There is so much information on the importance of digital transformation, which can be overwhelming for people yet to migrate to the cloud. It can be difficult to know where to start, let alone decide which parts of the business to migrate or the correct approach to take. So, we thought it would be good to get some insight and advice from the people that know cloud migrations inside out.
We interviewed Justin Hepburn, a Platform Architect at Centrality, on what a day in the life of a Platform Architect is really like.
Hi, Justin. Could you start by telling us a little about your role at Centrality?
“I’m one of the Platform Architects working within Technical Services at Centrality. I’ve been at Centrality for almost fifteen years now. When I first joined, the focus was on physical, on-premises servers. But with the explosion of the cloud and digital working, there has been a sizeable shift in how people and businesses structure their data. As such, we are now all-in on Azure and the Microsoft Cloud.”
Could you tell us more about Centrality’s Technical Services?
“Centrality is focused on the modern workplace, which covers the entire Microsoft Stack from Azure to Office 365 to Microsoft Surface and Skype for Business telephony. This is split across three teams: The Platforms Team deals with cloud infrastructure and workloads; the Productivity Team deals with Office 365 and the technologies built on SharePoint Online; and the User Experience Team is concerned with Windows devices like Surface Hub and how clients can get the most out of them.
“When delivering solutions to clients, these teams interact to different degrees based on the requirements of the client.”
Do you find that deploying Azure depends heavily on a business’s needs?
“Absolutely. Azure is an incredibly expansive platform that creates almost limitless combinations of cloud deployments. So, we need to be incredibly client-focused: we need to take time to learn the intricacies of our clients to ensure we can provide them with the most efficient and effective Azure environment.”
In what way?
“We want to create bespoke solutions, ensuring companies are only running the software they absolutely need, to prevent them paying for services they won’t actually use. That depends on the level of moulding to the wants and needs of the business; depending on the client, they may not need services running every minute of every day. An example would be a business in local government, which needs its IT environment up and running around-the-clock. Whereas a software development company may only operate sixteen hours a day, five days a week. The Azure architecture—as in, the specific Azure applications we decide to deploy—for those companies would be very different. A local government may need 24/7 Monitoring and Disaster recovery, whereas a software development company may be focused on E-commerce and DevOps solutions.
“Managing cloud-IT environments in Azure is kind of a constant balancing act. We want to run Azure as ‘lean’ as possible, but not so lean that you might encounter service issues. To avoid that, we leverage a ‘service-first’ architecture, creating lightweight and inexpensive services with what we call ‘elasticity’, which is the option to scale up if the business wants to. So, it’s a balance between keeping costs down and service level high. And that differs for every business we work with.”
That sounds like a lot of work! With so much variety, how do you decide which aspects of the Azure platform a client should invest in?
“There’s still a perception out there that Azure is this big, expensive product. This is probably true if you were to take the simplest route of purchasing Azure online and going straight to deployment, which is actually one of the biggest pain points voiced by our clients. Taking the standard approach, businesses realize their new environment is much more complex and larger than they anticipated, and it’s not clear what areas of the Azure platform will help them.
“Azure isn’t a case of ‘one size fits all’—companies are only going to benefit if they know how, exactly, the cloud can solve a business problem or exploit a revenue opportunity. And that’s the way our discussions start. I would say some 60% of the discussion is around us better understanding the customer before we actually decide on the solution. By putting that discovery work in at the start, we can then redesign the architecture so it’s at its most efficient in Azure.”
How do those discussions take shape?
“We do a lot through online conference calls using Skype for Business. We fully adopt the modern workplace ethos, only endorsing products that we consume within our own business. So when we sell them on to clients, we have tangible, first-hand experience when it comes to understanding how they work and how to get the most out of them. Using Skype for Business, for example, makes it as easy as possible to communicate with our clients without needing regular face-to-face meetings, which we save for the main areas of discussion: pre-migration planning and discussing progress when migration is underway. Post-migration, our support desk runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and is led by Gold Microsoft experts to solve any issues that do arise.”
Is that attention to detail something you think is missing with how many organizations approach deploying solutions in the cloud?
“There are a lot of Microsoft Partners that prioritize selling a product to fix a problem. In terms of Azure, they will just pack up and ship workloads from on-premises straight to Azure. But we want to really understand what that problem is before we fix it. Otherwise, how can we know it’s not going to resurface in a different way?
“Personally, I’ve done a number of courses in Azure, dedicated to developing, implementing and architecting Azure Solutions, to attain Azure certification from Microsoft. This has helped us attain the Gold Partner status in Cloud Productivity and Cloud Platform.”
To learn more about the Centrality team and how we can help businesses of all shapes and sizes move to the cloud, get in touch with us today.