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War for the Cloud: What's new with BT Cloud Compute?



War for the Cloud: What's new with BT Cloud Compute?
2013 is shaping up as a big year in the war for the cloud and especially for IaaS. As the market matures, large organizations are increasingly ready to build and run business critical applications into an IaaS environment.

On the supply side, global IT players such as Microsoft and Google are challenging Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the high volume “Commodity IaaS” market.

Other players such as IBM, CSC and Orange are focusing on the high value “Enterprise Class” space, with offerings that include well structured “IaaS Management Services” for companies that want to outsource some or all of the routine tasks of administration, management and operation of virtual infrastructures.

The battle is also heating up in the enterprise grade, self-service space. A recent example was the announcement by BT, the British telco, of the expanded availability of BT Cloud Compute, soon to be delivered out of datacenters on four continents.

The Facts

On April 29, BT announced the upcoming launch of BT Cloud Compute in China, India, Germany, Mexico and Argentina. The service has already been deployed in numerous countries including the U.S., U.K., Spain, Brazil, Colombia, France, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

According to the company, the service "allows CIOs far greater control in terms of designing, building, buying and operating a cloud solution that is tailored to their specific needs" and "gives customers the ability to combine their own data centers and private clouds with BT's global cloud capabilities".

The company also claims that "it differentiates itself from run-of-the-mill cloud offerings by being self-healing and resilient, bringing customers an expected service level of 99.95%."

BT Cloud Compute was built in-house at the company’s Adastral Park R&D center, in collaboration with partners such as Cisco and Citrix. Pricing for the service was not discussed in the announcement.

Analysis

BT has managed to get a certain amount of "industry buzz" with an announcement that may - or may not - be something new but, in any case, is presented as being deployed in an impressive number of data centers around the world.

In the war for the cloud, the geographical location of user data is an important "compliance issue" for CIO's. The large scale deployment of the BT Cloud Compute service may well represent an advantage.

Overall, the benefits oriented messaging is very professional and even slick, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

At the time of the announcement, BT management said explicitly that they did not want to talk about technology ....and they really don't. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to see what is new and just exactly how Cloud Compute stacks up against the competition.

Comparable enterprise grade, self-service offerings are available from other "global reach" telcos like Verizon and Orange as well as from IBM and from big hosters like Rackspace. What is not entirely clear from the announcement materials is whether Cloud Compute is now mutualised "public IaaS" like these competitors or remains a service aimed at supporting dedicated private clouds. This distinction is considerably more than a technical detail and has major cost implications.

At least until last year the company was proposing Cloud Compute as a dedicated resources service. According to their own earlier documentation, Cloud Compute "does not rely on blade sharing like other clouds". It is with this type of dedicated solution that they won a "Best project in IaaS" in Germany with ComputerWoche in 2011 - at a time when security issues were a major concern, particularly in Germany.

Remaining somewhat fuzzy on this issue clearly offers BT an interesting if transient advantage in terms of "vendor bragging rights". The company has gotten a lot of media mileage out of a study by Synergy Research, published in March, putting BT in third place in the IaaS category of the cloud infrastructure market, following IBM and of course market leader Amazon.

In Synergy's study, which also includes PaaS, CDN, colocation and managed hosting as cloud infrastructure services, the IaaS category covers both public IaaS and hosted private clouds. This is a somewhat atypical presentation of market numbers. In particular, leading market research firms usually separate out "public IaaS" as a specific segment ... in which case BT's third place positioning immediately vanishes.

That having been said, including public and hosted private IaaS in one category is an intellectually defensible option, especially considering the growing trend towards hybridization.

In the announcement, BT also makes some general statements about hybridization, combining the customer's " data centres and private clouds with BT's global cloud capabilities". All of this, of course, is easier said than done, and once again BT is short on specifics.

Last but not least among our unanswered questions, consider the company's claim that Cloud Compute is differentiated by being "self-healing and resilient", allowing customers an "expected service level of up to 99.95%".

The cloud architectures of BT's competitors are all built with redundancy at multiple levels and sophisticated fail-over mechanisms.Since the company has identified high availability as a key differentiator, some explanation of how Cloud Compute does it better is clearly in order, but none is forthcoming. Given that the service is already operational in a certain number of countries, some real life statistics would be interesting. Claiming that Cloud Compute is "self-healing" is a nice touch, but proves nothing.

Perhaps the company considers as evidence enough its willingness - presumably for a price - to commit to a 99.95% SLA. Anyone who has been following the ongoing discussion in the industry about the actionability and value to customers of Cloud SLA's should take this kind of commitment with a very large grain of salt.

Conclusion

Overall, this announcement looks like a highly skilled exercise in marketing communication.

Highlighting the compliance convenience for CIO's of BT's large scale deployment of Cloud Compute is certainly a well taken point. However, if anything else is new about the service, then BT might consider explaining it more specifically to the marketplace.



Monday, May 20th 2013
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Duquesne Advisory Ltd is a European firm, headquartered in the UK, dedicated to researching, understanding and advising clients worldwide on opportunities and trends in Information and Communications technology.

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Duquesne Advisory delivers in-depth analyses of Information and Communications Technologies, their implementations and their markets. Research is based on critical observation of the market by the analysts and their on-going contacts with the vendor community, together with hands-on, practical experience in consulting engagements.

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