When Steve Lee was the director of engineering at Cisco, he was faced with a challenge. He had to determine whether moving critical services to virtual environments made sense.
His dilemma was pretty clear cut. He had to physically purchase the hardware and a license for software in locations that spanned five time zones and four countries: Shanghai, Boxborough, Atlanta, Chennai, and San Jose. He says this caused tremendous redundancy and inefficiency.
He knew there had to be a better way, so he set out to find a much more efficient path forward. “I felt like we were buying a tank to accomplish what we needed to get done, when all we needed was a Chevy Cruze,” he says.
His solution was to work with vendors to decouple their traffic generation software from their proprietary hardware so it could instead run on generic virtual machine hardware.
He started by calling up vendors and explaining that he wanted to redirect Cisco’s spending to get better bottom line performance. He also told them he was hoping to accomplish that through virtualization.
“I told vendors, ‘we will direct our dollars from the budget to whoever can do that first,’ and this set them off in a race,” Lee says.
Lee recalls that one vendor, who was roughly third place in market share, took this challenge very much to heart and went back to his engineering team to work out potential solutions. A couple of months later, the vendor came back to Lee with a solution that fit his needs. Lee adds that today, that same vendor is a leader in virtualization thanks to its risk-taking and executing on goals following his request.
Lee then purchased vast amounts of ports for traffic generation equipment in order to simulate network conditions and test scenarios before deployment.
The new approach “solved a number of issues, but primarily allowed us to dramatically reduce cost for a worldwide QA engineering team by enabling us to use licenses where and when we needed them, whether in Shanghai, Boxborough, Atlanta, Chennai, or San Jose,” Lee says. Essentially, the company could now check licenses out remotely. And, by doing so, radically lowered the amount of equipment and licenses it needed to buy.
“One of the things I learned during this process is that you can’t be afraid to push vendors,” Lee says. “A lot of times companies will turn to the top vendors, but a good way to be innovative and drive business beyond the competition is to understand who the other relevant players are that may be third or fourth in line and can provide a similar service.”
His advice: “Embrace a willingness to go along for the ride with these vendors and collaborate with them to be innovative. Invest in them and help them bring the idea to market, rather than expecting the idea to be ready for you from the very beginning.”
Most people might ask a vendor: Do you have this feature and can you do it? However, Lee encourages people to instead explain: I really need this feature. How can we make it happen?
He says it also takes an open mind and a willingness to try new approaches. “Every company has budget constraints, but it’s very helpful to look at problems from different angles and embrace virtualization,” Lee says.
Without a doubt, Lee’s lessons are applicable to other IT professionals considering whether it’s worth it to move critical services to virtual environments, or when trying to solve any challenging dilemma. They even translated over to his new role as an account executive for Missouri-based World Wide Technology, Inc., where he continues to apply what he learned when helping customers solve complex problems.
Renee Morad is a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Discovery News, Business Insider, Ozy.com, NPR, MainStreet.com, and other outlets. If you have a story you would like profiled, contact her at [email protected]
The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.