Walter Baziuk, long-time CONVERGED User Group member and current member of the Board of Directors, recently sat down with the CONVERGED Team to share his experience with CI and the community we have cultivated around this infrastructure. Starting with the early user group days of VCE, Baziuk was among the few who formed the foundation of what CONVERGED is today.  He has seen the evolution of the technology first-hand, so he was able to share an up-close perspective of what it takes to make a smooth transition.

CONVERGED: Tell us about yourself. What was your journey like to get where you are now?

WALTER: Twenty years ago, there was a scattering of people and products in the infrastructure conversation. We needed servers, we needed storage, and we needed a way to connect all of the pieces with virtualization—something that started out rocky but has gotten much better over time. When I went to Cisco Live, I was introduced to VCE and I was initially skeptical about the newness of it. I wasn’t sure how something that was put together ahead of time would be able to meet my unique needs, but the idea of pre-cabled infrastructure stayed with me.

The next year at Cisco Live, VCE was still there and I think its growth could largely be attributed to the networking they did there. Then, the success of the technology paired with the reliability of VCE customer service and the fact that they would call individual companies if there was something that needed to be fixed created this enthusiasm and advocacy among customers for the solutions they had deployed.

As someone who has worked in government, I know most people in my industry do things the way they’ve always been done and it’s sometimes difficult to modernize or innovate. We started with VMware 3.5 and progressively updated to make it worth the investment. Throughout our journey, the capital investment grew higher, but I knew that buying everything as a system meant the operating cost would be less over time, in turn reducing our total cost of operation.

CONVERGED: What was one of your biggest takeaways from that experience?

WALTER: I think one of the biggest takeaways is that when trying to affect change with someone who is financially oriented, it’s best to present everything in context of TCO. While someone who is driving the transition to converged infrastructure might be more technically oriented and can see the benefits from an efficiency standpoint, the buy-in from someone who is financially oriented stems from TCO. They need to know how it’s going to affect the bottom line, and in that regard you have to understand how people think to be able to influence them.

CONVERGED: How were you introduced to the CONVERGED User Group?

WALTER: I actually got started with the user group before it was even formalized. Back then, it was a place we could gather to discuss products and provide feedback to Dell in a really casual setting. It’s still that to some extent, but now we have more programming and content offerings. Eventually after we had more people and even support from Dell EMC and VMware, we became the CONVERGED User Group with planned events and a formal membership structure.

CONVERGED: In your time as a member of CONVERGED and as a leader in our community, what do you think is the most valuable benefit of the User Group for its members?

WALTER: Definitely the ability to talk to other members and customers at events. The stories I’ve told and the ones I’ve heard have shaped the community into one based in trust and knowledge-sharing—we know that everyone is being candid in their testimonials and that helps us build a network of people we can look to for examples of what to do and what not to do.

Walter Baziuk has been a CONVERGED User Group Board Member since the community was first created. Walter joined the Canadian Federal Government in 2003, where he has played many roles and is currently a Senior System Architect in a department that has over 100,000 employees. He has spent 30+ years in the Telecom field and has worked for: Mitel, BNR, Mitel, and a small start-up Ceyba. In his hometown of Ottawa, ON, he enjoys woodworking, cooking, eating, biking and skiing. He and his wife enjoy travelling the continent and exploring outdoor activities in their Airstream trailer, The Silver Beatle. You can find Walter on Twitter and LinkedIn or you can reach out to him via email.

This post originally appeared on, which you can find here.

Lee Caswell is Vice President of Product Marketing, Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) Business Unit, VMware. Lee Caswell leads a team driving the customer adoption of new products. Lee joined VMware in 2016 and has extensive experience in executive leadership within the storage, flash and virtualization markets.

Lee holds a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Carleton College and a master of business administration degree from Dartmouth College. Lee is a New York native and has lived in northern California for many years. He and his wife live in Palo Alto and have two children. In his spare time Lee enjoys cycling, playing guitar, and hiking the local hills.

Prabhu Ram, Head-Industry Intelligence Group, CMR spoke with Lee Caswell on the market landscape for Hyper converged Infrastructure (HCI), business drivers for HCI, his perspective on the Indian market, and VMWare’s play among others.

 Prabhu: From your perch, what are the key market trends in HCI that you observe?

Lee: The high rate of projected HCI growth indicates the extent to which HCI will disrupt and transform IT. Businesses who migrate their IT infrastructure to the cloud have to often deal with risks associated to compliance issues, regulatory hurdles, making the hybrid cloud model a preferred on-premise alternative.Since HCI brings cloud-like flexibility to on-premises data centers, many cloud service providers will be implementing HCI systems in their cloud. Companies will be using HCI for multiple application workloads, including collaboration and productivity, engineering and technical, big data and analytics, and remote office computing.

For developers of container-based modern applications orchestrated by Kubernetes, Cloud Native Storage will be an essential requirement to provide all the necessary infrastructure to run all Cloud Native Applications. CNS will also provide the visibility into container usage on the physical infrastructure, mapping container volumes, backing disks and capacity management.

Prabhu: What are the current market dynamics in which VMWare operates?

 VMware was also recently recognized as a Leader in the November 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Hyper converged Infrastructure. VMware has the broadest flexibility of HCI deployment options for enterprises. These options include over 15 jointly certified OEM server vendors with more than 500 validated configurations, the jointly engineered turn-key VxRail appliance with Dell EMC – and 70-plus cloud verified partners that offer VMware Cloud Foundation.

VMware hyper converged infrastructure solutions lay the foundation for Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC), so that the customer can navigate the future of business with ease. By offering a flexible set of building blocks, HCI powered by vSAN lets the customer create a solution that meets the unique needs of their organization.

As the market leader in virtualization technology, VMware breaks down the restrictions of hardware-centric infrastructure and gives the freedom to grow at one’s own pace, within a budget with no compromise on quality.

Prabhu: How is VMware doing in the HCI space in India?

 VMware is leading the hyper converged infrastructure market with over 41 percent share and continues to grow two times faster than the closest competitor. This year, the sales for VxRail has exploded and constitutes pretty much half the revenue.

Customers are seeing the value of being able to do simplified lifecycle management with simplified updates through the integration of VxRail Manager and vCenter. Customers are increasingly figuring out that when you have high level of automation, it costs less than public cloud — especially from a predictable workload standpoint. We are seeing growth for VxRail particularly in multi-location businesses like retail, banking, insurance, etc.

Prabhu: What have been the keybusiness drivers for VMware?

One of the biggest advantages we have is that VMware vSphere is the most trusted and widely deployed virtualization solution in the enterprise. VMware’s market leading HCI solution vSAN,is tightly integrated with vSphere. This means that customers can leverage their existing v Sphere expertise, including familiar tools and processes to help them deploy and manage HCI. So,we’re actually tapping into an established customer base that knows how to use v Sphere and is very familiar with it.

As the leader in virtualization technology, VMware provides a flexible, scalable, cost-efficient HCI solution that can run on industry-standard hardware.

It is made up of three best-in-class solutions:

VMware vSphere®: The market-leading hyper visor that helps you achieve the best performance, availability, and efficiency from infrastructure and applications.

VMware vSAN™: Software-defined storage that enables you to respond to business needs faster, using the latest storage technologies while reducing costs.

VMware vCenter Server™: A centralized platform featuring simple deployment, centralized control and visibility, proactive optimization, and powerful management tools.

VMware also provides the broadest set of deployment options, from turnkey appliances to jointly certified servers, or Ready Nodes, from over 15 OEM server vendors, so that organizations can take the HCI approach that aligns best with their business needs.

More than 20,000 customers worldwide started their HCI journey with VMware vSAN to run business-critical applications and now many of those same customers see the value of expanding their HCI environments to a full software stack across the hybrid cloud with VMware Cloud Foundation.

HCI powered by VMware’s vSAN provides –

Simple Evolution to the Full Stack: Seamlessly extend virtualization to storage, networking, and advanced management with an integrated, hyper converged solution that simply works with your overall VMware environment. Embedded security provides multi-layer threat protection and automates responses through deep integration. Speed time-to-value by using existing tools, skill sets, and solutions.

Broadest Flexibility: VMware HCI has over 500 jointly certified servers with 15+ server OEMs, as well as a jointly engineered turnkey appliance, Dell EMC VxRail, allowing customers to use their preferred server vendor. VMware provides investment protection by supporting traditional as well as next-generation storage technologies, such as NVMe™.

Multi-Cloud Capabilities: VMware HCI enables consistent infrastructure, processes, and tooling in a true hybrid cloud architecture; no application re architecting required. By using a consistent operational model, you can eliminate cloud-specific skills training or creating a dedicated public cloud team. VMware’s leading cloud provider network gives you the option to select one or more public cloud vendors from hundreds available based on your specific needs.

When customers build hyper converged infrastructure, one of the core value propositions is the tight integration of hyper visor, server, and storage technologies unified with integrated life cycle management.  They also seek an organisation that is going to be there to lend support at all times with a global presence and they want a consistent operational model across the hybrid cloud. Only VMware offers a consistent policy-based storage model across hyper converged infrastructure, traditional storage systems, and all the major public cloud hyper scalers. This offers operating leverage for any application, any device, and any cloud.

Prabhu: How do you see HCI adoption in India?

Indian enterprises highly value the cost savings, simple scaling, and operational efficiencies of hyper converged infrastructure and are increasingly looking at HCI solutions for their businesses. HCI is rapidly growing in business-critical enterprise applications and a broad range of mixed workloads to help meet the fast-paced change in applications typical of digital businesses. The emergence of hybrid cloud and Internet of Things (IoT)has also accelerated the adoption rate in India, with enterprises and companies deploying HCI due to the ease of scaling and cost efficiency. HCI has grown exponentially given HCI’s high value of delivering infrastructure deployment, cloud services, scalability and better support for business applications. India has been one of the predecessors in adopting HCI.

Prabhu: How does VMware view the Indian market in the coming years? What’s next?

The India market has unique requirements that are especially favorable to HCI adoption, namely atorrid pace of new application development, a high sensitivity to cost, and a need to drive very large-scale deployments.  We believe India will broadly adopt HCI and that only VMware addresses the unique India market needs.

Furthermore, as more organizations adopt hybrid cloud strategies, the VMware leadership position in working with public cloud partners will further drive HCI market adoption.According to Gartner, customers see HCI as a compelling alternative to the public cloud for performance, manageability at scale, and cost perspectives. Hyper converged infrastructure sales are expected to grow in a hybrid cloud world.

We also expect to see the integration of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and automation technologies to augment the underlying value of hyper converged infrastructure. VMware previewed the application of these technologies at VMworld 2019 and customer interest was extremely positive. These technologies are essential to help organizations manage the complexity of decentralized and distributed IT that expands across the hybrid cloud and into modern applications.

Our preview of Kubernetes integration similarly showed the importance of seamless support for containers in future IT environment.  Customer appetite for continuous application delivery and increased awareness will drive this requirement in both enterprises and commercial customer segments going forward.  In fact, SMBs will likely drive the India market to expand next year.

Finally, there is a growing interest in security that should not be overlooked by infrastructure builders.  The software-defined nature of HCI architecture introduces an ideal architectural control point to imbed security across all infrastructure elements.  As applications increasingly span the hybrid cloud and beyond infrastructure to endpoint devices, it is essential to consider security as an embedded attribute.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

By: Suzan Pickett, VP/Director of Converged Infrastructure at U.S. Bank; Director, CONVERGED User Group

36 hours, six flights through cities nowhere near my destination, a freaky 2am cab ride past a body farm complete with a dead-body joke-cracking taxi driver, a checked bag with “the suit” that took more flights than I did, and when the job offer came, I am pretty sure it came down to this one question from the hiring manager. It’s what I still think of years later as the best question I’ve ever been asked during an interview.

After a few hours of sleep, followed by 8 hours of interviews with 25 different people I’m surprised I remember any of it. But as I sat down with the hiring manager over lunch, he asked me the question I go over most often in my head as I try and be the best I can be. I was in no way prepared for it, hadn’t prepped, but did walk away with a job offer, (which I regretfully declined due to reasons not related to the job). When you think back on an interview there is usually a pivot point when you think, “I got this”, or “oops”, we’ve all been there. I think this question was my pivot point to getting the offer.

There are a lot of different interview styles, formats, themes and personality detective questions out there, but the best question I ever had? Simple. And telling.

Can you tell me about a time when you had good leadership?

Can I? May I? YES. Ralph, who gave me my shot in IT as a young pre-Y2K wannabe, taught me about potential. How to recognize it, cultivate it and mentor those who have it. Ted and Diane, who taught me about collaboration, team work, and coaching the next generation of leadership. Mike, who taught me about thinking outside the box, to always enable and empower teams, remove roadblocks and make sure people have the tools needed to do their job. Yes. I can provide in depth examples of the people I owe my career to.

The trend about window washing, manhole covers and conference rooms filled with basketballs has possibly passed or maybe it was an urban myth? What I think makes a good interview question is a chance to get the candidate talking. This question has the potential to find out how people feel about past leadership and that says a lot about a person.

Hopefully everyone out there has a Ralph, Ted, Diane, and Mike. I’m glad I do.

Names have not been changed to protect the innocent. Thank you for being my long time mentors. Thank you for setting your teams up for success.

It might have been some kind of cursed trip because my return trip had 3 cancelled Uber’s, 2 cancelled taxis, one very talkative taxi driver with whom I now exchange holiday cards, a non-show flight, a rescheduled late flight that made me run through the Dallas airport at max speed (more like a fast desperate walk) and I got there right as the door was closing. Sweaty, I made it to my seat only to have the guy next to me complain because he wanted “that” seat. And then I promptly fell asleep.

Do you have “your best interview question”, if so, what was it?

After more than 3 years of involvement with the CONVERGED User Group, Jonathan Toulon (JT) has recently been named president of our Board of Directors. JT recently sat down with CONVERGED to tell us more about his experience with Dell Technologies products, his history with the user group, and the benefits he sees of being a member. JT’s employer, InComm, owns about 70% of the global market in prepaid and gift card transaction processing, charging JT with the responsibility of ensuring smooth operation and zero downtime for millions of customers every day. Internally, JT leads a lean team between the operations and engineering sides—52 people in total, with roughly 7 supporting converged and hyperconverged infrastructure. In total, his team manages eight vBlocks, three VxRack SDDCs, and two VxRails.

CONVERGED: How were you introduced to the CONVERGED User Group?

JT: My Dell account team saw the passion that I had for learning and understanding the technology. They always thought I had a really good voice around explaining it to executives and engineers, so they asked me if I wanted to speak at the CONVERGED User Group event during Dell Technologies World last year (April 2018). I agreed, and then I realized it was an actual customer panel and I had to go speak in front of hundreds of people. Around the same time, we filmed a bunch of videos for Dell Technologies explaining InComm’s IT transformation, which was cool. Opportunities like that are a good metaphor for what customers experience, how they can share their stories, and how they can provide their feedback directly to Dell.

C: How did you express interest in becoming a leader in the group?

JT: My leadership role has come about because of my advocacy for the product. I’ve talked to multiple prospective customers who were considering one of Dell EMC’s converged or hyperconverged products and connect with them on a personal level. When I tell my story, you know I’m not giving you fluff. Everything I’m going to tell you is accurate. I can tell you the bad, I can tell you the ugly, and I can tell you the good as well, and that’s with any product. With my CONVERGED experience specifically, I gave them the good, so they knew that the product did work and backed it up with concrete examples, and then I gave the other side of some of the concerns or some of the misses. In those misses, though, it allowed Dell EMC to grow because it provided valuable feedback about the products, how user-friendly they are, how easy or difficult it is to train someone on it, the operation model around it, etc. My dedication to the product and making it better for everyone involved is what set me on the path towards becoming president of the Board of Directors.

C: In your time as a member of CONVERGED and as a leader in our community, what do you think is the most valuable benefit of the User Group for its members?


JT: The most valuable benefit of being part of the user group is the feeling that you’re not in this by yourself. A lot of customers don’t realize that this network exists. They don’t understand that they’re not alone and that we can provide those resources that will help them be successful and grow and optimize their current teams.

Additionally, one thing all CONVERGED members should know is that we have access to Dell executives and product experts, so if they have issues or are looking for some type of guidance, you don’t have to Google the answer. You can come to the CONVERGED User Group and hear from people who have been in the exact same situation and have direction or advice to share. The research is built in.

C: How would you say CONVERGED has helped you in a professional capacity?

JT: Professionally, I’m exposed to a lot of different people and opportunities through the User Group. For example, public speaking has been a huge opportunity for me. My experience with podcasting has given me quite a bit of experience already but being in the User Group allows me to speak in front of large audiences even more. I’m able to share my story about why I’m an advocate for these products with other customers on a much larger scale than I would be able to otherwise. I also have a great opportunity to be a sponge around Dell executives and soak up their vision, which allows me to take a lot of the strategies they have and apply it to myself and my team so we can align our roadmaps and visions with the products themselves.

Jonathan Toulon (JT) has more than 13 years’ experience as an engineer and more than 3 years of involvement with CONVERGED. He currently serves as the Senior Director of Enterprise Engineering for InComm, a global leader in the prepaid products and payment technology industry. He was recently named president of CONVERGED User Group’s Board of Directors. Outside of work and CONVERGED, JT spends his time golfing, watching one of his 400 DVDs, podcasting with his wife, spending time with his two kids, and running a photo booth business. You can find JT on Twitter at @boywonderJT.

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