Featured Interview | Mike Bradshaw of Stratus Technologies

Mike Bradshaw, Stratus Technologies

PostedThursday, March 16, 2023

  • Q
    How do you describe to lay people what it is that you do?

    Before COVID, when my kids were a bit younger, they used to tell all their friends that I was a spy. They justified that the reason I was a spy was because I was always traveling out of the country, and I always have the latest gadgets. So, they were absolutely convinced that that's what I was. And my wife couldn't tell anybody what I did, because she didn't understand it, no disrespect, but she didn't understand what I was doing so she didn't help the cause either. So yeah, I was a spy for a few years.

    But in truth, I'm part of the leadership team at Stratus with a responsibility on the go to market through partners. So that's my area of expertise, if you will. And primarily we break down our partners into two levels.

    The first level is the ones that extend our market presence from sales and service teams. Those are what we refer to as our channel partners.

    And then we have our second level, which are those that add value by creating solutions or equipment that our mutual ultimate customers will use or purchase. So, our system integrators and our machine or solution builders fall into that category.

    And they're the ones that really, as I say, they take the product out of the box, so to speak, install software on them, and build them into what the customer will ultimately effectively use.

  • Q
    Talk a little bit about the story of Stratus, how it began and how it evolved over the years.

    So obviously, I've only been here for the last four years or so, but Stratus has been around since 1980. It was founded on providing a reliable fault-tolerant compute environment, really, for banks, finance companies, credit card companies, and the telecom industry, where they're handling large, high volumes of transactions. And as well as things like emergency services, where their command-and-control systems must always be available. So that's where we really set out and established a presence.

    And then, as industrial automation projects use more and more of the Windows platform or based systems, if you will, then any application that really required complete fault tolerance was a perfect fit for Stratus ftServer at that time.

    And I got involved with Stratus, back in the ‘90s, late ‘90s, when one of my customers wanted to use InTouch on a project that couldn't afford to fail, due to a machine failure. So although we had an ability within the product to set up a heartbeat between two nodes, it didn't really guarantee performance.

    So really, the only way to go forward for 100% reliability or 99.99%, I should say, reliability was with the Stratus product. So that's where I got to know of them. And we were promoting them in presentations and the like.

    But I would say that, although we've been selling into industrial automation markets for quite several years, in 2018, when we launched the ztC Edge range, that's when we really cemented our presence, in my view anyway.

    And ztC Edge is an industrialized computer, no moving parts, designed specifically for the rigors of the industrial environment. It provides unparalleled levels of availability, even when you've got the two nodes separated.

    And you don't need an IT department to set it up so it's absolutely perfect for industrial users in the manufacturing space, when you're looking at what they call operational technology, rather than the informational technology departments.

    So that was kind of the perfect storm that got us into industrial automation. And then I think that's really our pivot point as well, where we came into addressing shortfalls in the area where that you know, people talk about failover. But there's always that gap and always at risk and in regulated industries, products that cost a lot of money if, you know, if there's a downtime, and the failure costs a lot of money. Those are perfect for us, absolutely.

  • Q
    What suppliers do you partner with?

    As part of our partner ecosystem, we have what we call alliance partners. And these are partners that may not necessarily directly sell our products, and we may not sell theirs, but together, as partner, we share an ecosystem or we’re working together create a much greater value for our mutual customers.

    So, if you look at AVEVA, Rockwell, Schneider as a couple of examples, you know, they've got their channel partners, their system integrators, and we work with their channel partners as our channel partners. Their system integrators will be our system integrators.

    And you know, we worked closely to align and put together some packages as well. You'll notice there's a Schneider now, Micro Data Center, that we promote jointly with them as well. So that's putting everything into a box with the Schneider APC, our ftServer and it's all bundled ready.

    So, we're working together closely with those suppliers. But like I said, we don't necessarily sell their products we work together to create a bigger, a bigger offering for the for the customer.

  • Q
    What would you say the smartest decision your company has made recently?

    It would be the introduction in 2018 of the ztC Edge range. And that really brought home that always on all virtualized compute platforms don't have to be the purview of the IT department. And allowing those OT, the Operational Technology people to take control of the selection of the compute platform, being able to deploy it, manage it, and have that highly available system really expanded our market for what we sell obviously.

    It also meant that our customers that may not have looked at ftServer in the past, because they considered it to be for the telcos or the banks, it really meant that they started to take notice, and they started to purchase ftServer as well.

    And we're now embedding it onto, you know, solar installations, things like that, we got a huge value added reseller in that area that's buying, you know, systems every week, multiple systems every week. So, it's really opened up new markets for us.

  • Q
    Why do you think your customers return to you project after project?

    There's a couple of main reasons for that, that they keep coming back. And firstly, obviously, reliability of the product is No. 1. We make sure that our customer’s products are deliverable 24/7. And that's important for them. And that doesn't matter if they're financial transactions, that's their product, or its water, power, oil and gas, pharma, food and beverage, you know, whatever their product may be, they need to be able to deliver it all the time.

    And that's where, where we really come into our own. I think also, to coin the old IBM adage, I don't believe anybody got sacked for choosing Stratus. Obviously, I've played a little bit there. But I really don't believe people would get sacked for choosing Stratus.

    I think the second reason, you know, our services are second to none. Our ability to monitor the compute platform remotely, predict a potential issue before it ever arises and send the customer replacement part before it even fails. So, they see something turn up before they even knew there was an issue.

    And that sort of customer service experience really sets us apart. And any of the companies I've worked for previously, they would be envious with rage at the service attach rates, and our renewal rates for service as well. They are outstanding. And we've done some webinars recently with system integrators and other partners that are really standing by what I've just said, then that they're reinforcing that message to the market.

  • Q
    What advice would you give to a prospective customer researching you versus your competitors?

    I’ll get the sales hat on now. And there's several things really where we would highlight and want to bring things into a discussion. So firstly, No. 1, don't make your decision based solely on the upfront purchase price. That is the biggest thing you shouldn't do. You really need to take a more complete view.

    So, you know, if you could buy a cheaper computer, what happens if something fails? How much would that cost you in lost production, or replacement parts, or getting the specialist out to the remote site, things like that? And it always amazes me that, you know, when a customer is relying on their product or production lines to be available, so they can ultimately keep making money, why would they scrimp on the underlying compute platform, that all of that software that's running the business relies on? It just amazes me why they would even consider it.

    And you can buy the best SCADA, MES solution going but if that compute platform that it runs on fails, it doesn't matter what the software vendor told you. It's not going to happen, everything falls. So that would be, that would be the key thing.

    The second part is after-sales service. And that is a key not just because we're great at it. But this is important stuff that we're doing. And you got to look, is the vendor there, are they're going to support you and the times are good and not so good?

    So, if something happens, if something goes wrong, are they going to be there behind you? And will they have your back if something goes wrong and get you producing again, as quickly as possible?

    So, as it kind of follow on to that, I would say the life expectancies of the project as well. So, you're going out with a project that's probably got a 10-year life expectancy, why would you buy a compute platform whose life expectancy is 2 years? It doesn't make any sense to me though.

    So, you know, look at the life expectancy of your project and the compute platform as one.

    And that way, I mean, our customers, they usually do a tech refresh or start looking into a tech refresh around year seven. And for the most part, it's not because something has failed or broken, it’s because that they're so successful, that they want to do more with the project, more on it, and they need to upgrade to get more capability. That tends to be why they do the tech refresh around that year seven. But certainly, you know, we'd be engaging with customers that are looking at 10-year lifecycles, 10-year project lifecycles easily.

    Another thing to consider as well is remote locations. If you look at oil and gas and things like that pipelines, a huge opportunity for us, where there isn't an IT department locally.

    So if you've got a compressor station out in the middle of nowhere, why on earth would you want to put a cluster in there? Just doesn't make any sense to me at all. So, think about where you're going to be deploying it, what type of resources you've got available, and the fact that the Stratus products don't need IT resource would be a huge decision factor for me.

    And then finally, this is the having all your eggs in one basket scenario. As people are moving more to adopt a virtualized environment for their applications, they're all running on one server now. That platform has to run all the time, because if it fails, it doesn't take just down one application, it takes all of them down. So if you go into a virtualized environment, I would say it's a must that it has to have that level of fault tolerance in there.

  • Q
    Talk about your SI Partner Program.

    you've come to the right person to ask about that and I'm glad you did. So, our SI Program, similar to most in the marketplace, it has the three tiers. But what I would say is that, firstly, it's totally complimentary, which is unusual. We don't have any annual fees to be part of the program.

    We wanted to make sure it was accessible to all, even those partners that have not yet used us on a project. So, it gets them in before they've got that project. And it's all based, or predominantly based around enablement. So, making sure our partners are best positioned for success. So that means they can position our products in the sales cycle, they can then deploy them to a customer, and give the right experience.

    So, as I mentioned, we've got three tiers. And the idea behind that is that we can, or the SI I should say, can engage with us on a level that suits them. So, if they just want a basic interaction or engagement with us, yet still have access to all the enablement, not a problem, that's absolutely fine. And that's our registered tier. That would be ideal for them. And even at that level, when they've done the first project, we can introduce them to a company, this is predominantly for the US market, but we can introduce them to a company that may be able to help them recoup some tax dollars as well. So, for a complimentary program, that ability to actually recoup tax dollars is a real bonus.

    Those that are interested in developing more of a relationship with us and have done a few projects, then we offer them access to the certified tier. At this level, they'll have demonstrated that willingness to engage with us, they'll have more people trained and demonstrated a good ability to deliver successful projects.

    And for that, the way we gauge the successful projects is really asking for customer references, doing a case study. And the reason we do the case study is twofold. One, it validates the installation, because a customer's not going to talk about a bad one. And two, it gives us jointly marketing collateral that we can then promote in the marketplace. So that's good.

    The other thing that we do for the certified SIs is we allow them the ability to get trained to do what we call the Stratus Jumpstart installations, and that gives them the ability then to expand their revenue by actually doing those on our behalf instead of us doing them.

    So that's a chargeable service that we provide. But they can take that on if they get trained up and they've got the capability to do it. There is a small cost for doing that just because of the training, its instructor led, we have to send somebody out to do it, but it's paid back within a project or two.

    And that's easily covered, like I say, but it does open up additional revenue opportunities to them.

    Our top tier is our endorsed tier. And at this level, we really have a close working relationship, they'll have done multiple projects, got at least four case studies, and be working on at least one a year.

    They'll be working on a business plan with us so that we can jointly, you know, go after certain markets where we both succeed. So, we're looking at endorsed as being really the top tier of those, but we didn't want to preclude anybody else.

    So, as I say it's open to anyone. It's complimentary, about enablement, making the partner as successful as possible. And if anybody listening wants to apply, the website is dead easy to do the application. It's stratus.com/si. Nice and easy.

  • Q
    What's the best advice you could give your younger self just getting started?

    Don't pigeonhole yourself. You never know what's around the corner. And, you know, certainly when I started out, the internet did not exist in the way it does today. It was CompuServe, it was dial up, it was horrendous. And IoT, that would have been something out of a sci-fi movie.

    Yet, here it is, you know, we're 10 years into the hype of the IoT and it's huge. So don't pigeonhole yourself from the start, you know, you never know what's there.

    And certainly if you're going to university, great roles that when you come out of university may not have existed when you went in as well. So just keep your mindset open to where it might take you.

    Also look for new experiences and challenge yourself to do something new or better each day. And one of the key things that I would say is don't be afraid to ask why, what or how, any of those open questions. You know, challenge what people are doing. It may be that you think why you do that? Surely there's a better way. People do things the old way because they've never been challenged.

    So, challenge why you're doing something like that. And even if it is the best way that they are doing it, you'll have learned why it was the best way. So always, always ask the questions, that would be, be my key thing.

    And then finally, don't be afraid to make mistakes. The key is, don't keep making the same ones. That would be my advice to a younger me.