Q&A with Marc Sollars, CTO of Teneo

27 September 2018 | James Pearce

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Capacity spoke with Marc Sollars, CTO of Teneo, a specialist integrator of next-generation technology, about its enterprise offering

Tell us a bit about Teneo - your history and offering?

We’re Specialist Integrators of Next-Generation Technology, founded in 2000 to help our customers achieve competitive advantage from the ‘next big thing’ in networking and security. The technologies we select and innovate around are generally in their growth and early maturity stages and we aim to identify them before they find their way into distribution. We’re incubators in that sense. It’s extremely rewarding to see fast results from such early investment when competition is low.

Our offices are in the UK, France, USA and Australia. We’ve completed 3 major acquisitions in as many years – 2 in the USA and the most recent in the UK with Geode Networks. Our focus has been on building out our SD-WAN and application performance management services capabilities while remaining agile on a global scale.

Our rapid growth has seen us listed in the CRN Solution Provider 500 this year for North American companies, named fourth in the 2018 CRN fast growth 150 list and we were placed at no. 53 in the 9th annual Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 league table in June, up 78 places from last year based on 69% of our sales being outside of the UK.

Our core customers have always been organisations that are non-traditional in their approach to IT: early adopters of new technology, often risk-takers seeking to make a major difference while lowering operational costs by using specialist service providers. That’s where our flexible managed services or as-a-service models help deliver optimum performance and expert input - with predictable monthly costs.

We have a mission of Opening Minds to New Possibilities, which works threefold – 1) in showing customers different ways of doing things, 2) in the investment we make in employee development and 3) through our corporate social responsibility. We’re just beginning our seventh school-building project in Africa to help impact the lives of children through education.

What challenges are enterprises currently facing? How does your solution tackle this?

Our customers’ customers and employees are driving demand for fast-performing, highly available and secure digital services. That’s the bottom line. But to deliver that to users at the front end, there’s an intricate and modern network that needs to run smoothly behind the scenes. To create that, companies need to have confidence in their choice of technologies and consumption models, so they can make rapid, yet considered decisions and know that their financial investments will translate into positive enablement of business change. We’re here to hand-hold them through that process.

SD-WAN is disrupting the networking market right now in the way it consolidates networking assets, enables the Cloud, and allows usage of Internet connectivity rather than MPLS to give a more reliable and available network to support digital transformation. We were a very early mover in this space, before Gartner named the category ‘SD-WAN’.

We work closely with 5 different SD-WAN vendors: Talari Networks, Riverbed, Silver Peak, Cisco Viptela and VMware NSX SD-WAN by VeloCloud, and meet frequently with others so we can help our customers make the best technology selection for their needs. We’ve likened the SD-WAN global market to a 400-metre track race. Right now, the main contenders are approaching the final 100-metre straight, at which point they’re beginning to show how they’re performing against the competition. As of yet, there’s no clear market leader.

We introduced an SD-WAN Workshop for this reason last year, which also takes into consideration companies’ needs for connectivity, security, visibility, Wi-Fi, Cloud and WAN and SaaS optimisation as well as the and the potential risks they face.

Once a company is clear on the best technology for them, we help them decide on the best design and delivery models, which include network assessments and design workshops, global deployment and ongoing management of the technology. That’s what our SD-WAN as a Service offering is designed for, which helps companies avoid the usual upfront Capex cost involved in new technology acquisition. Instead, they pay for SD-WAN in a predictable Opex model, so they can take advantage of the benefits right away.

On the security side, we’re working with Security Operations Centres and Threat Hunting teams to help them achieve better network visibility and incident response, in a fraction of the time using technology from Corelight, which was created by the founders of Bro.

How important is visibility over networks to enterprise customers, and what can Teneo do to provide this to your base?

Projects like SD-WAN can be very long and complex, and if the ultimate objective is to improve user experience, customers need to be sure to benchmark performance before and after SD-WAN deployment to be sure the right results are achieved. We recently launched Digital Experience Monitoring as a Service to help with that. It’s based on Riverbed’s SteelCentral Aternity software. It looks at the experience from the user’s device perspective so regional or technology-related trends can be quickly identified and resolved. The usage case also applies to critical application migrations like Microsoft Office 365.

Another trend we’re seeing is that, while customers typically have multiple tools that can provide them with network visibility – some as many as 40+ - many of those monitoring tools don’t see end to end, and they don’t get used due to time and skill shortages. What customers actually want is someone to interpret their network monitoring data for them, often for their most critical applications, and point them in the right direction so the troubleshooting process is more efficient and resolution times improve. We therefore now provide a 24/7 Visibility as a Service (VaaS) offering worldwide, which uses key components of the Riverbed SteelCentral portfolio.

Who are your technology partners and what do they add to your offering? How important are those relationships?

The SD-WAN market has been strongly hyped but companies do realise that these technologies can put a control layer over many different physical networks and components and manage them in a standardised way.  Many companies, however, still lack full knowledge of what the many different vendors are offering and aren’t seeing reference sites that are relevant enough to help them make a decision.

Our stand-out advantage for potential SD-WAN customers is that we marry together deep solution knowledge with our deployment and migration expertise to get implementations over the line. Our continual, 360-degree focus on SD-WAN needs enables Teneo to evolve new services that meet customers’ changing priorities and avoid unforeseen issues.

Can you tell us about any partnerships or recent deployments you’ve been involved with?

We have important SD-WAN deployments underway worldwide. We’re helping a professional services customer intelligently manage different categories of network traffic across its WAN: it’s been able to save costs considerably by switching off its existing MPLS circuits and moving to cheaper public Internet options and is now on target to save $750,000 per year.

In addition, we’re helping a public-sector organisation implement SD-WAN to automate its networking processes and free staff time that’s currently tied up in ‘lights-on’ operations, to develop new innovations.  Elsewhere, we have an enterprise adopting a carefully-phased SD-WAN roll-out to more than 1000 locations to help deliver the board’s business agility targets. We’re in phase one deployment to a few trial sites and global-level deployment will follow once the customer’s IT team has evaluated application performance at those initial locations.  

How does your offering stand out in a growing and evolving enterprise market?

CIOs and global network infrastructure teams are under relentless daily pressure to underpin more flexible operations and ‘do more with less’. We enable our customers to achieve decisive advantage in their markets by giving them early access to next-generation technologies with contained risks and predictable costs.

We believe our harnessing of longstanding and new partners’ advanced technology capabilities, alongside our expert professional services and deployment expertise, is opening IT leaders’ minds and delivering on those exacting demands on technology professionals.