Inside SXiQ's multimillion-dollar Azure Stack hybrid cloud

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Inside SXiQ's multimillion-dollar Azure Stack hybrid cloud
John Hanna

One of Melbourne's oldest resellers has opened up to CRN following a multimillion-dollar investment in a Microsoft-based hybrid cloud platform.

SXiQ, the managed services provider born out of veteran Melbourne reseller Southern Cross Computer Systems (SCCS), has been on a mission to deliver meaningful hybrid cloud solutions for the past two years.

Some 12 months after investing millions to bring its Azure Stack-based cloud offering to market, the company invited CRN to take a look under the hood.

The Melbourne-based IT solution provider got a shakeup in 2016, when John Hanna – formerly business solutions director of major MSP Interactive – led a consortium that acquired 34-year-old SCCS.

SXiQ's platform boasts automated provisioning, security, management and monitoring, and can be privately installed in any data centre or on-premises environment, as well as connect to the public cloud.

Hanna no longer views the company as a reseller, he said.

“We are a cloud and managed services provider focused on bringing hybrid and multi-cloud solutions to our clients. This isn’t purely about technology, it’s not about dropping a box on a client site, this is much more about the technology and services combined to free our customers up.”

SXiQ said its platform, which has been in market for a year after several million dollars of investment in talent and technology, brought together four pillars to round out its offering: a software-defined hyperconverged data centre; hybrid connectivity across remote sites or into the public cloud for workloads as well as backup and disaster recovery; a security operations centre; and real-time operational visualisation of environment health, connectivity, capacity, cost forecasts and more.

It’s an approach Hanna said went further than simply building another private cloud, with a design ethos of providing ‘everything as a service’, simplification, insights, cost predictability, expandability and security.

“Our thinking is we’re focused on unshackling the legacy data centre and simplifying operations, employing the right cloud for the right workload, keeping everything safe and simplifying decision making,” he said.

The solution is a three-node setup that can be installed in any data centre, and is supported by Microsoft Azure Stack and the Azure public cloud, x86 servers and technology from Arista Networks and Palo Alto Networks.

Running a cloud

Hyperscale vendors like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM and Alibaba position their public clouds as one-size-fits-all solutions, but many customers have been hesitant to go all-in on public cloud, preferring bespoke solutions and a mix of on-prem and public cloud services.

But businesses face a trade-off if they choose to maintain infrastructure in private or on-premises environments – they typically experience longer provisioning and configuration times when spinning up new services.

SXiQ said services that would have taken days to provision in a data centre can be spun up in minutes or hours on its platform.

Once configured, the solution can be handed over to the customer's IT team, or managed by SXiQ through a console that contains a range of tools to manage and monitor the environment.

Machines can be quickly provisioned, compute and storage resources allocated, networks configured, access controls set up. These can be saved as presets for rapid deployment.

System designs that cater to separate business sectors such as accounting, human resources or engineering, for example, can be templated and deployed as needed. The environment can be provisioned through a single portal through the use of drop-down menus, simple forms and interfaces common to Windows users.

“Our clients love the idea of one admin for the data centre,” Hanna said. “So you no longer have a server admin, a storage admin and a network admin. I’ve run those kinds of teams in the past, even with converged infrastructure, but in this scenario it's one admin for a total data centre.”

SXiQ’s security operations centre forms the shield of the package. The company said its SOC provides 24/7 security incident management and intrusion detection, proactive event monitoring, certified security engineers on hand and easy integration to new environments

While tying together software-defined systems, cloud scalability and security has been a core service delivery for the Melbourne MSP, SXiQ is particularly proud of its insights management application, which is called IQ Fabric and was developed in-house.

“What we're doing is taking information from element managers across our environment, including tools like Science Logic and Cloud Vision, to visualise data at the executive level so intelligent business decisions can be made,” SXiQ general manager of technology Simon Heath said.

“IQ Fabric is about stitching together and allowing those best-of-breed element monitors, or information collectors, to feed into IQ Fabric, which we store the data in and provide visualisation for. We can correlate events through it, and we correlate information through it."

The tool monitors system capacity, consumption forecasts and pricing, systems in use, systems health and performance tracking. Individual components of an environment can also be monitored in greater detail through a series of menus pertaining to each area of a client's ICT setup.

“And this is insights across all three estates, be it private cloud, public cloud or remote sites,” Hanna said.

The buyer

One of SXiQ's customers is HansenCX, a publicly listed developer of CRM software aimed at utilities businesses with a market cap of $600 million.

Hansen's general manager for IT solutions, Gavin Dudley, said SXiQ’s cloud platform underpins the company's environment, and that the two companies enjoy a close relationship.

The SXiQ cloud effectively supports Hansen’s internal business requirements and the products it delivers to customers.

Hanna said: “Gavin goes to market with a series of offerings and we underpin some of those offerings. Another element of our partnership is that we support the CIO’s office in essentially looking after the company’s employees and their systems, either in Australia and globally as well,” Hanna said.

“From our perspective, we’ve got almost a sell-to and a sell-through relationship.”

Hansen, which was founded in 1971, now has more than 1000 employees spread across 31 offices in 18 countries. The company serves some 600 customers in 80 countries and expects to turn over about $230 million this financial year.

Dudley said the SXiQ platform is about more than infrastructure-as-a-service.

“As a midsize business, what we see as valuable is the next layer above – where the development takes place in a much more effective, easy way. It’s so easy that almost a layperson can spin up a resource and control these very technical things underneath through a software interface."

Dudley said the solution was particularly useful for a mid-enterprise business with a smaller IT team, allowing IT staff to focus on business outcomes rather than managing systems.

“That’s when this is so valuable. We’ve got 70 people in IT; we don’t have the 6000 that a big bank might have. That’s where our clients have got the most benefit: maximising the output of the IT team. Their delivery can be much more responsive to a growing business’s needs, all while maintaining a strong set of controls."

The journalist travelled to Melbourne to take in a presentation on SXiQ's cloud environment as a guest of the company. 

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