Training in the Cloud: An Interview with Lee Orrick

Lee Orrick from F5 sits down to discuss how F5 made the decision to move their training to the cloud, in order to relieve some of the pain points—cost, time away from work, shipping of hardware around the world—from their business. Learn how F5 ensured the cloud would provide the legal coverage, licensing issues, and security before making the transition.

Noel: Hello. I am Noel Wurst with Skytap. I am sitting here today with Lee Orrick from F5. F5 is one of Skytap’s customers. I wanted to get the chance to learn a little bit more about what they do, how they made their decision to start embracing the cloud, and what kind of advantages and gains the company has had since making that decision.

How are you today, Lee?

Lee: I’m doing OK. How about you?

Noel: Great, doing just fine.

To start off, what does F5 do? What kinds of things are you working on these days?

Lee: F5 is a provider of load balancing services. We have our Big IP product, but we have several modules within that, that can provide load balancing, acceleration and several other security solutions. That’s what we provide to the marketplace. We have both hardware solutions for that, and we also have virtualized editions for that.

Noel: That sounds so cloud-centric. What were you doing before you moved to the cloud? How are you handling all that?

Lee: Just to be clear, I work for the global services organization. One of our things that we do is provide training to the support organization, the consultants, and the help desk. We moved our process to the cloud. The Big IP products themselves and what we sell—we’re in data centers everywhere. We have hardware platforms and we have a presence there. We also have this virtual edition that allows our customers to move their processing to the cloud. What I’m doing is a group within F5, but F5 as a whole, we’re much more than just what my group does.

Noel: Definitely. I know that training is certainly something that Skytap does focus on, as far as the ability to make that a lot easier. What was some of the things that led you guys to shift that part of it to the cloud? What kind of pain points did you have that brought that on?

Lee: The group I work for, the new product introduction group, is responsible for, one of our responsibilities is to provide training for new features that are coming up for a particular Big IP release.

We’re in at the beginning of the design process all the way to when it releases to the market. We’re the subject matter experts at the end of the release cycle for that particular feature. We take that knowledge that we’ve gained by working with PD, working with it as it goes through development cycle, to develop training, update training for our support organization. They’re our main customer. We provide that training to them, so that they can support that feature when customers call in with problems.

What we’ve done previously, or prior to about a year ago, was, we would go actually do standup training at each of our locations where we had an office. We’d fly to Japan. We’d fly to Singapore. We’d fly to all these locations and we’d bring a rack of gear with us that we would then have the students use to do their labs. We’d have a standup course or instructor-like training, go through the material. Then, we’d have labs associated with them. They’d use this shared rack of gear that we had.

We were shipping gear all over the place. We were getting personnel different places. It took people out of circulation for a week, if not longer, to do this.

Noel: That’s a huge advantage you have now.

Lee: Yeah, from both our sales force, our consulting, and the NPIs themselves. What we did was we moved our training to web-based training completely. So, students are going online and doing these web-based training modules. What we were missing when we made that transition was we didn’t have that lab component, that hands-on component.

We started looking around for how we could provide that virtually to them in the cloud. We selected Skytap. Now, what we have is we have the virtual edition of our Big IP product and then all the helper machines. We created a complete environment with the configurations and the features licensed and enabled on the Big IP, so that when the student completes their lab or when they complete their web-based training, they have single click access, that they click on a link and it provisions that lab for them within Skytap. They’re emailed information on how to access it and they actually can go do the procedures in the lab guide. You get that hands-on experience that we were missing when we moved to web-based training.

Noel: That’s pretty great. So, as far as enterprise development and using that in a hybrid-cloud approach—It sounds like, as far as the way you were saying that you do have some of it on hardware, some of it in the cloud. It was kind of an easy decision for you to know what to move to the cloud and what to leave.

Lee: Right. We lost some of what we could train on, by going to the cloud because we don’t have the hardware. Some of what we sell, a full line of hardware platforms and there are some specific training things, Nuance is about those. If you have to cover each release, anything that’s hardware related, we can’t do in the cloud. We’re exclusively using our virtual edition, but we can cover probably 90-95 percent of our training requirements for new features, in the cloud.

Noel: Just this week, it was announced about Skytap’s enterprise environments on AWS. The announcement just came out, I believe, only about a week ago. I was curious, have you had a chance to think about how F5 can utilize that?

Lee: Some of the considerations when were we looking at moving the virtual labs to the cloud where we wanted them to be Internet accessible. Our users are on the go. We have consultants taking our training. We have field sales engineers. We have just the support staff taking our training. So, we wanted it to be Internet accessible, no requirements for a VPN to get into anything.

We wanted it to be as close to our users as possible. What I see now is you currently have your two data centers on the east and west coast. If I can utilize the AWS data center infrastructure and start pushing those same labs that I have in my two data centers here in North America … If I can start pushing those to EMEA, to APAC—I can push my content closer to the users and improve their experience in using the labs.

Noel: Just lastly, I know here at AWS, there’s a lot of people have already started using the cloud, or maybe they’ve only just begun to, but I’ve spoken with a lot of people as well, who haven’t yet made the decision of who to go with or what to move, and what to leave in-house. What kind of advice would you have for those that are looking to make that switch, whether it’s based on some things that you wished you could have done differently or some things that held you back from making that decision sooner? Do you have any advice for those who haven’t yet made the jump?

Lee: We sat down and had a clear matrix of what our requirements were for moving to the cloud and what we could get internally using internal virtualized infrastructure versus cloud infrastructure. We had a pretty good list on that. We were able to make a pretty well informed decision using those criteria. The main caveats or the stumbling blocks we had were mainly around licensing. Some of the licensing strategy is still being figured out from the cloud perspective. Then just legal considerations and security considerations. Would our IT department sign off on us putting this in the cloud, or our legal department? Those were the two main things, licensing and the security/legal.

Noel: The security was brought up as the number one concern during the keynote yesterday and from the people that I’ve spoken with as well. There’s, of course, always cost as a factor, but security still seems to be number one roadblock as far as people ensuring that this is going to be a safe move.

Lee: You mentioned cost. Cost really was a minor thing in all that. We went through our due diligence in RFP and got quotes, and all that. It was really compelling to say if we do it in-house, we’re going to have to take all of this effort to … Because one of the things we wanted was, we wanted to be able to stamp out these environments, have the students be completely isolated and then tear them down at the end of the day so we’re not using up storage or resources. We looked at what would it take to get that kind of process in-house and make that happen. When we started looking at the numbers for that, new hardware, full-time employees to support it and do the development work, it really made the decision to go ahead and let Skytap handle all that stuff and we just concentrate on getting our content up there and not have that admin burden of dealing with the hardware.

Noel: Great. Well, thanks so much for sticking with us today. I’m Noel Wurst with Skytap and this is Lee Orrick from F5.

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