Building a hybrid IT platform is like setting off a flywheel – it needs a little bit of a nudge to get going but once it is up and running, it gains a momentum of its own. There’s a culture in the team that starts to become its own virtuous circle; it doesn't come from one individual or key developer, the platform has started to become its own entity.
From a leadership standpoint, this kind of momentum and pace provides a lot of confidence that development is going to grow and grow. Building a hybrid IT platform really is an experience that takes you on a steep learning curve.
From a hosting perspective, developing a platform really means taking control of the value you produce. Service providers can generally run applications in their data centre; implement it for their customers; and run and operate the datacentre on their behalf.
But actually producing their own technology, developing and implementing a hybrid cloud platform, provides flexibility and abstracts unique services that can be layered on top of the existing product portfolio.
The winners in the cloud are those that have an automated service platform that supports their primary business. The origins of AWS came from a primary business as it needed a more flexible infrastructure platform. The Microsoft Platform didn’t really take off until it started driving its primary business on to that platform.
As a service provider, the primary business is about delivering hybrid IT solutions to your customers. You need a platform that supports that vision and services but it has to be architected flexibly enough so anybody can come in and use it for whatever purpose they want.
So how can service providers drive this kind of innovation, drawing on the supportive ecosystem of partners and suppliers that most organisations spend years cultivating?
Four Initiatives to Drive Hybrid Cloud
To start with, an ecosystem is not just a list of customers or partners. An ecosystem is a collection of people or partners who link up without permission, or where software partners and customers discover each other organically. Drawing upon this ecosystem can add real value to partners – and in turn, customers – and based on these possibilities, there are a number of initiatives which partners must consider and develop if they are to be truly compelling and competitive in 2016. Here are four such initiatives to keep top of mind:
1. The network exchange:
All of the major cloud providers have some kind of direct network connect product, either Amazon Direct Connect or Azure Express Route ‒ and all major colocation providers have some sort of presence in that marketplace. This connects internal networks to major cloud providers, bypassing ISPs and effectively creating ‘private’ networks.
But network providers can build their own ‘killer’ network exchange. Whether cosmetic or real, users can find and cross connect with other people in the data centre. Service providers need an automated network connection marketplace that allows users to build their SDN layer into their platform. That can roll out to the whole ecosystem, which in turn can reach out to other owners of interesting network content and pull them in to build content together.
This could be the beginning of a SaaS model, where one provider starts using their network and carving that up into virtualised slices. That, in turn, could be advertised to a private network of users or a private extranet constituency – something similar to a healthcare network.
In that way, providers can build a series of ISPs that do specialised healthcare work on a healthcare extranet in a particular geographic area for example. All of the automation cross connects it, including who gets permissions and access rights.
2. Anywhere services
Some providers need to deliver managed services anywhere; that means they can’t rely on their own datacentres or platforms alone. Hybrid IT needs to be on a broader platform plane with other providers such as Amazon or Microsoft.
Service providers should also offer managed operating systems, managed back-up, managed security services that are layered in to common systems.
3. Resource isolation
Resource isolation is used to limit how ‘greedy’ services can be in a system and set the resources that they can consume; this improves both the accuracy of overall resource allocation on a server and the availability of the services on the server.
Providers should look at the levels of isolation required on the platform and turn that into an automated provisioning characteristic. For example, do you want (and do customers require you) to provision on a bare metal device or do you want an isolated pool of resources only for you?
The anywhere services which we talked about previously and resource isolation can also be combined. This allows providers to start provisioning against more things than just virtual machine on industry standard servers. Clearly this is an exaggeration, but the point stands – and it is a clear benefit for customers when they can receive this level of integration from their hybrid IT provider.
4. VoIP, SMS and video
It is vitally important for hybrid IT providers to build the full range of communication services, such as VoIP, SMS and video, into their core platform to ensure customers get them at an extremely competitive rate, and stay connected according to their increasing needs.
We have seen services like Twilio provide highly effective APIs to provision voice, video and SMS services and in 2016, it is important that service providers adopt likeminded APIs to complete this jigsaw at scale.
It is unlikely that all of these will be tackled at once – or even in sequential order – but service providers should seriously consider pushing these initiatives to the top of the list if they are to stay innovative and offer powerful bespoke services to their customers.