351: Cybersecurity Bootcamp, with Alex Ryals

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Cybersecurity, what is it, why is it important, and how to train your clients to know the importance of being equipped with the right tools.

Alex Ryals, VP of Security Solutions at Tech Data, joins us from sunny Arizona this week to explain why cybersecurity is so critical. Alex and George explore the convergence of Martech and Security Solutions and how it contributes to amplify you being the real, trusted local expert. Whether that be adding cybersecurity solutions to your offerings or the physical hardware that needs to be installed. This episode is jam-packed with tons of golden nuggets, so hold on tight, take notes, and get ready to learn from the best of the best.

With more than 20 years in the IT and Channel industry, Alex joined Tech Data via the acquisition of Avnet Technology Solutions in February 2017 and currently serves as VP of the Security Solutions team in Tempe, AZ. Having spent several years helping Avnet build solution practices in areas such as Big Data & Analytics, Mobility, Security, Converged Infrastructure and Internet of Things, in his current security role at Tech Data, Alex’s team builds channel enabled solutions that leverage hardware, software, and services to grow the sales of Tech Data Vendor offerings in our partner community. Alex speaks at numerous partner and industry events each year and is passionate about transforming sales teams into solution sellers and enabling the channel with high growth areas of Technology.

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George: It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local Podcast, and I’ve been looking forward to dropping this episode for quite some time. A number of months back, in fact, it’s almost a little over a year back, I spoke at an event in Washington, D.C. called the Channel Partners Expo and was introduced to an organization called Tech Data. Tech Data, just a small little $38.6 billion company that has been involved in the distribution of IT services for years and years and years. And a big chunk of that business, a growing chunk of that business is cybersecurity. And I was introduced to a gentleman named Mr. Alex Ryals, and he is the VP of Security for North America. And this gentleman knows a lot about cybersecurity. So I want to get Alex on the show and learn about cybersecurity, but also I want to start to introduce this idea of the convergence of the channels. So over here on the IT side, you’ve got the people that pull up with a truck with a ladder on the back of the truck and they come in and they do all of the installs of all the equipment. And there usually is a hardware component, but more and more, that’s been moving to Cloud and online, but it is a managed service. They come in and they do the work. They run all the network lines, they set up the servers, that type of thing. And then on the other side, you’ve got where we came from as an organization, Vendasta, on the martech side. So we started with digital marketing solutions and now our platform delivers digital solutions of any kind. And we have this convergence of the channels where we’re seeing more and more managed service providers want to offer martech solutions and more and more agencies and media companies and telcos wanting to offer more of the managed services side. And because cybersecurity is delivered in the Cloud, there’s an opportunity there to marry these two worlds together. So we’re going to talk to Mr. Alex Ryals in a few moments, we’re going to learn about cybersecurity and what it all is and why it’s something that we should care about. Number two, the convergence of the channels and what opportunity that presents. And then number three, how do we package all this up to help our customer base? Is there a new way that we can help customers? And then finally we are going to introduce NextVen. It is a strategic partnership between Tech Data and Vendasta months upon months in the making. And we’re going to unveil it in a moment with Mr. Alex Ryals, VP of Security for North America, with Tech Data, our guest this week on the Conquer Local Podcast. 

George: And joining us all the way from beautiful Gilbert, Arizona, Mr. Alex Ryals, VP of Security for North America, with Tech Data. Alex, welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast.

Alex: Thanks, George. Really glad to be here today.

George: We met a number of months back and I’ve been waiting to have you here as a guest because you’ve been teaching me all about the great wild world of cybersecurity. And that’s what we’re going to do over the next coming minutes here on the podcast. But tell us a little bit about your role at Tech Data and then a little bit about Tech Data for our audience that may not be familiar with your company.

Alex: Yeah, great. Let’s start with Tech Data. So we are a global IT distributor. So what that means is big vendors like IBM and HP and Cisco and many other vendors, thousands actually, sell technology to Tech Data. We turn around and sell that technology to partners in the community, resellers, service providers, managed service providers, and then they sell to the end-user community. So you might be wondering why would a partner not just buy directly from a vendor like an HP, or why would an end customer not buy directly from a vendor? The answer is because customers don’t just need to buy a server or storage or firewall. They need someone to install it and configure it and manage it and support it. And that’s what partners do, but there are thousands of partners. And so the distribution ecosystem started to support those partners in all of that technology, how to buy it, how to sell it, how to train their customers on it. And that’s the role that Tech Data plays. We train and enable the channel to be able to sell effectively to end-user customers. In my role, as I run the cybersecurity business specifically for Tech Data in North America, meaning there are many different security vendors in the market that need a route to market through the channel partners and we train and enable them, quote for them, and help them sell.


Cybersecurity Essentials: Staying up-to-date and Training

George: You know, I have attended a number of your training programs and you know, I applaud you on the efforts that you and your team are making around this training portion. You know, I think we need to really understand cybersecurity and the training is so important because there are new threats emerging all the time.

Alex: Yeah, in fact, we’re finding that by the end of this year, there’s actually going to be three and a half million open job positions in cybersecurity that companies can’t fill because they can’t find people. Training is incredibly important to this community of cybersecurity because if we don’t develop new talent, end customers can’t protect themselves, partners don’t have a service to offer their customers. So Tech Data, being a global company, we’ve really taken up the mantle to train and enable not only the partner community, but sell training classes through to end customers so that we can build more cyber-aware people, teach them how to avoid a threat coming from hackers through email security, and many other ways I’m sure we’ll talk about today.

George: You know, one thing that was fascinating when I was in your headquarters a few months back, when we were still allowed to go on planes, was the cyber range. Tell us about the cyber range. I know it’s something near and dear to your heart and you built it for a reason and I’d love for our audience to understand.

Alex: Yeah, thanks for that opportunity. A couple of years ago, we were trying to figure out how do we engage, not only the partner community to sell more security and be trained to sell security, but how do we provide our security vendors an avenue to sell? And so the idea was our cyber range. We’re the only distributor in the market to have a cyber range. And you might be wondering what in the world is a cyber range. It’s the number one question I get asked. It’s a couple of things. So there are many types of cyber ranges, but in Tech Data, we’re solving really four basic problems. Number one, we want to provide a place to train and enable a partner community and their customers in cyber skills, because we need to upskill our community, as we’ve talked about before. Number two, we want to provide a place to demonstrate cybersecurity technology to customers. So vendors can install their cybersecurity technology in our cyber range, we have our own data center, and whether it’s Cloud-based or installed on-premise, we can demonstrate it through multi-vendor demos. Most vendors can demo their product, but they can’t show how it works with someone else’s product. So we have over 20 different security vendors installed and configured in our cyber range. So we can put some pretty elaborate demonstrations together for our customers. Now, how do we demonstrate it is the number three mission, which is engagement. We are providing a super fun place for people to come physically. It’s located in Tempe, Arizona and Phoenix, or virtually through our website at cyberrange.techdata.com. And we can host events there. So vendors love to host events, partners host events for their end-user customers in the cyber range because we can do things like hacking demonstrations. We use light, sound, and video to light up the room red if we hack something in the room, we can demonstrate technology during an event, we have training rooms and we have lockpick villages We have a lot of great fun activities to engage people in cybersecurity. We have a SOC analyst station where we can bring in high school students or college kids and let them see what the day in the life of a security operator might be, a SOC analyst, and we’ll demonstrate different vendor tools as well as explain cybersecurity. And the last mission, the fourth mission, is services. We provide ethical hacking services through the cyber range, many end-user customers, and we’ll talk about this more later, but customers need to test their network perimeter like a hacker will. So you can hire ethical hackers through your local partner and partners come to us for the actual people who do the work oftentimes, and we will ethically hack companies and show them where they’re vulnerable and help them get better. And that’s one type of many types of security services we offer through the cyber range.

George: One thing I’ve been noticing, our CTO, Mr. Dale Hopkins, and his infrastructure team, they make a presentation at our all-hands every two weeks or so. And it seems like there is a component of security in every one of those presentations. This is part of what you’re talking about with this growth of cybersecurity. So for those that are listening to the podcast today that have a customer base, this isn’t just big companies. This isn’t SaaS, this is every company needs to be concerned about some layer of cybersecurity. Isn’t that the case?

Alex: So really if you boil it down, George, what cybersecurity is all about is risk mitigation. Every company, no matter your size, your complexity, has risks you need to mitigate. And no one can mitigate all of them. But when we have things like employees going home to work during COVID with a laptop at home, the risk is that that employee is going to use a personal laptop and not their corporate laptop. And maybe that laptop doesn’t have employee security. Does it have a VP end client? That’s a risk that could be infiltrated by a hacker who installs malware on a laptop that has connection into your corporate network. So cybersecurity is about tools and solutions to limit the risk as much as you can because there are many, many ways hackers come into an environment through our employees and through our technology.


Hacking: Smarter Attacks Need Smarter Solutions

George: So, you know, the worst-case scenario for a CTO of a tech company would be we’ve been hacked. And I think it’s probably, you know, hopefully, our audience all haven’t got these emails, but I know I got an email the other day because it was Capital One got hacked. And my username and password were a part of this. So we hear about these hacks all the time. But then it also is the individual business. And I’ve heard this story of, you know, being held for ransom. Could you explain this, when somebody does hack the system where you could be held for ransom, and what does that mean to a business owner?

Alex: Yeah, there was a study done by the Verizon Data Breach Survey two years ago that said that almost 60% of small, medium-sized businesses will get malware and likely ransomware. And of that almost 60% of those impacted will be out of business within six months. This is an incredibly scary situation. And what it means is most ransomware, which is a form of malware, is deployed through clicking a link in an email that you shouldn’t click. Email is the number one infiltration area for hackers into most small businesses. You get an email that says, “Click here to learn about the latest COVID statistics in your own city” or “Click here to learn how the government downloads your government COVID check.” You know, those enticing links, you click it, and then it takes you to a website that’s malicious, and you download that ransomware. But what it is is a little software program that will download to run on your computer. And it starts to encrypt all of your files on your computer. Now recently, very recently, an evolution of ransomware is that the bad guys will first copy your data off of your hard drive over the internet to their servers first, then they’ll encrypt your hard drive and they pop a message up on your screen that says, “You need to pay us X amount of money in Bitcoin, or we’re going to not let you decrypt your server or computer and get access to your data.” And if you say, no, you’re not going to pay, you’re just going to restore from a backup. Then they’re going to bring up the fact that they copied all your data off the computer before they encrypted it. And they’re going to release it to the public if you don’t pay. So they’re getting smart in how they entice us to pay a ransom, to get access to our data. Now it may be a computer that doesn’t have much data on it, and you can just blow it away and rebuild it from scratch and be fine. But more often than not, the bad guys are very smart and they will bury themselves in your network for days or weeks or months, identifying critical computers. And those are the ones that they attack, knowing that you’re more likely to pay. This is why hospitals are typically ripe targets over the last year and a half because hospitals are more likely to pay a ransom because they need access to patient records to perform surgeries and patient care. So it’s a really frightening thing. The FBI would tell you don’t pay the ransom, contact them. They oftentimes have access to decryption keys. You should always check with them first, but it’s a complicated decision for a lot of customers.

George: So, our audience on the Conquer Local Podcast, salespeople from all over the world that are working with local businesses, and you’re sitting across from the hardware store owner and how do we articulate the risk to that hardware store owner? I’m talking about the small business people because this threat is across the board. Everyone is vulnerable to it.

Alex: Everybody’s vulnerable. And you know, nowadays more than ever, George. I think that our brand means more than it ever has before because it’s so quick to build a brand using social media. And it’s so quick to destroy a brand on social media. So we’re past the days of having brands that take 30 years to cultivate like Marriott, you know, that’s hard to take down. Nowadays, if you have an attack, if you have hackers who steal your data, sell the data online, or hit you with ransomware, the word gets out and a lot of customers, if they can choose other alternatives, they’ll choose other alternatives for business and you can lose your brand very, very quickly. So it’s important that we do basic cybersecurity hygiene in our environments, no matter how big your business is, to try to protect yourself. ‘Cause it turns out, George, that most hacking is automated. It’s not a person targeting you as a company. It’s an automated set of bots looking for vulnerable targets and when they find a vulnerable target, they automatically target it and compromise it. So if you just do basic hygiene, you can avoid many of the attacks.


NextVen: Tech Data and Vendasta Partnership

George: So at the top of the show, we talked about the level of training that is necessary. We talked about the fact that there’s a huge gap in the workforce because there’s gonna be so many opportunities inside this space, and when you and I met, we identified that the folks that we work with on a day-to-day basis, they’re out selling a website, an e-commerce website, as we’ve noticed that e-commerce has gone to the moon during the whole COVID time, or they’re conducting remote work, where they sent their entire sales force home, and they’re doing it from the home office. And this has now opened up this opportunity to bring cybersecurity solutions in. So to either help that business that you’ve sold the e-commerce website with some basic security components or to help the remote work that’s being done to protect with various tools. So there’s a commercial opportunity to helping these small businesses. So we’re excited today to announce the partnership that we’ve been working on for a while called NextVen and Tech Data and Vendasta working together to bring on some emerging vendors. And I’d love for you to tell us a little bit more about the concept and how we’re trying to help.

Alex: Yeah, whenever I think about the emerging vendor, you know, they go through such a fascinating experience. They had this great idea as an entrepreneur, they find some funding, they build their solution and take it to market and somebody buys it and they’re like, “yes, I actually built something valuable.” But when they think about how to scale the solution, it gets challenging because you never have enough sales reps to tell your story. And so they realize that there are channel partners out there who resell other people’s products for a living. And you know, when emerging vendors realize that and target those partners, they start to sell a little more, but it’s still an uphill battle. Emerging vendors need basic ingredients to be successful. They need a partner program that’s well-defined and tells people how partners, how they’ll make money, selling their solution. They need an automated set of pricing guides that’s easy to consume. They need deal registration. So one partner doesn’t steal a deal from another. All of these ingredients are important. And sometimes that emerging vendor thinks if I just sign up with distribution, they have thousands of partners, surely it’ll be easy, but the truth is, at Tech Data in the marketplace, we require a lot of those ingredients to be in place and ready to go. Because as we scale the way we scale through market, it becomes a challenge, if you don’t have a partner program and deal registration, your online partner training. So the challenge I was trying to solve, George, is how do I help these amazing emerging vendors who have great technology, not just in cybersecurity, but even in other areas of the market, how do we give them an opportunity to grow through channel sales, to build a lot of those ingredients and tools they need to really be successful with my model. And that brought me to Vendasta. And we’re so excited about this partnership because you guys have built an amazing end-to-end platform designed specifically to take solutions to market in an e-commerce way, using automation with a lot of the right ingredients in place to help partners sell solutions to customers that they need. And so when I looked at your portfolio, I thought, wow, if we could add cybersecurity solutions to what you’re doing, there would be some amazing portfolio offerings that allow lots of upselling opportunity for your community to sell solutions and give my emerging security vendors the opportunity to gain more experience selling through the channel and confidence and to build a lot of the tools they need to work with Tech Data as well. So eventually these emerging vendors won’t be emerging anymore because they’ll have two great communities through Vendasta’s platform in your community, and Tech Data in our community, that are different, but still very good routes to market. And so we’re excited about all the opportunity I think this brings.

George: So for existing Vendasta partners, very soon, you will be able to access some of these emerging cybersecurity vendors to help solve some of the problems that Alex has been identifying over the last 15, 20 minutes. You know, I ran into this the other day, I’ve got a friend who’s opening up a business and he’s asked me to come in and help him out. And I’m giving him a hand because I’m the trusted marketing expert in his eyes. And we were sitting there and he started talking about where he was going to get his internet provider and his security. And he was asking me questions about this. And this is this idea of convergence of the channels. And when I started to learn more and more about IT, we were actually being dragged into this space by some of the Teleco partners that we have that are selling a more expanded group of services other than just martech. And that’s where you and I met. And when I think about some of these managed service providers or value-added resellers, I think about a truck with a ladder on it, and, you know, the IT guy that comes in and installs all the tools. And then you got this person over here on the martech side, but what we’re finding is that the worlds are, there’s a convergence where the person that’s installing the network is being asked to host the website and build an e-commerce website and connect it to the point of sale. And then on the flip side, I’ve got my friend here who I’m helping with his marketing asking me questions around security. And now I’ve got to send an email to Alex ’cause he’s the security expert and speaks at a level. So tell me about your view of this convergence.

Alex: Yeah, I think it’s really important because small businesses are realizing that they need websites, but they also need to secure the website because a lot of hacking comes through your own website when you don’t even know it. There’s a concept called distributed denial-of-service attack where hackers will flood your website with so much traffic, your customers can’t even get to it anymore. And this happens every day of the week, all over the internet. So you need solutions to capture that bad DDoS traffic and put it somewhere else so your customers can get to your website. You need endpoint security to protect your servers that drive your websites, right? There are so many ways we need to secure our infrastructure. We’re finding many of the service providers in the market also want to provide security managed services to customers who just can’t find cyber people to help them. So if you can’t hire, as an end customer, a network administrator, that’s a great opportunity for a service provider to provide that network admin as a service, and then also add cybersecurity as a service through the service provider. But maybe it’s in points of service, maybe it’s firewall as a service, to manage our customer’s firewall. Maybe it’s lots of different types of security managed service. All of these things are converging together, giving tremendous opportunity to the channel, to offer a wide variety of capability to our customers.

George: Last week I had lunch with a friend of mine who is the head of sales for a local managed service provider that shall go nameless. And he was telling me that he basically just goes to GoDaddy and hosts the website there, didn’t even know that we had a solution that could tie to it. And he was like, “I want to offer that with my offering to my customer base.” So it’s that idea of, it’s getting easier to be able to offer these other products and services, even with the things that we talked about off the top, where you have to learn, but there is this lens of, is the person that designs the beautiful website going to be able to sell managed security, but think about this. And I’m just throwing this out there for our audience. What if you could introduce a trusted provider in your market and get some leads from them on the marketing side and give them some leads on the managed service side. You know, you and I are pretty bullish on that, that handshake agreement and that introduction to help expand. So you don’t have to learn it all. You could just bring in another expert and quarterback it.

Alex: And we see that work every day in our ecosystem. Partners working together for their specialty to solve a bigger problem for the customer. One of the partners owns the relationship. The other is simply providing services, you know, specific target services. And it works every day of the week.



George: We’re excited for the NextVen platform and bringing it on board. And you and I have been talking a lot about these emerging vendors. Some amazing companies in there, and we’re looking forward to working with those folks. And then all of the folks that are listening to this podcast, part of the Channel Partners Expo that’s going on virtually right now, and the idea of these managed service providers and value-added resellers, being able to add other items from their stack. It’s an exciting time as the convergence and the growth of this cybersecurity business continues to happen. And nobody better than Mr. Alex Ryals, VP of Security for North America with Tech Data, to give us some nuggets on the opportunity in this space and the convergence of the channel. So Alex, thanks for taking time out and joining us on the Conquer Local Podcast this week.

Alex: Yeah, I had a great time. Thanks, George.

George: Well, as you can tell Alex and I have been speaking a lot over the last six months, there was a really good flow to that interview because we’ve been through the trenches of trying to figure out how we can take this complex world of cybersecurity and the new emerging vendors that have these new solutions and bring them into the existing ecosystem of conquerors. And it is an enormous opportunity because when we go in and help digitally enable one of our clients, whether it be a website or it be search engine optimization or rebuilding their presence, there is this component where we could bolt on the security requirements to make sure that everything’s buttoned-up real nice and tight, or maybe we come in and we install the platform and we get them doing, you know, a Zoom meeting or a Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, but they do it from home. And then that opens up all sorts of risk. Is there a way that we can help reduce that risk and solve more problems for the end-user? And that’s really what it’s all about. Now, we may not want to go to school and learn about all of the things that are involved in an advanced cybersecurity solution. But as Alex and I were discussing this idea of a peer to peer network, where we could take our customer base and bring in a trusted expert, that’s real interesting development that is coming as we start to see these channels converge. So I hope that you found that as scintillating as I have in learning about cybersecurity. It’s a long way from, you know, Norton Antivirus or McAfee. You know, those are still brands that are there, but there’s a lot more to it. And it is something that can be offered to your customer base to help them. And that data point around the 60 some odd percent of businesses will be attacked. We need to help our clients with this. And a lot of them won’t even know that there is this risk, so there’s opportunity there and a chance for us to help our customer base if we learn more about this incredible opportunity around cybersecurity. So thanks for joining us on this week’s edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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