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Tech Talk with Ali Marashi: The History (and Future) of in\site

By: Kaylie Gyarmathy on November 28, 2019

For the first installment of the vXchnge Tech Talk series, we sat down with our very own Ali Marashi to learn more about the history and capabilities of the award-winning in\site business intelligence platform.

What is your role at vXchnge?

I’m the Senior Vice President of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), which are big fancy titles for I’m responsible for the development factory for vXchnge.

What is your background in the data center industry?

I started with a computer science and electrical engineering background, then spent time on the networking side of the business to build some of the first intelligent route control technology in the industry. I tripped into information technology and later into data center design and engineering for some of the biggest national and global firms.

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How did those experiences give you the idea that a platform like in\site was needed?

It gave me an understanding that software is a very powerful tool [that can] take disparate systems and provide a holistic, simplified view to manage that complex world.

In a few sentences, how would you describe the in\site platform to a potential customer?

Well, you as the customer are preparing to entrust me to provide the foundational layer to support your mission-critical IT assets and business systems. That gives me the opportunity to provide you a transparent and intelligent view into that environment the way you need to consume it in order to know your systems are running and operating the way you need them to.

What is it about in\site that sets it apart from the competition and makes it a passion project for you personally?

in\site’s not just a DCIM system. It’s not just an access control system. It’s not just a service management system, a billing system, or a finance system. It is all of these and more. It’s not just an infrastructure monitoring system. It’s not just a power monitoring system. It’s not just an environmental control system. It’s all of that wrapped into an intelligent and holistic package that allows us to provide a transparent view from our environment into the customer’s environment as if it was their own. Getting to give them value with all of these complex systems and technologies is a pretty cool opportunity. I think that sets us apart from the pack.

How long did it take to bring in\site from concept to product launch?

in\site was a foundational element that the company was built upon. So right from the start, it was on the radar screen. With the help of one of our strategic customers, it took us less than a year to bring the first iteration to life.

How many iterations have there been?

Another foundational element to the way that we view in\site is we don’t go into long, monolithic development cycles. Our intent is to continue to incrementally bring value in short intervals to our customers, to continue to bring more forward. So every few months, we’re iterating or bringing something, either the smallest detail or something large and innovative. It’s under constant improvement.

What was the biggest challenge you face when deciding what new improvements are needed?

One of our biggest challenges is [balancing] passion, prioritization, and patience. It’s not about “What could we do,” but “What should we do first that brings the most value to the customer.” And that comes from our CEO; our focus is supposed to be from the customer end. It’s all about what brings the most value to the customer. There’s no limit to what we can do; it’s what should we do first. So it’s all about prioritizing. You never have enough time and resources to do everything you want, so it’s what do you want to bring forward first.

How does in\site gather and analyze data within a data center environment?

It spends a lot of time talking to a lot of complex and disparate systems at very low levels. We collect from IoT sensors in the data center. We collect and pull data out of billing and finance systems. We pull data out of compliance systems. We take all of that data back into a large, normalized data warehouse and we bring it forward into an organized and consistent view for our customers.

How did customers react when they first had the opportunity to use in\site?

It helped that it was actually first developed in partnership with some of our customers. But, to be honest, I’ve had the privilege to sit down and talk to some of our customers; some of their first questions are “Can we use this to manage our own environments?” or “Can we use this to manage some of our other colocation provider environments?” They find it gives them visibility, insight, and intelligence that even their own IT departments can’t provide them, so I take that as validation that we must be doing something right.

When we’re talking about in\site, visibility comes up a lot. Why is it so important that customers have that visibility?

Because in some sense, they’re outsourcing their IT and mission-critical infrastructure stack to us. You earn that trust by giving them the transparency and the visibility as if it was their own. The same systems that we give them access to—and we give them views that are important to them—are the same systems we use to manage those environments ourselves. So I think it’s an element of trust that sets us apart and [is] important, both for the platform and us as a service provider.

Do you think in\site provides the most visibility out there compared to other platforms?

I think we lead the pack. Again, it’s all about prioritization, and I think there is so much more that is still open and available to do. Our challenge is to continue to stay leading the pack.

How has in\site changed the way vXchnge positions itself in the market?

Let’s have a different conversation with the customer, because power, space, cooling, and cross-connects is not all that glamorous. It’s the foundational element that drives their mission-critical business systems, but [in\site] lets us have a different conversation with them. What’s important to your business? What’s important to your internal constituents? What does your billing and finance team need? What does your legal and compliance team need? What do your network engineers need? What does your IT department need? You’re looking to me as a support partner who ensures that your business systems are running the way they need to.

Because of what in\site provides, it allows them to meet all of those needs they have across their entire organization. It lets us talk to them about those [needs] because they’re the really valuable elements to their business.

Which in\site features have customers enjoyed the most?

I think what many of our customers appreciate the most is the different ways they can customize the platform to meet their own needs. So in the web interface, they have the ability to define the roles and permissions that align with how they set up their company and the way that they’re organized and structured. For constituents and partners that are on the go, they can leverage the mobile platform in order to deal with emergent and transactional issues. If they have their own embedded investments in their own DCIM and service management systems, they can leverage the API to import what in\site can make available to them into their own systems so they don’t have to retrain their staff. So it’s an accommodating platform to let them use it and consume it the way they need, and I think that’s some of what they value the most.

How does empowering colocation customers with a tool like in\site make it easier to manage a data center facility?

I’d say in two ways. One, by giving them a transparent, intelligent, and consistent view of our data center in the same way that we view it. There’s nothing lost in translation. They’re looking at exactly what we’re looking at. It’s not only a tool that our customers use, but our employees use as well. And the fact that it also takes all of these disparate systems that talk different protocols, that use different technologies. A data center is a very complex ecosystem, and leveraging a platform like in\site that actually takes all of those systems and brings them together in a consistent, intelligent, and holistic view makes it much easier to manage the complexity of the IT world.

How has customer feedback influenced in\site’s development over time?

It’s actually influenced it from the very beginning. As I shared before, its original origin was created by talking to customers and understanding what they needed right from the get-go. They wanted an opportunity to make it easier to do business with us as if we were an outsourced extension of them. And these have been some of the fundamental tenants that we’ve used as we’ve continued to expand and develop the platform, continuing to remember customer-in; not what we think is valuable, but what do our customers think is valuable in order to do business with us.

What new features would you like to see added to in\site within the next few years?

Actually, there are a lot of cool things that are going on. You look at the maturing IoT space, Bluetooth, and other standards and protocols that are coming. [These] will change the landscape with respect to the level of intelligence you can bring to a platform. You’ve got AI and machine learning; this is no longer a buzzword, it’s real. We can embrace that and bring it in to allow our customers better forecasting and capacity planning and support as a trusted partner. You look at where AR is headed and some of what we can do with that to actually raise the game and provide a more effective smart hands service, having the customer interact with our people as an extension of them visually and intelligently with their IT assets. These technologies are no longer pie in the sky, they’re real. And it’s as fast as we can scramble to try to bring them into the platform to bring more value to the customer.

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