have that experience jointly together to just say look it's it's more than just converting code and data.
Walter Sweat: You have to account for everything that's running on the mainframe, you have to have a solution and an environment in which you can run with that same level of risk aversion and performance and safety, so we hope that this you know really is a benefit for all of our customers.
Walter Sweat: I want to go back to the cloud again for a second if you don't mind. Do you find more companies now who who want to consider cloud the first choice as they look at alternatives as opposed to before like what cloud might be a ticking mark I'm interested, but now it has become the de facto choice of people.Is that something you see?
Chris Williamson: yeah to a degree, but it's interesting because, to some degree the pendulum is swung maybe not back completely the other way but a little bit back in the other direction to.
Chris Williamson: Whereas a few years ago, I think there was a rush from a lot of organizations to try and push all their assets to cloud kind of immediately whether they were good fit or not, and I think what we've seen in our businesses, a number of organizations that have kind of taken a step back and rethought exactly what is the best best environment for a given workload, whether that's a mainframe workload or open systems workload, a public cloud, a private cloud, whether it can stay in place, maybe on a different platform but more optimized, so I think there's a lot more selectiveness in terms of what's going to cloud, but I think there's still a significant amount of interest and energy going to public and private cloud for sure.
Walter Sweat: I'm glad you brought that up in, and I agree cloud is wonderful, but it's not a panacea, I think it's really important for organizations to see what is right for their environment, and there are no to that are exactly the same and to analyze what gives them the best results.
Chris Williamson: Right, and I think you maybe you've seen it, as we have to that sometimes when you actually walk the dog and do the assessment of you know what the best price performances sometimes you get some surprises in there, in terms of you know what those platforms are so I think it's important to be you know, thoughtful as you look at you know you know the cost and the performance that you need out of that particular workload.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely, absolutely. I know we kind of talked about this before, but I just considered a fascinating topic and that's the pace at which things are changing and which organizations are are now looking at alternatives to their mainframe environment I don't know about you, but 15 years ago, you know we were talking to companies that were 200 or 500 MIPS and today we're talking to organizations that are 300,000 MIPS who have a direction to look for different alternatives for us that pace is ever increasing are you seeing this thing.
Chris Williamson: We are, I mean I think it had been kind of a slow acceleration and I think now it's it's really gaining a lot more momentum, the last couple of years, I think, particularly has really driven the need for agility.
Chris Williamson: Out of a lot of it organizations which is kind of kind of pushed a lot of a lot of organizations into action in the last like year year and a half or so.
Chris Williamson: I just think the bar has been raised in terms of how IT needs to respond to the business and really being pressed to shift their focus from operational issues and operational oversight into value creation right, so I think a lot of guys I talked to are getting hit by their boards and their leadership to really participate in the business of the business and less on the operation side, so I think that's been a big shift for us, and it is you know really accelerating.
Walter Sweat: I certainly agree with that. Chris, how how important you think it is to recognize that you know some companies want to modernize on the mainframe and some companies want to move completely off and then there's that middle ground where you know people are doing both have that understanding of their environment - is that something that's very important to FNTS so that you know you recognize what is best for them?
Chris Williamson: Yeah, It really is and it's really kind of how we've kind of tailored our market strategy as a multi-cloud, you know provider, because we do we see it as a continuum right and we talked to clients that are that are very mainframe centric have always been and navy are looking to just identify a couple of of opportunistic workloads to move to public or private cloud but otherwise really just kind of you know optimize what they're doing on the mainframe to the other end of the spectrum where folks are very driven to get off the mainframe entirely or get off the ice series power platform entirely and are really just driving to trying trying to get those workloads you know into a proper public or private cloud model right so so we really kind of see it as a continuum you know across all those things yo try and you know or eliminate that skill risk that we're talking about different in in legacy technologies but also you know for cloud engineering to now.
Chris Williamson: You know, and just really try and and look at it as a staged approach and monetization breaking it up into groups and workloads are ways, maybe over a number of years.
Walter Sweat: I love the way that you approach that to say that it doesn't have to be a one or nothing that that they're all unique and they're all going to have their own unique environments and criteria for success and having the kind of ability to offer those options is critically important, I think, to to the companies that we get to work with.
Chris Williamson: I think another aspect to Walter is is that many organizations, particularly mature organizations, they can really only absorb so much change from an organizational business process standpoint over so much time, so they need to break that up to be able to digest and and be able to turn what they're doing into their future state model.
Walter Sweat: Absolutely. Well, Chris, one thing I'd like to ask, I hope this is an important question for our listeners what are the benefits that you see that companies can expect from our partnership Astadia and FNTS.
Chris Williamson: I mean you could tell them that we are very excited about this partnership, because it just made a tone of sense for us, you know, particularly as we engage our clients and asking them, you know what's next, what do you what are you trying to accomplish.
Chris Williamson: I just think together we're going to be able to offer clients have a very complete modernization lifecycle from assessing their application options for transformation and building a transformation roadmap so undertaking those app transformations or you know Astadia's tools and processes in your team to our ability at FNTS to migrate and manage those future state workloads very cost effectively very securely on whatever cloud platform fits them best.
Chris Williamson: We were just kind of see it as a long term business technology partnership between the Astadia and FNTS and our clients, that's going to create you know the kind of agility and cost effectiveness that you know those are the outcomes that you know our folks that we talked to you in the field they're looking for.
Chris Williamson: And that's been really well received, to the folks that I talked with her they're really looking for that kind of holistic approach.
Walter Sweat: But we think so as well and I love what you said about both business and technology, it has to be a success on both fronts, right?
Walter Sweat: You can't just have a technical technical solution and be assured that you're going to have a good business solution so looking at it holistically as you described, I know we at a stadium feel that this partnership helps us provide those customers, the things that they need that let them continue to do what they've done with newer tools, but with the same assurances that they've always had and that's why we're excited about this partnership.
Chris Williamson: Great, yeah.
Walter Sweat: cool well Chris I want to thank you so much for taking the time today, I really do appreciate it and I hope that this has been very informative for our audience, I think that it most likely has been.
Walter Sweat: And we're really looking forward to any questions that anyone in the audience might have, please reach out to us for us, you can reach it www.astadia.com and we will we will funnel any questions that need to be followed on.
Walter Sweat: Chris, thank you so much.
Chris Williamson: Thank you for having me.
Walter Sweat: It was my pleasure. Everyone, I hope you have a great weekend and please join us for our next podcast. Thank you all so much.
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