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  • June 29, 2015

Skyhigh Networks - On-demand customer PoC environments on AWS & Google Cloud

Dr. Nate Brady
Systems Engineering Manager at Skyhigh Networks
Nate is a Systems Engineering Manager at Skyhigh Networks managing a growing team of SEs based out of US. Nate is an expert in Networks, Security and Risk Management domains

Skyhigh Networks

Skyhigh Networks is the leading Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) facilitating secure adoption of cloud-based services. Our solution is two fold: Skyhigh for Shadow IT enables enterprises to detect over 13,000 cloud services that employees may be using and complement usage statistics with a 50-point risk assessment for each service as well as a full workup on usage, anomalous usage, and integration with existing perimeter devices to block access or warn users of impending danger. Skyhigh for Sanctioned IT facilitates cloud adoption by extending traditional controls, such as sharing policies, audit logging, and data loss prevention (DLP) to common cloud services such as Salesforce.com, Box, Office 365 and many others. Our frictionless deployment model has helped us to gain a strong customer base comprising of over 300 enterprises many of which appear on the Fortune 500 list.

Ravello to the rescue: SE Training and Customer Mock-Ups

As a SE manager at a company growing as fast as Skyhigh, I needed a way to let new systems engineers immerse themselves both in Skyhigh’s own technologies as well as those commonly deployed at our customers. For example, Skyhigh for Shadow IT integrates with common proxy and firewall technologies to add intelligence about cloud service risk to existing policies. Additionally, Skyhigh for Sanctioned IT allows customers to extend the reach of common DLP systems, such as Symantec and McAfee, to the cloud. While these integrations make life easy for our customers, it means that our SEs need to have a working knowledge of many different technologies. This is where Ravello has been our savior.

Using Ravello, we can build complex environments either from templates or entirely from scratch. This means that new SEs can quickly come up to speed by deploying use case specific training templates and seasoned SEs can create mock-ups of customer environment in almost no time.

With Ravello, we are able to provide new SEs with a “lab in the cloud” on their very first day. All they need is a web browser and an Internet connection and they can build anything from a simple proxy server to a complex security infrastructure including firewalls, proxies, DLP and SIEM as well as server and desktop infrastructures.

In some cases, customers ask see our product deployed in very specific circumstances but struggle to provide a dedicated lab environment for us to conduct a proof of concept. Ravello allows us to create these environments quickly and securely on behalf of our customers, saving them time and resources while also helping to shorten the sales cycle significantly.

While the environments vary from one enterprise to another, typical customer deployments feature at least a firewall, proxy, active directory, DLP, and some Windows servers and workstations – adding up to upwards of 14 CPUs and 32GB RAM. Then it all has to be connected in the typical route/switch environment that is familiar to the datacenter but foreign to IaaS providers.

With Ravello – our engineers can have their own lab in the cloud which allows to them to learn new technologies and mock up customer use cases on without having to contend for resources - in a cost effective manner. This is phenomenal!

Dr. Nate Brady
Manager of Systems Engineering, Skyhigh Networks

Once again, Ravello to the rescue! Not only does Ravello make the creation of these environments a snap, it’s far more cost effective. By running an extra layer of virtualization, Ravello can fit several small virtual machines onto a single large instance.

Skyhigh Networks’ Requirements

To provide a great toolset to our engineering community as well as make life easier for our customers, we had some very special infrastructure needs:

  • No CapEx investments – We experience variable workloads depending the SE and customer. As a SaaS company, we wanted to avoid maintaining a fixed-capacity datacenter and cost-effectively leverage the utility of the cloud.
  • Scale on-demand – To accommodate for spikes demands, we wanted a platform that could scale without impacting the customer’s PoC experience.
  • Zero change deployment – A large number of our technology partners provide VMware appliances. It was extremely important to be able to deploy these systems in the public cloud without any changes.
  • Infrastructure templatization - To facilitate quick development of training and mock-up environments, we needed a way to templatize common environments to be used as a starting point for customization
  • Ease of collaboration - We wanted a platform that made it easy to collaborate with prospects so that they could verify that the mock-up was configured to their specifications.
  • Usage-based costs – To reduce the overall cost of sales, the Skyhigh team was looking for a strictly usage-based pricing model.

We considered several options that partially satisfied some of these requirements. We looked into developing ‘PoC hardware kits’, but quickly moved away from this idea due to logistical challenges associated with shipping hardware to every SE in the company (and potentially some prospects, too!) Next, we evaluated using private cloud providers to host these environments but could not justify the high fixed costs involved. Public clouds were also considered, but the inability to run native virtual appliances, limited access to virtual machine consoles, and a lack of availability of L2 networking features made this unfavorable.

Ravello is really flexible - we can take any of our VMs and run them on public cloud and access them just like we would in our own labs - down to the console access. These capabilities allow us to use our existing knowledge about virtualization platforms like VMWare and apply them to cloud instances rather than relearning a new technology – drastically reducing learning curves for our engineers.

Dr. Nate Brady
Manager of Systems Engineering, Skyhigh Networks

Ravello - a perfect match for Skyhigh’s needs

We tried Ravello for one of the PoC setups, and were very happy that Ravello delivered on all our needs.

Since Ravello runs on AWS & Google cloud, we were able to create PoC environments without investing in hardware or building our own datacenter. Ravello runs on Tier 1 clouds where there is no shortage of capacity, quota or overage concerns – we were able to scale our PoC environments on-demand – spinning as many environments as needed. Further, Ravello’s HVX (high performance nested hypervisor) and networking overlay allowed us to run our existing VMware appliances and VMs without making any modifications – this really helped in reducing the learning curve.

Quick deployment of training and PoC environments is crucial to our sales cycle. Thanks to Ravello’s blueprint feature we were able to ‘templatize’ several environments, and use it as a starting point for customization for PoCs – saving us days of work. With Ravello’s network overlay, we were able to recreate the same network topology as our prospects production environment down to the very subnets and IP addressing. Further, with Ravello’s user-permissions feature we were able to selectively share applications with our prospects and collaborate on developing PoC environments quickly – speeding up the sales process. Finally, with Ravello’s usage based pricing, we were paying only for the duration when our PoC & training environments were up – which significantly helped in containing costs.

Overtime, we have standardized on using Ravello for PoC environments for a vast majority of deployments.

Benefits realized with Ravello

I’d like to highlight some of the benefits realized through Skyhigh’s adoption of Ravello as the platform of choice for our customer PoCs

Shortened sales cycle - With an on-demand access to Ravello’s environment with rich networking capabilities, the Skyhigh team does not have to rely on prospect’s environment to showcase its service in action. Eliminating this dependency has helped compress our sales cycle.

Reduced effort for lab environments - With re-usable topologies (blueprints) being used as a starting point for lab environments, we have been able to eliminate many of the repetitive tasks gaining improvement in efficiency for setting up new labs and customer mock-ups.

Effective sales engineer training & on-boarding - Encouraged with the success in using Ravello for training our SEs, we have begun using Ravello to create mock-up environments for customers who request them. Easy access to ‘disposable training labs without penalty’ has enabled our SEs to hone their skills, and has also helped in onboarding new SEs quickly.

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