Running Pre-Sales Demos on the Public Cloud: Ingredients of a Winning PoC

Posted by Pascal Joly March 22, 2019
Running Pre-Sales Demos on the Public Cloud: Ingredients of a Winning PoC

"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Sales Engineers engaging in high stakes demos are familiar with this saying. One of the most stressful moments they experience during customer PoCs happens actually before the demo. Is everything ready? Until recently, preparing the infrastructure for a technical product demo involved reserving and shipping some hardware, connecting these servers or appliances to the network and configuring everything end to end. We're talking weeks or possibly months of planning ahead of the actual "D" day with delays pretty much a given, lost shipment and unresolved IT tickets highly probable.

Then came virtualization and public cloud infrastructure.

Demos on the Public Cloud: a turning point with a few caveats

Microsoft featured appsPublic cloud was a turning point for many sales engineers in the tech world. With unlimited on-demand capacity, Infrastructure as a Service is as simple as doing online shopping: there is no need to be technically advanced to deploy a virtual machine needed for a demo in Azure, AWS or Google Cloud, to name a few. Sales engineers were finally blessed with all the ingredients for a winning PoC.

Not so fast. Complains coming from the various stakeholders involved in the process were quick to emerge:

  • IT admin: "I want to know what's happening in the infrastructure, cloud or not, so I can't relinquish the control to some random SE's credit card account. I should be the one in charge!"
  • CIO, CFO: "I want to understand why my infra spending have been skyrocketing since these sales engineers have been using the public cloud."
  • Sales engineer: "I can't figure out how to build these demos when I have more than one VM involved. takes too much time and I always need help."

Was this line: "just run your demos on public cloud" too good to be true? Seems like we were missing a cheerleader team after all.

Overcoming the Hurdles with Self-Service Environments

demo PoC hurdles

Have you ever dreamt of a self-service platform that let pre-sales engineers dynamically deploy their demo environments on the public cloud, no matter how complex they are, and clean them up after the demo is complete? If only...

It turns out Quali's CloudShell has been designed to natively offers these features on the private or public cloud of your choice. It recently came in the limelight with a case study published by partner Microsoft on a joint customer win (Skybox security). Nothing better than a real customer story to illustrate the point.

CloudShell provided Skybox a few key ingredients to enable their sales team demo their solution on the Azure public cloud effectively:

  • Advanced blueprint modeling with standard building blocks using native Azure Marketplace images or cloud services.
  • Automated deployment of VMs with out-of-the-box network and security configuration.
  • Self-service approach with demos organized in categories for easy access by multiple teams.
  • Simple, visual interaction with the demo environment to access the resources and showcase the value of the solution.
  • Time-bound environments: once the demo is complete the infrastructure is automatically cleaned up: no more ghost VMs, subnets or leftover storage sucking up IT budgets.
  • Enterprise-ready and multi-tenant to scale up as your team grows.

azure demo PoC public cloud environment self-service

Now that we're back on the right track, why stop here? Environment-as-Service have been used in many similar use cases such as a training platform for internal employees, cyber range, marketing team or even for the support team to reproduce bugs.

Before you catch your breath, make sure you download our solution brief on this topic or (no pun intended) schedule a demo!


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Cisco Live 2018: Report from the Front Line

Posted by dev June 27, 2018
Cisco Live 2018: Report from the Front Line

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to many CLUS. It’s anticipation, excitement and dread all balled together the few weeks before while preparing for the show. Remembering last year in Vegas, or the year before that in Las Vegas, or the year before that in San Diego, or the year before that in San Francisco, or the year before that in …you get it. In the weeks up to the event, an excited and reluctant, tugging anticipation.Knowing, on the horizon - too may conversations, too many hours standing, too many drinks, and too much food - the kind of intense week requiring stamina and a weekend afterward for recovery. Lucky, yes! - The topics are good, conversation is easy and it’s always great to have Cisco DevNet to share. What a great program to be a part of. and makes for easy conversation on the exhibitor show floor when describing Quali’s unique Sandboxing technology and how DevNet uses it.

Quali booth at Cisco Live
This year in Orlando was no different, it was a great show and when over, I was ready to be home. Lots of great laughs and fun times with new and old friends, exciting technology, fun parties, and a wee bit of a hangover. As much as it was the same, it was different. After attending for so many years, this time I was a little more reflective, of how much CLUS has grown, changed, evolved, and matured. Which also brought back great memories of all the good years I’ve had as a technologist being associated with Cisco.From being recruited out of college to my first high tech job at Cisco in Menlo Park - 1992, the same year as JC, and through astronomical growth and many technologies and acquisitions - all the way to this past event, #CLUS18. Cisco has lead technology change and innovation at blistering speed, bringing prosperity and growth as well as adopting new technologies for the world to use.Every day giving us, the everyday people, a chance to make a difference.The true magic of CiscoLIVE - the people.Look at the Social Impact initiatives and the Global Problem Solvers initiatives that Cisco promotes.Free access to technology learning and developer experiences through LIVE hands-on Sandboxes through Cisco DevNET’s 500,000 members - all of these are examples of people in action.

On a personal note - I have to tell you, the catalyst for all the reflecting started after seeing many friends I’ve known for years at #CLUS18. In particular, 3 friends of whom we all used to work together at Cisco, but hadn’t seen each other in 13+ years. The kids are now grown, the times have changed a lot. But the introductions were as close, warm and familiar as if we had seen each other two weeks before. Talking family, tech, and toasting to the years. Quality experiences and quality friendships fostered at CiscoLIVE live on and on.Martin, Andy, Pablo - great seeing you.

-Sean Stephenson

busy at cisco live: the quali booth

Reflecting back on this event, here's another contribution from Brian Mehlman, Director of Enterprise Business Development at Quali:

It has been many years since I have attended Cisco Live, and after being at the show this year, I am very happy that Quali allowed me to go to this event.  It was one of the best events I have been to in a very long time.  The many vendors that attended had really solid exhibits and engineers doing demo’s/explaining the value of their technology.  Stopping by the Cisco DevNet area was also a highlight.  It was very impressive – tons of developers testing out the easy to use an online portal to spin up specific Development environments in minutes.  I am glad Quali had a booth and represented how we help many of our customers including Cisco Labs and the DevNet Automate the delivery of the environments by allowing them to build sandboxes through our CloudShell Software’s API.  Many people were very excited about our new technology and automation for their companies future needs as they are moving resources to the cloud.

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Singing to the Tune of Sandboxes

Posted by Pascal Joly October 6, 2016
Singing to the Tune of Sandboxes

Next week Quali will be in San Diego for the Delivery of Things conference hosted at the Hard Rock Café downtown San Diego.
I will be presenting on Thursday October 13th at 12pm about Sandboxes as a Service, on how to accelerate the deployment of application infrastructure in the CI/CD pipeline.
In the continuous integration cycle, developers and testers need to quickly deploy new builds onto a set of changing infrastructure components that should provide individual replicas of the production environment.
A plethora of infrastructure orchestration solutions such as Chef, Ansible, Puppet, Openstack Heat, AWS CloudFormation, Docker Compose are available today. However the management and automation of advanced application environment templates remains a piecemeal approach, thus impacting the overall velocity of the application delivery lifecycle. Key components such as security tool, test tools or data store configuration often remain manual tasks.
Cloud Sandboxes can address these limitations by offering an out of the box simplified experience for the blueprint designer while integrating with all the required components to automate accurate replica of the production infrastructure.

If you want to learn more about an innovative way to solve a complex DevOps challenge, make sure to attend this session. By the way, we'll have a booth as well over the duration of the conference. So if you're going to be around , stop by and Hans, our Technical Marketing Manager (and an accomplished guitar player) or myself will have the pleasure to give you a demo.

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Streamlining proofs of concept with a self-service demo cloud, part 2

Posted by admin October 5, 2015
Streamlining proofs of concept with a self-service demo cloud, part 2

The first half of this series examined how a demo cloud solution can streamline field tests and proofs of concepts for technology manufacturers, service providers and independent software vendors. Whereas traditional PoCs processes can end up crunched between demanding requirements (i.e., that the solution being demoed work across complex, multi-vendor environments) and shortages of power and cooling resources, as well as space and time, a demo cloud can deliver infrastructure-as-a-service, with commonly used demo environments available through a self-service interface.

"Hosting PoCs in the cloud is a natural fit, allowing the ISV to focus on closing business, without having to worry about the provisioning of hardware and configuring the networking," explained Citrix documentation on the advantages of a demo cloud. "The proof of concept process is greatly simplified; a working demo can be up and running quickly, and prospective customers can see exactly what the experience would feel like for a user.
A significant portion - at least 35 percent by some estimates - of all demo equipment is wasted and/or unproductive, creating a strong business case for streamlined demo clouds that can deliver higher utilization and greater ease of use and ultimately yield shorter and more efficient sales cycles. In this part 2 of our series, we'll wrap up our look at what  demo clouds should provide in order to reduce costs and improve sales cycles.

Streamlining proof of concept testing with a demo cloud
Over time, PoCs often go beyond the basic demonstration of features and come to encompass advanced functional and performance tests. Such tests may require control over the physical connectivity - i.e., by using Layer 1 switches - to ensure accurate network performance. In addition, more complex demos and PoC can typically require control and provisioning of other types of equipment and gear such as traffic generators and custom appliances. Supplying this level of high-fidelity support for demos and PoCs can be challenging because of the range and complexity of infrastructure that needs to be provisioned. However, this is a critical requirement if a demo cloud is going to effectively replace the traditional approach to lugging gear around.

Moreover, an ideal demo cloud, as we noted last time, should easily integrate with management software platforms via APIs, have robust reporting and accounting features, and exhibit highly scalable, maintainable automation. It should have flexible administration and access privileges suitable for many types of users - e.g., developers, systems architects and power users - and ultimately enable non-programmers to create demo environments and leverage prepackaged libraries without having to write their own scripts.

With these requirements as well as those listed in Part 1, the following are key capabilities needed by a cloud solution for enhancing the PoCs process:

  • Scalable environments driven by user input: Engineers can reserve and then extensively customize their environments, with particular input forms that determine orchestration and provisioning. A single catalog can in effect support many different use cases and topologies.
  • Object-based design: Automation workflows can be built with objects that cover provisioning as well as infrastructure resources. Plus, the object library can be dragged and dropped by non-programmers for easy workflow creation.
  • Abstract resources: A system using CloudShell can pick any available resource in order to maximize availability and utilization during the demo.
  • Comprehensive reporting: Administrators can easily keep tabs on device utilization and reservation-to-activation ratios and construct custom dashboards for high-fidelity PoCs.
  • Power user support: Power users can make the most out of CloudShell by doing live customization of environments and creating ones from scratch if need be.

CloudShell is the cloud automation platform purpose build for creating demo and PoC clouds that yield smoother, more efficient PoCs and field tests by simplifying the creation, customization and teardown of environments. As a result, field sales organizations can shorten their sales cycles and remain competitive.

The takeaway: For years, PoCs have been beset by issues with inconsistent resource availability and underutilization of equipment that serve to undermine the demonstration of solutions in complex, multi-vendor environments. A platform like CloudShell creates a demo/PoC cloud with IaaS that can deliver common demo/PoC environments and streamline the process for end users.

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Streamlining proofs of concept with a self-service demo and PoC cloud, part 1

Posted by admin March 20, 2015
Streamlining proofs of concept with a self-service demo and PoC cloud, part 1

For technology manufacturers, independent software vendors and even service providers and technology manufacturers, demonstrations and proofs of concept are a critical step in the sales process.  Demonstrations illustrate relevance, while PoCs establish that a given technology, product or service fully satisfies the buyer's particular requirements.

"When capturing a new sale, time is often of the essence," explained a piece of Citrix documentation about utilizing the cloud for PoCs. "Software providers have a finite amount of time to capture customer mindshare, and the competition is trying to beat them to it. Spinning up a customized working demonstration in minutes - versus days or hours - could mean the difference to winning the [purchase order]."

That's the ideal. In the real world, however, PoCs often run into significant challenges and obstacles that result in delayed and sometimes missed sales opportunities:

  • Since demonstrations are about showing relevance, they need to representative  of the customer's environment to speak to the use case.  This creates the challenge of significant prep time for sales engineers to create the right illustrative scenario.
  • Evaluators hold PoCs to a higher standard, as they are trying to certify the solution's technical capability to meet their list of requirements. Accordingly, there's little margin for error.   So engineers are challenged with even more preparation work to construct the environment inclusive of testing tools, etc. that will accomplish the PoC goals.
  • Beyond those challenges, there are real obstacles to delivering timely demo's and PoCs, especially when the infrastructure environment for the product, application or service is complex:
    • First off, if the PoC requires shipping equipment to customer sites, then the process goes down a path littered with potholes.  Huge, costly supplies of products must be maintained in a depot to meet demand.  Equipment wastes most of its time depreciating in the depot, in transit, waiting at the customers' receiving docks, waiting for customers or sales engineers' schedules to align with maintenance windows for installation.  Perhaps 10 percent of equipment is lost, broken or held hostage to customer issues that have nothing to do with sales processes.  In addition, PoCs are easily interrupted due to scheduling problems.  As a result, effective utilization rates for PoC equipment is dismally low.
    • If demo's and PoCs are delivered from a central lab, in most cases the processes for setup are highly manual, which again squanders tons of productive time.

Using a demo cloud to deliver cloud-based, self-service demonstrations and proofs of concept
Demonstration and PoC clouds can address these shortcomings and make life easier for both sales teams and prospective customers. An efficient demo and PoC cloud can, for instance, eliminate the steep capital costs and logistical pitfalls of traditional field-based PoCs and improve the operational efficiency, remote usability, agility and responsiveness of central lab-based PoCs.  Such an infrastructure-as-a-service cloud solution can deliver commonly used demo and PoC environments to teams in the field. The result is shorter sales cycles and increased opportunity pipeline.

A streamlined user experience is imperative when working with a demo cloud. A solution like QualiSystems CloudShell offers the essential features for demo/PoC cloud automation, including:

  • An accessible self-service portal that offers a predefined catalog of demonstration and PoC environments, along with options for power user customization and a reservation system to avoid scheduling conflicts.
  • Dynamic environment provisioning with support a broad range of user inputs, plus automated de-provisioning to return resources to a predictable baseline state.
  • Ability to handle complex demo scenarios, such as ones that go beyond software-only considerations and require the design and publication of complex topologies involving hardware products.
  • Automation reusability, with limited scope objects and a visual orchestration authoring tool.
  • Reporting and accounting so that teams can keep tabs on key performance indicators such as maximizing resource utilization.

Ultimately, a demo/PoC cloud should accelerate the sales process and eliminate the common causes of delay. With deep integration of workflow automation and resource management, a solution like CloudShell also produces significant CAPEX and OPEX savings through increased efficiency and productivity. In a future post, we will look in greater depth at how some other specific demo cloud features lead to easier field tests and PocS.

The takeaway: As tech and telecom sales organizations look to speed up and shorten their sales cycles, they will need to overcome the logistical and productivity blocks to meeting customer demands for demonstrations and PoCs. Using IaaS to offer access to common environments, they can overcome the hurdles that beset PoC testing and prove that products and services can operate across complex, customer-relevant infrastructure environments.

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