SMB 500: ITG Prescribes Virtualization

Steve-Saslow-ITG-CTThe health care industry can be a difficult nut to crack in the IT world. From personal health information, privacy compliance and the ever-increasing need to store medical imaging data, an end-to-end IT solution is a task only for the well-equipped solution provider. Information Technology Group (ITG) (SMB# 39), a Connecticut-based virtual desktop company, focuses almost exclusively on the health care sector and offers virtualization as the ideal solution for many practitioners’ ailments.

The Ingram Micro 500, a listing of the top SMB VARs is a cooperative effort with The 2112 Group, the parent organization of Channelnomics. ITG Group, an Ingram Micro partner for more than 5 years, has been in business since 1982 and continues to focus on delivering the “cutting edge.” As a result, ITG has grown 537 percent in the last three years (2009-2012) and derives close to 100 percent of revenue from software, services, with the remainder coming from the storage space.

Steven Saslow, (pictured) vice president and director of business development  (and network systems engineer) for ITG, shared insights with Channelnomics on how ITG has maintained its momentum over the years and how it meet the standards of its health care customers. In a nutshell, it’s about education and engineering.

“We consider ourselves an engineering company, so I think the support and services we provide are different from an IT company. Everyone is a certified engineer and we have the ability to dig deep and solve our own problems,” said Saslow “It’s part of our culture.” That culture has allowed ITG to garner a sizable customer base of specialty provider practices (cardiology, radiology, orthopedic, etc…) with a typical customer environment including 10-25 providers staffing anywhere from 75-300 employees.

But how does ITG compete in the marketplace? “It’s easy for us. We’re not in a competitive situation. We’re often brought in on a referral basis to clean up a mess someone else created. Many times, there’s already a perceived need for our experience.” Saslow added that ITG is recognized by the State of Connecticut for their work in the health care space, and because the medical community is often close knit, word of mouth generates business.

But the real differentiator for ITG isn’t its technology or long standing ties to the medical community — it’s their commitment to customer service. “We’re setup to be ethical. We’re not a self-serving company. We’re not going to suggest just anything. Customers are spending $200-300,000 worth of hardware and licensing and it must be the right fit.” Saslow explained that they will often outsource the auditing and compliance, but they maintain close relationships with customers, even providing risk assessments on newly installed infrastructure using ethical hackers. In addition, 24/7/365 help desk is staffed on-site at all times. “You can call at 2 a.m. and someone will pick up.”

In this way, Saslow says they’ve fostered and environment for long lasting customers, doubly so because  ”we architect a solution that can allow [a client] to accomplish what they need within a scalable 10-year plan.” For example, a SAN installation is not likely to need major upgrades over time.

“In health care, it’s fairly cookie cutter,” explained Saslow on physical technology. The larger issues come from managing electronic health records and medical work-flows. Once that’s in place  ”…it’s really about finding the right level of hardware and percentage of virtualization to suit them.”  Virtualized endpoints are the norm for ITG, and ITG goes to great lengths to ensure VDI endpoints can be placed nearly everywhere. The reason? Virtualization makes compliance easy.

“Anywhere ther’s a zero client, there’s no endpoint support needed. For remote sites, we’ll use a thin client with secure WAN, and we’ll use SSL over a gateway when we need to remote in via the Internet.” But for the most part, Saslow says data stays secure on premise. VMs connected to thin or zero clients means no hardware to support and no place for data to leak. This often adheres to the strict compliance needs of the health care industry. But not everything can be virtualized — when it comes to computers that run medical imaging software or control large imaging equipment, dedicated hardware must take its place. Because those situations are the exception, not the rule, keeping those few physical machines secure is less difficult than managing an fleet of physical computers.

Because so much of the practice is built around this security model, cloud is not a major factor in this space. Saslow explained that practices are wary about sending information over the Internet, and with good reason. “Even with HIPPA complaint clouds taking form, there are concerns and perceptions of cloud that show the industry is just not ready for it.” And in reality, Saslow attests an investment into on-premise hardware is much more more valuable. Practices can make upwards of $60 million, but a cloud infrastructure solution that can deliver what on-premise can today would  quickly consume more financial resources than needed while introducing costly security investments.

But interestingly, the practice of on-premise virtualization has had an unintended and positive side effect: Apple Macintosh computers and iPads are being used more than ever before. Saslow says MacBooks are preferred over iPads, but many doctors are big on the latest and greatest from Apple. Many use a VDI window (like VMware View) to shuffle between devices, and Saslow says this flexibility is often a great way to sell a doctor on their services.

ITG is an Apple fan, too. “The writing is on the wall and we embrace it,” he said, speaking highly of Apple’s presence in the business world. “We’re all Microsoft engineers here, but we all carry MacBooks as our working notebooks.” That kind of platform agnostic attitude is intimately linked with the positivity that has kept ITG in the game.  ITG has technicians Apple certified, and will often recommend Macs, even though Macintosh sales don’t contribute a dime to ITG’s bottom line.

“We’re always giving back to the SMB community. We’re not arrogant with our peers,” he said. In fact, ITG is “…always looking for an easier way to do something,” and if found,  ITG is happy to share with other players that need a boost. “Other people have helped us [grow], too, so we’re happy to help,” said Saslow.

In essence, serving the health care sector is more than right sizing IT for business, it’s right-sizing technology for people — and for Saslow, that’s as simple as always doing the right thing.

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