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All clients in the Public Cloud within 3 years. Our story.

Written by Henry Duncombe

Monday, 11 September, 2023

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This is a story about how Lanware made a big shift in the way it delivers technology to its clients and navigated its way around the graveyard of many failed cloud projects to become one of the few IT Managed Service Providers (MSPs) which has fully embraced the public cloud. It is a story with a moment of “reality” followed by a new vision, some bold decisions, and a lot of sweat and toil by many people.

In just 20 seconds – see our data centre completely decommissioned

The beginning of the fully managed service

In 2004 we had a vision to create our first fully managed hosted service. We would take all of the customer’s servers out of the office, install them in a data centre managed by us and package up their entire technology and deliver it to them as a service, all charged on a recurring per-user basis. Fortunately, we had a number of clients who were willing to be early adopters, and so we set about selecting a data centre provider, which originally was just procuring some managed racks through a third party.

Following the success of those first clients and demand from a new client who was experiencing exponential growth, in 2008 we talked to the data centre provider about having our own dedicated suite. Back then the data centres were mostly full of ISPs (e.g. AOL) or Telcos. Our requirements were modest in comparison to these giants and I remember that our dedicated suite was described by the Data Centre as “an off cut”, the runt of the litter, the space which nobody wanted, but it was perfect for our needs!

We learnt quickly that running a data centre suite is very different to buying a few hosted racks and getting an internet feed, and we didn’t fully understand some of the constraints. I remember when blade enclosures became a thing, and we realised space was not the limitation, but it was power and cooling, and we needed to improve our capacity planning.

A wake-up call

In 2017 everything changed for our business. With the death of our founder and our largest client being taken over, there was a huge wake-up call as we realised everything had to change, particularly in terms of the product. Ultimately, we had become prisoners to our own experiences. We felt the entire market was made up of clients with massive budgets and who wanted to be at the forefront of technology – this made our product offering very expensive and also inflexible. Fundamentally, we became too wedded to one “private cloud” technology stack which just didn’t resonate with the wider market of smaller financial firms.

How the public cloud opened up for financial services

We started by downsizing the business and then set our sights on the public cloud as the future. Lanware launched Finance Forward 365 as its latest managed service, with a technology architecture which was built almost exclusively around Microsoft 365 and Azure.

Financial services were laggers in their adoption of the public cloud due to being wary about the security and compliance risks. Also, compliance limitations meant that a mid-market financial services business could not operate entirely from the public cloud. These barriers were overcome quickly due to various developments in terms of new Microsoft products, security features and how compliance worked. The pandemic also helped as it further fuelled the demand for the public cloud due to remote working.

Our approach at Lanware was not to “ditch the data centre” as we believed there would be numerous reasons that clients would need a “hybrid” solution. We therefore developed two options: FF365 “Plus” (Fully Cloud) and “Hybrid”. We wanted to educate clients on both models and then help guide them through the decision on which path to take. See our 20 questions financial services firms have in migrating their IT to the Microsoft public cloud for expert answers to these questions.

Running your entire corporate IT infrastructure from the public cloud is dependent on whether your third-party line of business applications also work in the cloud. One by one, they either did or had their own SaaS offering. This meant the reason to leave a line of business applications “on-premise” quickly fell away and resulted in a situation where everyone decided to go full public cloud.

Letting go of the data centre

By early 2021 we had approval from all clients to move all services to Finance Forward 365. This created an end-state scenario where we would no longer need a data centre. Further financial incentives had been offered by Microsoft to Lanware to achieve this, however, this created a huge delivery challenge for the business, in particular the project teams. To run so many projects in parallel was going to be hugely risky and resource-intensive and would operate over a couple of years. The support teams had to be considered too because as each client went live, service desks would need to support a completely new environment and help users get to grips with the new technology. Additionally, we had to on-board new clients at the same time as transforming existing clients, thus increasing the workload.

More challenges to overcome

Whilst there were many challenges, fortunately, clients were very patient. Our biggest issue was that Lanware’s internal IT and management systems could not be “left to the end” or we would be the only ones in the data centre and paying a massive bill. As anyone will know, getting priority around internal initiatives when you are supporting customers is next to impossible, internal projects ALWAYS end up playing second fiddle!

In IT we’re terrible at turning things off. Moving systems to the Cloud is not just about “standing up” the new environment, but turning off the old. That’s also where the risk is as often dependencies between the new and the old exist and outages can be caused when you shut off the legacy! Also, for compliance reasons, all technology which was storing data had to be securely disposed of, data wiped to military-grade levels, and certificate of destruction provided disposed of.

By March 2023, everything was reaching a crescendo with the final client going live and all that was left was Lanware’s internal management systems, but many of those were changing to new systems such as different monitoring platforms and new Privileged Access Management systems. Moving back-ups which must be restored for compliant reasons up to at least 7 years were handed over to specialist third parties, lock stock, such that Lanware would not have to maintain the physical tapes.

The future in the public cloud

We officially closed the data centre on 30th of July 2023 having originally entered the data centre world back in 2005, after 18 years. The close of the data centre is symbolic of the next chapter of our life at Lanware.

We are no longer constrained and now free to use the Microsoft Cloud to bring value to our clients in a whole host of ways. It also opens the door to offer a huge ecosystem of new products and services such as AI, which simply would not exist on-premise.

I’d like to thank everyone for their role, not just in the data centre exit, but all the Finance Forward 365 migration which had to be done in the last few years to put us in this great position.

Henry Duncombe, Managing Director, Lanware

Are you interested in seeing how the Microsoft Public Cloud can add significant value to your financial services business?

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