CloudBrew Episode #9

There’s something every SaaS provider needs, but many overlook until it’s too late. If you’re looking to scale the enterprise, the conversation must include cloud infrastructure automation. Why? Because it enables you to increase productivity, reduce costs, improve predictability, and much more.

In Episode 9 of CloudBrew, CoreStack's NextGen Cloud Governance podcast, we get the secret to scaling from Sridhar Chandrashekar, CoreStack’s Chief Digital Officer.

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Kaylee: Hello and welcome back to another episode of CloudBrew. For our first-time listeners my name is Kaylee Raduenz. I am on the strategic alliances team here at CoreStack. And for those returning welcome back. Today's topic is scaling enterprise SaaS and the importance of cloud infrastructure automation. Today we have one of our own and a returning guest to the podcast. So, hi Sri and welcome back. We're excited to have you here. Would you mind giving us a quick intro for the new listeners of what you do here at CoreStack and a little bit about your background,

Sri: Absolutely Kaylee. My name is Shridhar Chandrasekhar and people call me Sri. I am a Chief Digital Officer at CoreStack. I'm responsible for building the product and taking care of all the engineering and the cloud infrastructure. My background is I worked at Microsoft for a long time, 18.5 years, and then went on to work at a company called ServiceNow. Built ServiceNow Cloud, started their IT Operations management business. I was a General Manager and Vice President there. And did a startup of my own which was acquired by CoreStack. So, I'm here at CoreStack for a decent amount of time now. I'm looking forward to talking to you about this very interesting topic, Kaylee.

Kaylee: Thank you so much Sri for the intro. There is one thing I do want to preface before we get into the weeds today is something that's really critical for those that are going down the software as a service journey. We often see this in the cloud world where SaaS companies often overlook the importance of automation of one's cloud infrastructure. So who better to chat this through than you. I mean, you've had a first-hand experience, ServiceNow, Microsoft. So, I wanted to preface that first and foremost. So, let's take that step back. Let's define cloud infrastructure automation. Can you peel back that first layer for us?

Sri: Absolutely, Kaylee. First of all, when it, let me just provide a little bit of background about cloud and cloud applications if you will. When it comes to modern day technology infrastructure. Almost all roads, digital, lead to and from the cloud. Cloud usage continues to grow at a rapid pace. According to Gartner, overall cloud spend will be reaching nearly $600 billion in 2023. And IDC is forecasting about $1.3 trillion by 2025, in just a couple of years. A typical enterprise SaaS provider offers their product in a public, private or hybrid cloud. That product will have to be deployed, provisioned, configured, managed, monitored, secured and serviced to provide a certain SLA – Service Liability Agreement, at the end of the day. So that SLA also includes the promise of high availability, disaster recovery, backup, restore data isolation and so on. So, for such a product that they offer to run in the cloud there is an underlying cloud infrastructure, which is an associated set of processes which form a library of what is called Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs. These SOPs outline how to execute the processes in a predictable manner. Cloud infrastructure automation is all about automating these processes and helping enterprise companies to scale their business, increase productivity, reduce costs, improve predictability, and boost agility, so that they can increase their service health, get higher margins and finally better customer satisfaction. Cloud infrastructure automation is a critical and necessary ingredient for SaaS Enterprises to achieve enterprise scale. An extremely well executed version of this is often referred to as Zero Touch Automation.

Kaylee: No, that's great and I think you already touched, so my second question, you already touched a little bit on it, which is great. So, let's break down what do you mean by enterprise scale?

Sri: That's a good question. As a SaaS company grows and begins to get it to medium and large enterprise customers, the expectations grow as well. What is typically considered nice to have capabilities by small and medium businesses become table stakes for large enterprises. The SLAs regarding high availability, disaster recovery, backup, restore and so on become extremely stringent and harder to meet. The amount of data that is ingested, processed, analyzed and reported grow from 10s of millions of records per day to billions of records per day. The availability of the product in different regions of the world whether it is in North America or Europe or Asia or Australia and meeting their privacy guidelines, different for different regions of the world, the data isolation, data sovereignty rules, all of them become a requirement at with large enterprises. The customer support and customer success engagements for critical issues also must be addressed 24/7, 365 days a year wherever you're in the world. So that is what enterprise scale looks like.

Kaylee: OK, great. So how and when does a company start automating their cloud infra?

Sri: As they say, it's never too early to start focusing on this aspect. Once the minimum viable product or MVP is ready, even for beta, it's a good time to start working on this. The way to think about this, Kaylee, is to itemize, categorize and prioritize the SOPs included in a customer instance and how to set up a customer instance, servicing a customer instance and everything from initial deployment, which is provisioning a customer instance, to upgrading the product, to managing, monitoring, upgrading the platform and the infrastructure, self-healing proactive measures to troubleshoot and fix issues, all of these can be automated. The approach on how it should be done depends on the company and the product they offer. Typically, it starts with the following steps, getting the buy in from the leadership team. The leadership team have to be completely bought in to invest in this discipline. Then as I mentioned earlier you need to have the list of SOPs from initial deployment to steady state managing of the customer instances. Then getting the input from the operations team which is going to run this product in the environment and the tools they use, the techniques they use, and which SOP needs to be prioritized for automation first and which should be done next. And then itemizing and identifying the components to automate and making sure that the requirements are thoroughly understood, and the SLAs are set up with the operations team. Once you do that, then you need to find out what are the pre-flight checks just like when you take off an airplane, you do a set of preflight checks, and what are those checks before you start flying the plane? And then when you land the plane, what are the post flight validation to make sure that everything is hunky Dory for the particular SOP? And once you build all of this, you test it and make sure that it meets the stringent guidelines and then releasing it to production and monitoring it on a continuous basis and iterating it because the product doesn't stay still, it continues to evolve as it continues to evolve. How do you evolve the automation as well?

Kaylee: Oh, that's great. I think the C-level suite is getting them all at the table to really understand that is first and foremost and having that clear road map to show that data behind, why are we doing this? Why is it important? Right! And I think, again, that's the topic. So, and really great insights. So, thank you for that. I'm going to have a loaded question for you. So, we are kicking off. So, first it's going to be two parts. What could be the impact of a company if they don't prioritize it? And what are the benefits if they do it right? So, pros and cons of both sides. What would you say here?

Sri: So, as my good friend Rob Ford would say, before I answer the question, let me provide an analogy which is, it's like building a fantastic car like a Ferrari and taking it to the racetrack and not having the right crew, the right fuel, the high uptake fuel that you need, the right driver to drive the car, and so on and so forth. So, you have to have all of these things come together. So, enterprise SaaS companies that do not embrace and automate cloud infrastructure will find it hard to scale their product and platform, which can obviously impact growth. They will also experience reduced predictability because these SOPs are executed manually, which are not only slow but error prone. They will also experience decreased customer satisfaction due to increased time taken to pinpoint and resolve issues. Likewise increased cost in employing more operations personnel to perform these SOPs. And finally, diminished productivity and longer product development lifecycle because the engineers which are supposed to be building the product will spend more time firefighting than actually focusing on designing and building the next version of the product. So, and finally employees who are tasked with shepherding and these mind-numbing processes which are repeatedly done in a manual way, will have poor job satisfaction. Such persons should ideally be working on creative solutions and automating the cloud infrastructure itself. So that's the first part of the question, right? The second part of the question is what happens if you do it right? What are the benefits and the values you get? So, companies that embrace cloud infrastructure automation and dedicate resources to it can grow and scale the company and spend more time on go to market, on building the product, on customer success, on evangelizing, on getting developers to start using their product and so on. They will already have better control of the infrastructure, so, and this can be a tangible, measurable and noticeable benefit. Let me itemize one by one. Reduced cost to run the company's SaaS offering higher margins from revenue, increased customer engagement and satisfaction because you'll get better CSAT numbers, better NPS scores. Employees will have enhanced productivity, shorter development cycles because they're focusing on building the product and not firefighting. Increased predictability on pinpointing and resolving issues, when they come up, because things are automated. Such companies grow their regional and global presence faster, servicing larger customers in the Fortune 100 around the globe.

Kaylee: Perfect. That's great. So final question. Why is cloud infrastructure automation so important, and why do we want to prioritize it now versus down the line?

Sri: It's like saying if you don't tackle it early on the technical debt builds up. So as the use of cloud computing expands and as more and more companies move their workloads to the cloud, products that do not offer an excellent enterprise SaaS service get left behind. Medium and large enterprise customers expect enterprise SaaS companies to offer SLAs that offer high availability, disaster recovery, predictability in the way they deal with issues and provide excellent customer engagement and support. And all of this is possible if you automate the cloud infrastructure. In the current economic conditions, every leader is expected to do more with less. I understand that this is a cliche, but it is true. And at the same time, they're also expected to deliver a quality product which is deployed easily to customers, meet the agreed upon SLAs. Keep up with technology advances in the platform and the infrastructure, and help grow the company as it scales to meet larger customers with higher expectations. All of this can be met much more easily if the company automates the cloud infrastructure and work towards a near zero touch automation.

Kaylee: Awesome! Hopefully, didn't scare you off with all my questions. I think this is really, really insightful. I think that you know This is why we do these things. This needs to be talked about and
proving it that you've done it previously and you've seen it successful. So I wanted to thank you so much for joining today. This is a very critical and important topic. So before I close this out, is there anything or any key takeaways you want to give to our audience for today?

Sri: One last thing, Kaylee, if you don't mind. There is a perception that embarking on the cloud infrastructure automation is either very hard to solve or it's not something that company should embark on early. Both of these aspects are wrong. I'll provide an example from Matt Damon, who said in The Martian, the movie, he said you solve one problem, you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home. Similarly, if you embrace and start your journey to automate the cloud infrastructure in single steps and automate the SOPs one by one, you get to help grow and scale the company and you won't be dealing with a huge technical debt later. A side effect of all this is you as a leader get to be the hero who helped grow and scale the company to amazing heights.

Kaylee: Yes, absolutely. Completely agree. So, I think that's it for today. Thank you. Again, a big thank you to Sri and to our listeners, please subscribe to hear more content. We're on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, iTunes, Audible and until next time. Thank you.

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