IT Life: Linux Crusade Turns To Excellence

In 2002,  Andy Green and Andy Beer set up Excellence IT, aiming to help small businesses in Wales to move into open source technology.

Ten years on, Andy Green (on the right in our picture) tells us it all worked out differently, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Helping with the infrastructure

How long have you been in this business, and what do you do?
Excellence-IT started in 2002 (with a name change in in 2008), but Andy Beer (left in the picture) and I had been doing IT since college 18 years ago.

We’ve been consultants from day one, and our area was IT infrastructure. That’s firewalls, network switches, PCs, and servers. That’s how we started out, but you can’t stay still. We’ve kept the original focus, and brought a number of other products into our portfolio, like VoIP telephone systems.

We’ve  branched into some database development, for companies that have spreadsheets that are mega complicated or little Access databases that aren’t multiuser enough. We also do web servers, cloud computing is massive, and we have specialist IT training. If your staff doesn’t know how to use your IT, it’s no good to you!

What’s your favourite project so far?
We started with small projects in South Wales, and our first big job was an infrastructure upgrade for Chwarae Teg, a public sector project aimed at getting fair play for women. They had government funding for an upgrade to their network, and we put in new servers, and a whole support package for £40,000.

That kick started the company. I’ve enjoyed every bit of work for our customers, but you need case studies for credibility when you are just starting out.

The Linux penguin didn’t fly for us

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Our background was HP Unix and Linux systems, so we were trying to bring open source into the small business arena.

We thought we’d bring in OpenOffice and Red Hat, but we soon saw that wasn’t getting a good take-up with small businesses. We had been hoping that open source and Unix would be our unique selling point, but Unix was never going to take off in small businesses.

In fact, some of our first customers were involved in that environment and couldn’t wait to get off it. Even though open source software is free, consultants were charging a fortune to keep them up and running.

We still like open source – it’s not a no-go. Web servers and PHP are open source and people can get stuff up and running very very quickly and cheaply.  If we can bring it in and save some money then we will.

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
If I knew that, I’d develop it now and make myself a millionaire! That is impossible to answer.

Who’s your tech hero? Who’s your tech villain?
My hero would have to be Steve Jobs. When we started ten years ago, Apple were really down, and Microsoft were wiping the floor with them. Steve Jobs changed all that.

My tech villain is BT. It holds all the keys to comms around the UK. All the other providers buy services from BT wholesale, so we have to move at whatever pace BT wants to move at. BT doesn’t make anybody’s life easy. I know BT has a contract to put fibre into Wales, but they should have been doing it years ago!

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
I’m 41, and I saw mobile phones really transforming communications. That really kicked off how we communicate now.

There is also the internet. My parents are 70 plus, and they just took an iPad on holiday. If I had predicted that  ten years ago, they’d have said “We have a fishing rod and teabags – what else do we need?”

My 12-year old daughter uses the Internet every day. I think most people do.

What is your budget outlook going forward?
We run year on year, and all our spend is driven by our customers’ needs. We’ve made a £30,000 investment this year, ramping up our data centre presence, getting a really good Dell SAN and some  new servers to host customer virtual machines.

If we get a new project hosting seven or eight servers, though, we could easily double that. It is always based on money coming in.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
The rate of change – especially with cloud. And for us that means keeping our skills current.

We are a Microsoft accredited solutions provider – our guys go on courses and pass exams, as new products come out like Exchange 2013, and Windows 8. That is a very, very important factor for any IT solutions provider.

The continued investment, can be frustrating, but on the other side, if there wasn’t change from Microsoft, you’d lose business, because companies could stick with servers for ever.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?
We are a big cloud supporter, but it is a different world, and you have to go into it for the right reasons, and ask the right questions first.

Does your company have the budget for capital investment? If they do, then cloud may not be the right area. It is sold as a cheap option, but that may not be the case – it is all monthly ongoing costs

Is availability important? If you hare hosting internally on broadband lines or leased lines, can you afford your service to be down for any time?  A lot of companies can’t have any downtime.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be an airline pilot. I was desperate to fly planes, mainly because I’d never been on one as a child. It didn’t happen, but I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing now.

How are your management skills? Try our CEO quiz!

Peter Judge

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

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