The next BriefingsDirect hybrid cloud advancement interview explores how the triumvirate of a global data center hosting company, a hybrid cloud platform provider, and a global cloud community are solving some of the most vexing problems for bringing high-performance clouds to more regions around the globe.
We will now explore how Equinix, Microsoft Azure Stack, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)’s Cloud28+ are helping managed service providers (MSPs) and businesses alike obtain world-class hybrid cloud services.
Here to explain more about new breeds of hybrid cloud solutions are David Anderson, Global Alliance Director at Equinix for its Microsoft alliance, and Xavier Poisson, Vice-President of Worldwide Services Providers Business and Cloud28+ at HPE. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: There seems to be a paradox when it comes to hybrid cloud -- that it works best in close proximity technologically yet has the most business payoff when you distribute it far and wide. So how are Equinix, Microsoft, and HPE together helping to solve this paradox of proximity and distribution?
Anderson: That’s a great question. You are right that hybrid cloud does tend to work better when there is proximity between the hybrid installation and the actual public cloud you are connecting to. That proximity can actually be lengthened with what we call interconnectedness.
Interconnectedness is really business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-cloud private network Ethernet connections. Equinix is positioned with more than 200 data centers worldwide, the most interconnections by far around the world. Every network provider is in our data centers. We also work with cloud providers like Microsoft. The Equinix Cloud Exchange connects businesses and enterprises to those clouds through our Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric. It’s a simple one-port virtual connection, using software-defined networking (SDN), up to the public clouds.
That provides low-latency and high-performance connections -- up to 10 Gigabit network links. So you can now run a hybrid application and it’s performing as if it’s sitting in your corporate data center not far away.
The idea is to be hybrid and to be more dispersed. That dispersion takes place through the breadth of our reach at Equinix with more than 200 data centers in 45 metro areas all over the world -- and so, interconnected all over.
Plus, there are more than 50 Microsoft Azure regions. We’re working closely with Microsoft so that we can get the cloud out to the customers fairly easily using the network service providers in our facilities. There are very few places on Earth where a customer can’t get from where they are to where we are, to a cloud – and with a really high-quality network link.
Gardner: Xavier, why is what we just heard a good fit for Cloud28+? How do you fit in to make hybrid clouds possible across different many regions?
Poisson: HPE has invested a lot in intellectual property in building our own HPE and Microsoft Azure Stack solution. It’s designed to provide the experience of a private cloud while using Microsoft as your technology’s tool.
Our customers want two things. The first is to be able to execute clouds on-premises, but also to connect to wider public clouds. This is enabled by what we are doing with a partner like Equinix. We can jump from on-premises to off-premises for an end-user customer.
The second is, when a customer decides to go to a new architecture around hybrid cloud, they may need to get reach and this reach is difficult now.
So, how we can support partners to find the right place, the right partners at the right moment in the right geographies with the right service level agreements (SLAs) for them to meet their business needs?
The fact that we have Equinix inside of Cloud28+ as a very solid partner is helping our customers and partners to find the right route. If I am an enterprise customer in Australia and I want to reach into Europe, or reach into Japan, I can, through Cloud28+, find the right service providers to operate the service for me. But I will also be hosted by a very compelling co-location company like Equinix, with the right SLAs. And this is the benefit for every single customer.
This has a lot of benefits for our MSPs. Why? Because our MSPs are evolving their technologies, evolving their go-to-market strategies, and they need to adapt. They need to jump from one country to another country, and they need to have a sustainable network to make it all happen. That’s what Equinix is providing.
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We not only help the end-user customers, but we also help our MSPs to build out their capabilities. Why? We know that with interconnectedness, as was just mentioned, that they can deliver direct cloud connectivity to all of their end users.
Together we can provide choice for partners and end-user customers in one place, which is Cloud28+. It’s really amazing.
Gardner: What are some of the compelling new use cases, David? What are you seeing that demonstrates where this works best? Who should be thinking about this now as a solution?
Data distribution solutions
Anderson: The solution -- especially combined with Microsoft Azure Stack -- is suited to those regions that have had data sovereignty and regulatory compliance issues. In other words, they can’t actually put their data into the public cloud, but they want to be able to use the power, elasticity, and the compute potential of the public cloud for big data analytics, or whatever else they want to do with that data. And so they need to have that data adjacent to the cloud.
Same for an Azure Stack solution. Oftentimes it will be in situations where they want to do DevOps. The developers might want to develop in the cloud, but they are going to bring it down to a private Azure Stack installation because they want to manage the hardware themselves. Or they actually might want to run that cloud in a place where public Azure may not yet have an availability zone. That could be sub-Saharan Africa, or wherever it might be -- even on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean.
There's a lot of legacy hardware out there. The need is for applications to run on a cloud, but the hardware can't be virtualized. These workloads could be moved to Equinix and then connect to a cloud.
Another use case that we are driving hard right now with Microsoft, HPE, and Cloud28+ is on the idea of an enterprise cage, where there is a lot of legacy hardware out there. The need is for applications to run to some degree on a cloud, but the hardware can’t be virtualized. But these workloads could be moved to an Equinix data center and connected to the cloud. They can then use the cloud for the compute part, and all of a sudden they are still getting value out of that legacy hardware, in a cloud environment, in a distributed environment.
Other areas where this is of value include a [data migration] appliance that is shipped out to a customer. We’ve worked a lot with Microsoft on this. The customer will put up to 100 TB of data on the appliance. It then gets shipped to one of our data centers where it’s hooked up through high-speed connection to Azure and the data can be ingested into Azure.
Now, that’s a onetime thing, but it gives us and our service providers on Cloud28+ the opportunity to talk to customers about what they are going to do in the cloud and what sort of help might you need.
Scenarios like that provide an opportunity to learn more about what enterprises are actually trying to do in the cloud. It allows us then to match up the service providers in our ecosystem, which is what we use Cloud28+ for with enterprise customers who need help.
Gardner: Xavier, it seems like this solution democratizes the use of hybrid clouds. Smaller organizations, smaller MSPs with a niche, with geographic focus, or in a vertical industry. How does this go down market to allow more types of organizations to take advantage of the greatest power of hybrid cloud?
Hybrid cloud power packaged
Poisson:We have packaged the solutions together with Equinix by default. That means that MSPs can just cherry pick to provide new cloud offerings very quickly.
Also, as I often say, the IT value chain has not changed that much. It means that if you are a small enterprise, let’s say in the United States, and you want to shape your new generation of IT, do you go directly to a big cloud provider? No, because you still believe in your systems integrator (SI), and in your value-added reseller (VAR).
Interestingly, when we package this with Equinix and Microsoft, having this enterprise cage, the VARs can take the bull by the horns. Because, when the customer comes to them and says, “Okay, what should I do, where should put my data, how can I do the public cloud but also a private cloud?” The VAR can guide them because they have an answer immediately -- even for small- to medium-sized (SMB) businesses.
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Our purpose at Cloud28+ is to explain all of this through thought leadership articles that we publish -- explaining the trends in the market, explaining that the solutions are there. You know, not a lot of people know about Equinix. There are still people who don’t know that they can have global reach.
If you are a start-up, for example, you have a new business, and you need to find MSPs everywhere on the globe. How you do that? If you go to Cloud28+ you can see that there are networks of service providers or learn what we have done with Equinix. That can empower you in just a few clicks.
We give the access to partners who have been publishing more than 900 articles in less than six months on various topics such as security, big data, interconnection, globalization, artificial intelligence (AI), and even the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). They learn and they find offerings because the articles are connected directly to those offering services, and they can get in touch.
We are easing the process -- from the thought leadership, to the offerings with explanations. What we are seeing is that the VARs and the SIs are still playing an enormous role.
So, it’s not only Microsoft, with HPE, and with the data centers of Equinix, but we put the VARs into the middle of the conversation. Why? Because they are near the SMBs. We want to make everything as simple as you just put in your credit card and you go. That’s fair enough for some kinds of workloads.
But in most cases, enterprises still go to their SIs and their VARs because they are all part of the ecosystem. And then, when they have the discussion with their customers, they can have the solution very, very quickly.
Gardner: Seems to me that for VARs and SIs, the cloud was very disruptive. This gives them a new lease on life. A middle ground to take advantage of cloud, but also preserve the value that they had already been giving.
Take the middle path
Poisson: Absolutely. Integration services are key, application migrations are key, and security topics are very, very important. You also have new areas such as AI and blockchain technologies.
For example, in Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Asia (EMEA), we have more-and-more tier-two service providers that are not only delivering their best services but are now investing in practices around AI or blockchain -- or combine them with security -- to upgrade their value propositions in the market.
For VARs and for Sis, it is all benefit because they know that solutions exist, and they can accompany their customers to the transition. For them, this is all also a new flow of revenue.
Gardner: As we get the word out that these distributed hybrid cloud solutions are possible and available, we should help people understand which applications are the right fit. What are the applications that work well in this solution?
The hybrid solution gives SIs, service providers, and enterprises more flexibility than if they try and move an application completely into the cloud.
Anderson: The interesting thing is that applications don’t have to be architected in a specific way, based on the way we do hybrid solutions. Obviously, the apps have to be modern.
I go back to my engineering days 25 years ago, when we were separating data and compute and things like that. If they want to write a front-end and everything in platform-as-a-service (PaaS) on Azure and then connect that down to legacy data, it will work. It just works.
The hybrid situation gives SIs, service providers, and enterprises more flexibility than if they try and move an application, whatever it is, completely into the cloud, because that actually takes a lot more work.
Some service providers believe that hybrid is a transitory stage, that enterprises would go to hybrid just to buy them time till they go fully public cloud. I don’t believe Microsoft thinks that way, and we certainly don’t think that way. I think there is a permanent place for hybrid cloud.
In fact, one of the interesting things when I first got to Equinix was that we had our own sellers saying, “I don’t want to talk to the cloud guys. I don’t want them in our data centers because they are just going to take my customers and move them to the cloud.”
The truth of the matter is that demand for our data centers has increased right along with the increase in public cloud consumption. So it’s a complementary thing, not a substitution thing. They need our data centers. What they are trying to do now is to close their own enterprise data centers.
And they are getting into Equinix and finding out that the connectivity possibilities and -- especially in the Global 2000 enterprises -- nobody wants cloud vendor lock-in. They are all multicloud. Our Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric solution is a great way to get in at one point and be able to connect to multiple cloud providers from right there.
It gives them more flexibility in how they design their apps, and also more flexibility in where they run their apps.
Gardner: Do you have any examples of organizations that have already done this? What demonstrates the payoffs? When you do this well, what do you get for it?
Cloudify your networks
Anderson: We have worked with customers in these situations where they have come in initially for a connection to Microsoft, let’s say. Then we brought them together with a service provider and worked with them on network transformations to the point where they have taken their old networks – a lot of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and everything else that were really very costly and didn’t perform that well -- and ended up being able to rework their networks. We like to say they cloudifytheir networks, because a lot of enterprise networks aren’t really ready for the heavy load of getting out to the cloud.
And we ended up increasing their performance by up to 10, 15, 20 times -- and at the same time cut their networking costs in half. Then they can turn around and reinvest that in applications. They can also then begin to spin up cloud apps, and just provision them, and not have to worry about managing the infrastructure.
They want the same thing in a hybrid world, which is where those service providers that we find on Cloud28+ and that we amplify, come in. They can build those managed services, whether it’s a managed Azure Stack offering or anything else. That enables the enterprise IT shops to essentially do the same thing with hybrid that they are doing with public cloud – they can buy it on a consumption model. They are not managing the hardware because they are offloading that to someone else.
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Because they are buying all of their stuff in the same model -- whether it’s considered on-premises or a third-party facility like ours, or a totally public cloud. It’s the same purchasing model, which is making their procurement departments happy, too.
Gardner: Xavier, we have talked about SIs, VARs, and MSPs. It seems to me that for who we used to call independent software vendors (ISVs), the former packaged software providers, that this hybrid cloud model also offers a new lease on life. Does this work for the applications providers, too?
Extend your reach
Poisson: Yes, absolutely. And we have many, many examples in the past 12 months of ISVs, software companies, coming to Cloud28+ because we give them the reach.
Lequa AB, a Swedish company, for example, has been doing identity management, which is a very hot topic in digital transformation. In the digital transformation you have your role when you speak to me, but in your other associations you have another role. The digital transformation of these roles needs to be handled, and Lequa has done that.
And by partnering with Cloud28+, they have been able to extend their reach in ways they wouldn’t ever have otherwise. Only in the past six months, they have been in touch with more than 30 service providers across the world. They have already closed deals.
If I am only providing baseline managed information services, how can I differentiate from the hyperscale cloud providers? MSPs now care more about the applications to differentiate themselves in the market.
On one side of the equation for ISVs, there is a very big benefit -- to be able to reach ready-to-be-used service providers, powered by Equinix in many cases. For the service providers, there is also an enormous benefit.
If I am only providing baseline managed information services, how can I differentiate from the hyperscale cloud providers? How can I differentiate from even my own competitors? What we have seen is that the MSPs are now caring more about the application makers, the former ISVs, in order for them to differentiate in the market.
So, yes, this is a big trend and we welcome into Cloud28+ more and more ISVs every week, yes.
Gardner: David, another concern that organizations have is as they are distributing globally, as there are more moving parts in a hybrid environment, things become more complex. Is there something that HPE is doing with new products like OneSphere that will help? How do we allow people to gain confidence that they can manage even something that’s a globally distributed hybrid set of applications?
Confident connections in global clouds
Anderson: There are a number of ways we are partnering with HPE, Microsoft, and others to do that. But one of the keys is the Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric, where now they only have to manage one wire or fiber connection in a switching fabric. That allows them to spin up connections to virtually all of the cloud providers, and span those connections across multiple locations. And so that makes it easier to manage.
The APIs that drive the Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric can be consumed and viewed with tools such as HPE OneSphere to be able to manage everything across the solution. The MSPs are also having to take on more and be the ones that provide management.
As the huge, multinational enterprises disperse their hybrid clouds, they will tend to view those in silos. But they will need one place to go, one view to look at, to know what’s in each set of data centers.
At Equinix, our three pillars are the ideas of being able to reach everywhere, interconnect everything, and integrate everything. That idea says we need to be the place to put that on top of HPE with the service providers because then that gives you that one place that reaches those multiple clouds, that one set of solid, known, trusted advisors in HPE and the service providers that are really certified through Cloud28+. So now we have built this trusted community to really serve the enterprises in a new world.
Gardner: Before we close out, let’s take a look into the crystal ball. Xavier, what should we expect next? Is this going to extend to the edge with the Internet of Things (IoT), more machine learning (ML)-as-a-service built into the data cloud? What comes next?
The future is at the Edge
Poisson: Today we are 810 partners in Cloud28+. We cover more than 560 data centers in more than 34 countries. We have been publishing nearly 30,000 cloud services in only two years. You see how fast it has been growing
What do we expect in the future? You named it: Edge is a very hot topic for us and for Equinix. We plan to develop new offering in this area, even new data center technology. It will be necessary to have new findings around what a data center of tomorrow is, how it will consume energy, and what we can do with it together.
We are already engaged in conversations between Equinix, ourselves, and another company within the Cloud28+ community to discuss what the future data center could be.
A huge benefit of having this community is that by default we innovate. We have new ideas because it's coming through all of the partners. Yes, edge computing is definitely a very hot spot.
For the platform itself, I believe that even though we do not monetize in the data center, which is one of the definitions of Cloud28+, the revenues at the edge are for the partners, and this is also by design.
Nonetheless, we are thinking of new things such as a smart contracting around IoT and other topics, too. You need to have a combination of offerings to make a project. You need to have confidentiality between players. At the same time, you need to deliver one solution. So next it may be solutions on best ways for contracting. And we believe that blockchain can add a lot of value in that, too.
Cloud28+ is a community and a digital business platform. We are thinking of such things as smart contracting for IoT and using blockchain in many solutions.
Cloud28+ is a community and a digital business platform. By the way, we are very happy to have been recognized as such by Gartner in several research notes since September 2017. We want to start to include these new functions around smart contracting and blockchain.
The other part of the equation is how we help our members to generate more business. Today we have a module that is integrated into the platform to amplify partner articles and their offerings through social media. We also have a lead-generation engine, which is working quite well.
We want to launch an electronic lead-generation capability through our thought leadership articles. We believe that if we can give the feedback to the people filling in these forms, with how they position versus all of their peers, on how they position versus the industry analysts, they will be very eager to engage with us.
And the last piece is we need to examine more around using ML across all of these services and interactions between people. We need to deep dive on this to find what value we can bring from out of all this traffic, because we have such traffic now inside Cloud28+ that trends are becoming clear.
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For instance, I can say to any partner that if they publish an article on what is happening in the public sector today, it will have a yield that is x-times the one that has been published at an earlier date. All this intelligence, we have it. So what we are packaging now is how to give intelligence back to our members so they can capture trends very quickly and publish more of what is most interesting to the people.
But in a nutshell, these are the different things that we see.
Gardner: And I know that evangelism and education are a big part of what you do at Cloud28+. What are some great places that people can go to learn more?
Poisson: Absolutely. You can read not only what the partners publish, but examine how they think, which gives you the direction on how they operate. So this is building trust.
For me, at the end of the day, for an end-user customer, they need to have that trust to know what they will get out of their investments.