Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hurford of DNS Europe: service providers and SaaS developers are showing enterprises how cloud is done

The antidote to cloud computing hype is, well, reality. For example: talking to people who are in the middle of working on cloud computing right now. We’ve started a whole new section of the website that provide profiles, videos, and other details of people doing exactly that.

One of the people highlighted on this list of Cloud Luminaries and Cloud Accelerators is Stephen Hurford of DNS Europe. DNS Europe is a London-based cloud hosting business with over 500 customers across the region. They have been taking the cloud-based business opportunities very seriously for several years now, and provide cloud application hosting and development, hybrid cloud integration services, plus consulting to help customers make the move to cloud.

I convinced Hurford, who serves as the cloud services director for DNS Europe, to share a few thoughts about what customers and service providers are – and should be – doing right now and some smart strategies he’d suggest.

Jay Fry, Data Center Dialog: From your experiences, Stephen, how should companies think about and prepare for cloud computing? Is there something enterprises can learn from service providers like yourself?

Stephen Hurford, DNS Europe: Picking the right project for cloud is very important. Launching into this saying “we’re going to convert everything” to the cloud in this short period of time is almost doomed. There is a relatively steep learning curve with it all.

But this is an area of opportunity for all of the service providers that have been using CA 3Tera AppLogic [like DNS Europe] for the last three years. We’re in a unique position to be able to help enterprises bypass the pitfalls that we had to climb out of.

Because the hosting model has become a much more accepted approach in general, enterprises are starting to look much more to service providers. They’re not necessarily looking to service providers to host their stuff for them, but to teach them about hosting, because that’s what their internal IT departments are becoming – hosting companies.

DCD: What is the physical infrastructure you use to deliver your services?

Stephen Hurford: We don’t have any data centers at all. We are a CSP that doesn’t believe in owning physical infrastructure apart from the rack inwards. We host with reputable Tier 3 partners like Level3, Telenor, and Interxion, but it means that we don’t care where the facility is. We can deploy a private cloud for a customer of ours within a data center anywhere in the world and with any provider.

DCD: When people talk about cloud, the public cloud is usually their first thought. There are some big providers in this market. How does the public cloud market look from your perspective as a smaller service provider? Is there a way for you to differentiate what you can do for a customer?

Stephen Hurford: The public cloud space is highly competitive – if you look at, GoGrid, Rackspace, the question is how can you compete in that market space as a small service provider? It’s almost impossible to compete on price, so don’t even try.

But, one thing that we have that Amazon and Rackspace and GoGrid do not have is they do not have is an up-sell product – they cannot take their customers from a public cloud to a private cloud product. So when their customers reach a point where they say, “Well, hang on, I want control of the infrastructure,” that’s not what you get from Amazon, Rackspace and GoGrid. From those guys you get an infrastructure that’s controlled by the provider. Because we use CA 3Tera AppLogic, the customer gets control, whether hosted by a service provider or by themselves internally.

DCD: My CA Technologies colleague Matt Richards has been blogging a bit about smart ways for MSPs to compete and win with so much disruption going on. Where do you recommend a service provider start if they want to get into the cloud services business today?

Stephen Hurford: My advice to service providers who are starting up is to begin with niche market targeting. Pick a specific service or an application or a target market and become very good at offering and supporting that.

We recommend starting at the top, by providing SaaS. SaaS is relatively straightforward to get up and running on AppLogic if you choose the right software. The templates already exist – they are in the catalog, they are available from other service providers, and soon will be available in a marketplace of applications. Delivering SaaS offerings is the easiest technical and learning overhead approach and that’s why we recommend it.

DCD: Looking at your customer base, who is taking the best advantage of cloud platform capabilities right now? Is the area you just mentioned – SaaS – where you are seeing a lot of movement?

Stephen Hurford: Yes. The people who have found us and who “get it” are the SaaS developers. In fact, 90% of our customers are small- to medium-sized customers who are providing SaaS to enterprises and government sectors. It’s starting to be an interesting twist in the tale: these SaaS providers are starting to show enterprises how it’s done. They are the ones figuring out how to offer services. The enterprises are starting to think, “Well, if these SaaS providers can offer services based on AppLogic, why can’t I build my own AppLogic cloud?” That’s become our lead channel into the enterprise market.

DCD: How do service providers deal with disruptive technologies like cloud computing?

Stephen Hurford: From a service provider perspective, it’s simple: first, understand the future before it gets here. Next, push to the front if you can. Then work like crazy to drive it forward.

Cloud is a hugely disruptive technology, but without our low-cost resources we could not be as far forward as we are.

One of the fundamentally revolutionary sides of AppLogic is that I only need thousand-dollar boxes to run this stuff on. And if I need more, I don’t need to buy a $10,000 box. I only need to buy 4 $1,000 boxes. I have a grid and it’s on commodity servers. That is where AppLogic stood out from everything else.

DCD: Can you explain a bit more about the economics of this and your approach to keeping your costs very low? It sounds like a big competitive weapon for you.

Stephen Hurford: One of the big advantages of AppLogic is that it has reduced our hardware stock levels by 75%. That’s because all cloud server nodes are more or less the same, so we can easily reuse a server from one customer to another, simply by reprovisioning it in a new cloud.

One of the key advantages we’ve found is that once hardware has reached the end of its workable life in terms of an enterprise’s standard private cloud, it can very easily be repurposed into our public cloud where there is less question of “well, exactly what hardware is it?” So we’ve found we can extend the workable lifespan of our hardware by 40-50%.

DCD: What types of applications do you see customers bringing to the cloud now? Are they starting with greenfield apps, since this would give them a clean slate? The decision enterprises make will certainly have an impact for service providers.
Stephen Hurford: Some enterprises are taking the approach to ask “OK, how can I do my old stuff on a cloud? How do I do old stuff in a new way?” That’s one option for service providers – can I use the benefits of simplifying and reducing my stock levels, reducing my management overhead from my entire system by moving to AppLogic and then I won’t have 15 different types of servers and 15 different types of management teams. I can centralize it and get immediate benefits from that.

The other approach is to understand that this is a new platform with new capabilities, so I should look at what new stuff can I do with this platform. For service providers, it’s about finding a niche – being able to do something that works for a large proportion of your existing customers. Start there because those are the folks that know you and they know your brand. Think about what they are currently using in the cloud and whether they would rather do that with you.

DCD: Some believe that there is (or will soon be) a mad rush to switch all of IT to cloud computing; others (and I’m one of those) see a much more targeted shift. How do you see the adoption of cloud computing happening?

Stephen Hurford: There will always be customers who need dedicated servers. But those are customers who don’t have unpredictable growth. And need maximum performance. Those customers will get a much lower cost benefit from moving to the cloud.

For example, we were dealing with a company in Texas that wanted to move a gaming platform to the cloud. These are multi-player, shoot-‘em-up games. You host a game server that tracks all the coordinates of every object in space in real-time between 20 and 30 players and sends that data to the Xbox or PlayStation that renders it so they can play in the same gamespace. If you tried to do that with standard commodity hardware, you’re not getting the needed performance on the disk I/O.

The question to that customer was, “Do you have a fixed requirement? If you need 10 servers for a year and you’re not going to need to grow or shrink, don’t move to the cloud.” Dedicated hardware, however, is expensive. They said, “We don’t know what our requirements are and we need to be able to deploy new customers within 10 minutes.” I told them you don’t want to use dedicated servers for that, so you’re back to the cloud, but perhaps with a more tailored hardware solution such as SSD drives to optimize I/O performance.

DCD: So what do you think is the big change in approach here? What’s the change that a cloud platform like what you’re using for your customers is driving?

Stephen Hurford: Customers are saying it’s very easy with our platform to open up 2 browsers and move an entire application and infrastructure stack from New York to Tokyo. But that’s not enough.

Applications need to be nomadic. The concept of nomadic applications is way distant in the future, but for me, what we’re able to offer today is a clear sign-post for the future. Applications with their infrastructure will eventually become completely separated from the hardware level and the hypervisor. My application can go anywhere in the world with its data and with its OS that it needs to run on. All it needs to do is to plug into juice (hardware, CPU, RAM) – and I’ve got what I need.

Workloads like this would be liable to know where they are. By the minute, they’ll be able to find the least-cost service provisioning. If you’ve got an application and it doesn’t really matter where it is and it’s easy to move it around, then you can take advantage of least-cost service provisioning within a wider territorial region.

Thanks, Stephen, for the time and for sharing your perspectives. You can watch Stephen’s video interview and read more about DNS Europe here.

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