Tango and Cash, Starsky and Hutch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid… The world has seen its fair share of dynamic duos, but nothing in the likes of our guests today. Without further ado, let’s hear it for Märt Pais and Marten Mattisen, our amazing Extreme Heroes from Telegrupp AS!
We imagine both of you gentlemen are quite busy, so thanks for sitting down with us! What new exciting projects are you working on these days?
Marten: Without going into much detail, I’ll be designing and planning an implementation to bring together a country-full of disparate and borderline unmanaged OT-equipment networks into a standardized and centrally managed-by-IT environment for the better part of this year. Quite a challenge, but I’m well up for it. Wish we could disclose some more info here 😉
Märt: When I joined Telegrupp in 2003, my first task was to change the logo on a brand new, just-arrived SmartSWITCH6000 from Cabletron to Enterasys, the company that would eventually be bought by Extreme. The reason I mention this is… I’m basically still working with this very first project! Sadly, SS6000 is no longer with us, but now we have even better Extreme Fabric at the customer site and we’re still actively developing it. This is what I like about Extreme, all products are extremely capable and have an extremely long lifecycle. This is often an issue as well – some customers are hard to convince to replace perfectly working devices 😊
Being the largest partner of Extreme Networks in Estonia, Telegrupp AS means business. Not many networking professionals get to work for such large and sensitive public sector customers as you do. Could you tell us about your experience with these projects from purely engineer’s perspective?
Marten: Depending on the level of sensitivity, the experience can be similar to developing a run-of-the-mill enterprise network in some edge cases, but it mostly never is. Something as simple as reading or creating documentation becomes an endeavor on its own, as accessing it can happen in controlled environments and on controlled devices only. Using the good ol’ fashioned Google is often out of the question as Internet access isn’t a comfort to be had. In situations like these, an engineer has to depend on his own knowledge and wit.
Märt: And to make it even more of a challenge, even the smallest changes often have to be carried out on-site, and that can mean hours of driving only to do a couple of minutes of work. This also means generally access to less information and complications for remote access… During these rare cases where it seems like all of the parties involved are chasing ghosts and a specialized engineer from GTAC would be a blessing. It is definitely a little bit more time-consuming and adds a whole layer of complexity but the rewards are well worth the extra effort.
Marten: We get to work with technologies most of the other organizations have no reason to get their hands on. Since every day is literally a new challenge, our engineers can never get bored and that probably plays a part in Telegrupp’s incredible employee retention.
What are some of the biggest technological challenges and pain-points in terms of networks, connectivity and security that you hear from your public sector customers these days? Do you feel you’re well-equipped to meet these growing needs?
Marten: I see our customers challenged by dealing with rapid, largely unplanned, organic growth of networks, where shortcuts have been taken to provide services quickly, but not in a controlled and secured manner. Not only is this a technical problem with the massive network management overhead this creates, but also makes being compliant to (inter)national standards more difficult and becomes a headache for the business crowd.
Märt: With OT and IT becoming more and more interlaced and the management falling heavily towards the technical (already overworked) IT-staff, the operational agility needs to take a step up be top notch. In that, I believe Extreme provides most, if not all, of the tools our customers need to fix these pain points – Smart OmniEdge and Automated Campus solutions spring to mind initially. However, if something is out of scope for Extreme specifically, the massive ecosystem of technology partners is sure to provide an answer.
Tarass Popovs, our Extreme Champion from Latvia, believes that customers in the Baltic region are fairly conservative when it comes down to choosing a networking vendor. What is your perspective on this? When you feel that an Extreme solution will better fit the customer’s need, is it difficult for you to convince him to follow that path?
Märt: I would say there are a few types of common customers regarding vendor decisions in Estonia – ones who have incredible in-house knowledge of select vendors or solutions and do not see a reason to budge, even if their need-to-solution mapping is not exactly 1-to-1 or if delivering the service required is economically less efficient through their known means. Then there is the complete opposite – they recognize their lack of resources necessary to find the best solution or have been burnt by a rash, in-house decision in the past and are therefore open to all sorts of outside counsel – they listen, they test, and they find Extreme is the best.
Marten: There is also some type of a middle ground where decision makers and engineers are not on the same page regarding anything new in their network – those instances are definitely the most difficult ones as there is a nasty smoothie of both inside and outside competition and support.
Märt, you’ve worked at Telegrupp as a CTO for almost 20 years now and you’ve seen a lot of Extreme products. What’s been your favorite solution or technology to work with so far?
Märt: Today all vendors are talking about port access control and many of them are even capable to deliver on their promise. For Extreme, however, ExtremeCloud IQ is an evolution rather than revolution, as I still recall UPN, PEN, and – back when I was a fresh graduate out of university –Cabletron coming up with SecureFast. If we look back at all the network management tools that Extreme had back then, it’s clear that together with Extreme, we were way ahead of the competition. They used to laugh at us for even thinking of using these types of security knobs, but now they are following in our footsteps, years late to the party. Every day that I’m using XIQ it reminds me how cool toys I’ve had so far and will have in future. SecureFast is still my favorite one.
Marten, as an IT Infrastructure Architect, how do you feel about the expanding ExtremeCloud portfolio, including cloud-managed SD-WAN, application intelligence, and the SASE ecosystem?
Marten: Extreme has been an excellent End-To-End Solution Provider for our customers and I’m glad that the company is pushing those hindering end-borders to Infinity. It is incredibly important to recognize that Extreme seems to be the only player in the game not dictating any specific methodology of this movement. Extreme has solved campuses, datacenters and branches while showing a great dedication in integrating new technologies to cohesive solutions. Considering this, there is no question on my mind that expanding towards providing simple and secure solutions for users to access both on-premises and cloud services is a logical and a highly anticipated next step. As long as Extreme keeps expanding their ExtremeCloud portfolio in a way that it could be leveraged anywhere from public clouds to sensitive air-gapped environments, both partners and customers can be extremely happy going forwards!
You’re a very dynamic duo that’s been working together for some 7 years now. Usually, the role of a mentor is to guide and inspire their mentee, but sometimes that can be a two-way street. What did you learn from each other during your work together?
Marten: That’s a simple one for me – pretty much everything 😊 I was basically a blank canvas after starting my internship in Telegrupp and I just kind of never left. Apart from the technical side, I would say the level of self-trust Märt has in his domain of knowledge is something that I found important to learn. In most cases, the customer has a problem or an idea and we work together to reach the most suitable solution through various stages of co-operation and guidance. However, there are occasions when the customer has already made a decision about what they want, but it is clearly not what the customer actually needs – at that point, there is a need for a firm and confident intervention to put on the breaks and re-evaluate. I see Märt doing it time and time again, which is why he has become such a trusted advisor, the customers sense that there is a two-way loyalty and I find it incredibly important.
Märt: I have this “plastic box” theory. You see, sometimes customer comes to Telegrupp with an absolutely clear idea of that they need to have and what they need is a red rubber ball. When me and Marten start probing them with questions, turns out we’ll be delivering a purple plastic box and the customer couldn’t be happier because that’s exactly what they meant upon their initial request. Together with Marten, we can step in customer shoes and solve their actual pain points.
Let’s finish it off with a blast! 🙂 What's one thing you know about each other that no-one (or barely anyone) knows?
Marten: If I tell share this with everyone, I will no longer have leverage 😊 But something less incriminating – Märt is more soft-hearted than he lets others see.
Märt: Okay, so it’s pretty much known that Marten can cook some really delicious food. Also, everyone knows that he’s great at configuring and troubleshooting… But did you know that Marten has a Google Premium account, which is given only select few people? Google Premium is seeking only correct answers on the first page, but it’s something you can’t buy with money!