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Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect.
Stay with us now to learn more about building the best infrastructure to handle some of the most demanding network and compute services for one of the world's largest service providers. Here to share her story on building top-performing infrastructure is Chris Costello, Assistant Vice President of AT&T Cloud Services. Welcome, Chris. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Chris Costello: Thank you, Dana.
Gardner: Just to help us understand, because it's such a large company and you provide so many services, what cloud services generally is AT&T providing now, and why is this an important initiative for you?
Costello: AT&T has been in the hosting business for over 15 years, and so it was only a natural extension for us to get into the cloud services business to evolve with customers' changing business demands and technology needs.
If you look at customers who have internal clouds today or private data centers, they like the control, the security, and the leverage that they have, but they really want the best of both worlds. There are certain workloads where they want to burst into a service provider’s cloud.
We give them that flexibility, agility, and control, where they can simply point and click, using free downloadable tools from VMware, to instantly turn up workloads into AT&T's cloud.
Another capability that we have in this space is AT&T Platform as a Service. This is targeted primarily to independent software vendors (ISVs), IT leaders, and line-of-business managers. It allows customers to choose from 50 pre-built applications, instantly mobilize those applications, and run them in AT&T's cloud, all without having to write a single line of code.
So we're really starting to get into more of the informal buyers, those line-of-business managers, and IT managers who don't have the budget to build it all themselves, or don't have the budget to buy expensive software licenses for certain application environments.
Examples of some of the applications that we support with our platform as a service (PaaS) are things like salesforce automation, quote and proposal tools, and budget management tools.
The third key category of AT&T's Cloud Services is in the storage space. We have our AT&T Synaptic Storage as a Service, and this gives customers control over storage, distribution, and retrieval of their data, on the go, using any web-enabled device. In a little bit, I can get into some detail on use cases of how customers are using our cloud services.
This is a very important initiative for AT&T. We're seeing customer demand of all shapes and sizes. We have a sizable business and effort supporting our small- to medium-sized business (SMB) customers, and we have capabilities that we have tailor-developed just to reach those markets.
As an example, in SMB, it's all about the bundle. It's all about simplicity. It's all about on demand. And it's all about pay per use and having a service provider they can trust.
In the enterprise space, you really start getting into detailed discussions around security. You also start getting into discussions with many customers who already have private networking solutions from AT&T that they trust. When you start talking with clients around the fact that they can run a workload, turn up a server in the cloud, behind their firewall, it really resonates with CIOs that we're speaking with in the enterprise space.
Also in enterprises, it's about having a globally consistent experience. So as these customers are reaching new markets, it's all about not having to stand up an additional data center, compute instance, or what have you, and having a very consistent experience, no matter where they do business, anywhere in the world.
New era for women in tech
Gardner: Let’s look into your role Chris as an IT executive and also a woman. The fact is that a significant majority of CIOs and IT executives are men, and that’s been the case for quite some time. But I'm curious, does cloud computing and the accompanying shift towards IT becoming more of a services brokering role change that? Do you think that with the consensus building among businesses and partner groups being more important in that brokering role, this might bring in a new era for women in tech?
Costello: I think it is a new era for women in tech. Specifically to my experience in working at AT&T in technology, this company has really provided me with an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.
I currently lead our Cloud Office at AT&T and, prior to that, ran AT&T’s global managed hosting business across our 38 data centers. I was also lucky enough to be chosen as one of the top women in wireline services.
What drives me as a woman in technology is that I enjoy the challenge of creating offers that meet customer needs, whether they be in the cloud space, things like driving eCommerce, high performance computing environment, or disaster recovery (DR) solutions.
I love spending time with customers. That’s my favorite thing to do. I also like to interact with many partners and vendors that I work with to stay current on trends and technologies. The key to success of being a woman working in technology is being able to build offers that solve customers' business problem, number one.
Number two is being able to then articulate the value of a lot of the complexity around some of these solutions, and package the value in a way that’s very simple for customers to understand.
Some of the challenge and also opportunity of the future is that, as technology continues to evolve, it’s about reducing complexity for customers and making the service experience seamless. The trend is to deliver more and more finished services, versus complex infrastructure solutions.
Gardner: It’s a very interesting period. Do you have any sense of a future direction in terms of IT roles? Does the actual role, whether it’s a man or woman, shift? The leadership in IT, how is that changing?
Costello: I've been in the technology space for a number of years at AT&T and I've had the opportunity to interact with many women in leadership, whether they be my peer group, managers that work as a part of my team, and/or mentors that I have within AT&T that are senior leaders within the business.
I've worked with several women in leadership. I think that trend is going to continue. I also mentor three women at AT&T, whether they be in technology, sales, or an operations role. So I'm starting to see this trend continue to grow.
Gardner: You have a lot of customers who are already using your network services. It seems a natural extension for them to look to you for cloud, and now you have created these, as I have seen it termed, virtual private clouds.
From what you're describing, that allows folks to take whatever cloud activities they've got and be able to burst those into your cloud, and that gives them that elasticity. I imagine there are probably some good cost-efficiencies as well.
Costello: Absolutely. We've embedded cloud capabilities into the AT&T managed network. It enables us to deliver a mobile cloud as well. That helps customers to transform their businesses. We're delivering cloud services in the same manner as voice and data services, intelligently routed across our highly secure, reliable network.
AT&T's cloud is embedded in our network. It's not sitting on top of or attached to our network, but it's fully integrated to provide customers a seamless, highly secure, low-latency, and high-performing experience.
Gardner: Let’s look into the VMware solution set, and why you chose VMware. Maybe you can explain the process. Was this a data-driven decision? Was this a pure architecture? Were there other technology or business considerations? I'm just trying to better understand the lead-up to using vCloud Datacenter Services as a core to the AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service.
Costello: AT&T uses VMware in several of our hosting application and cloud solutions today. In the case of AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service, we use that in several ways, both to serve customers in public cloud and hybrid, as well as private cloud solutions.
We've also been using VMware technology for a number of years in AT&T’s Synaptic Hosting offer, which is our enterprise-grade utility computing service. We've also been serving customers with server virtualization solutions available in AT&T data centers around the world and also can be extended into customer or third-party locations.
Just to drill down on some of the key differentiators of AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service, it’s two-fold.
One is that we integrate with AT&T private networking solutions. Some of the benefits that customers enjoy as a result of that are orchestration of resources, where we'll take the amount of compute storage and networking resources and provide the exact amount of resources at the exact right time to customers on-demand.
Our solutions offer enterprise-grade security. The fact that we've integrated our AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service with private networking solution allows customers to extend their cloud into our network using VPN.
Let me touch upon VMware vCloud Datacenter Services for a minute. We think that’s another key differentiator for us, in that we can allow clients to seamlessly move workloads to our cloud using native VMware toolsets. Essentially, we're taking technical complexity and interoperability challenges off the table.
How this manifests itself in terms of client solutions is that an engineering firm can now perform computationally intensive complex mathematical modeling on the fly and on demand using AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service.
Medical firms can use our solutions for medical imaging to securely store and access x-rays. Companies that are interested in mobile cloud solution can use AT&T’s Mobile Enterprise Application Platform to offer product catalogs in the cloud with mobile access.
Gardner: It certainly appears to me that we're going to be finding a lot more ways in which the private cloud infrastructure in these organizations can synergistically add value and benefit from public cloud services.
Even though we want to distill out the complexities, there’s something about the interactions between the private cloud and the enterprise and the public cloud services, like AT&T, that depend on some sort of a core architecture. How are you looking at making that visible? What are some of the important requirements that you have for making this hybrid cloud capability work?
Costello: One of the requirements for a hybrid cloud solution to be a success, specifically in terms of how AT&T offers the service, is that we have a large base of customers that have private networking solutions with AT&T, and they view their networks as secure and scalable.
Many of our customers that we have today have been using these networks for many years. And as customers are looking to cloud solutions to evolve their data centers and their application environment, they're demanding that the solution be secure and scalable. So the fact that we let customers extend their private cloud and instantly access our cloud environment over their private network is key, especially when it comes to enterprise customers.
Secondly, with the vCloud Datacenter program that we are part of with VMware, letting customers have access to copy and paste workloads and see all of their virtual machines, whether it be in their own private cloud environment or in a hybrid solution provided by AT&T, providing that seamless access to view all of their virtual machines and manage those through single interface, is key in reducing technical complexity and speeding time to market.
Gardner: I should also think that these concepts around the software-defined datacenter and software-defined networking play a part in that, is that something that you are focused on?
Costello: Software-defined datacenter and software-defined networks are essentially what we're talking about here with some uniqueness that AT&T Labs has built within our networking solutions. We essentially take our edge, our edge routers, and the benefits that are associated with AT&T networking solutions around redundancy, quality of service, etc., and extend that into cloud solutions, so customers can extend their cloud into our network using VPN solutions.
Gardner: As you moved toward this really important initiative, what were some of the other requirements you had in terms of functionality for your infrastructure? What were you really looking for?
Costello: In terms of functionality for the infrastructure, if we start with enterprise, the security aspects of the solution had to prove out for the customers that we do business with. When you think about clients in financial services, the federal government, and healthcare, as examples, we really had to prove that the data was secure and private. The certifications and audits and compliance that we were able to provide for our customers were absolutely critical to earning customers’ business.
We're seeing more and more customers, who have had very large IT shops in the past, who are now opening the door and are very open to these discussions, because they're viewing AT&T as a service provider that can really help them to extend the private cloud environment that they have today. So security is absolutely key.
As I mentioned earlier, networking capabilities are very attractive to the enterprise customers that we're talking to. They may think. "I've already invested in this global managed network that I have in multiple points around the world, and I'm simply adding another node on my network. Within minutes I can turn up workloads or I can store data in the cloud and only pay for the resources that I utilize, not only the compute and/or storage resources, but also the network resources."
Previously many customers would have to buy a router and try to pull together a solution on their own. It can be costly and time consuming. There's a whole lot of efficiency that comes with having a service provider being able to manage your compute storage and networking capabilities end to end.
Global scale was also very critical to the customers who we've been talking to. The fact that AT&T has localized and distributed resources through a combination of our 38 data centers around the world, as well as central offices, makes it very attractive to do business with AT&T as a service provider.
Also, having that enterprise-grade customer experience is absolutely critical to the customers who do business with AT&T. When they think of our brand, they think of reliability. If there are service degradation or change management issues, they want to know that they've got a resource that is working on their behalf that has technical expertise and is a champion working proactively on their cloud environment.
Gardner: You mentioned that it's a natural extension for those who are using your network services to move towards cloud services. You also mentioned that VMware has somewhere in the order of 350,000 customers with private-cloud installations that can now seamlessly move to your public-cloud offering.
Tell me how that came about and why the VMware platform, as well as their installed base, has become critical for you?
Costello: We've been doing business with VMware for a number of years. We also have a utility-computing platform called AT&T Synaptic Hosting. We learned early on, in working with customers’ managed utility computing environments, that VMware was the virtualization tool of choice for many of our enterprise customers.
As technologies evolved over time and cloud technologies have become more prevalent, it was absolutely paramount for us to pick a virtualization partner that was going to provide the global scale that we needed to serve our enterprise customers, and to be able to handle the large amount of volume that we receive, given the fact that we have been in the hosting business for over 15 years.
As a natural extension of our Synaptic Hosting relationship with VMware for many years, it only made sense that we joined the VMware vCloud Datacenter program. VMware is baked into our Synaptic Compute as a Service capability. And it really lets customers have a simplified hybrid cloud experience. In five simple steps, customers can move workloads from their private environment into AT&T's cloud environment.
Think that you are the IT manager and you are coming into start your workday. All of a sudden, you hit 85 percent utilization in your environment, but you want to very easily access additional resources from AT&T. You can use the same console that you use to perform your daily job for the data center that you run in-house.
In five clicks, you're viewing your in-house private-cloud resources that are VMware based and your AT&T virtual machines (VMs) running in AT&T's cloud, our Synaptic Compute as a Service capability. That all happens in minutes' time.
I've been in the hosting business and application management business for many years and have seen lots of fantastic discussions with customers. The whole thing falls apart when you start talking about the complexities of interoperability and having to write scripts and code and not being able to accept tools that the clients have already made investments in.
The fact that we're part of the vCloud Datacenter program provides a lot of benefits for our clients, when you talk to customers about the benefit of running that cloud in AT&T's network. Some of the additional benefits are no incremental bandwidth needed at the data center and no investment in a managed-router solution.
We have patented AT&T technology that completely isolates traffic from other cloud traffic. The network and cloud elasticity work in tandem. So all of this happens on the fly, instantaneously. Then, all of the end-to-end class of service prioritization and QoS and DDOS protection capabilities that are inherent in our network are now surrounding the compute experience as well.
Gardner: We've certainly seen a lot of interest in this hybrid capability. I wonder if you could help me identify some of the use cases that this is being employed with now. I'm thinking that if I needed to expand my organization into another country or to another region of the world, given your 38 data centers and your global reach, I would be able to take advantage of this and bring services to that region from my private cloud pretty rapidly.
Is that one of the more popular use cases, or are there some others that are on the forefront of this hybrid uptake?
Costello: I speak with a lot of customers who are looking to be able to virtually expand. They have data-center, systems, and application investments and they have global headquarters locations, but they don't want to have to stand up another data center and/or virtually expand and/or ship staff out to other location. So certainly one use case that's very popular with customers is, "I can expand my virtual data-center environment and use AT&T as a service provider to help me to do that."
Another use case that's very popular with our customers is disaster recovery. We see a lot of customers looking for a more efficient way to be able to have business continuity, have the ability to fail over in the event of a disaster, and also get in and test their plans more frequently than they're doing today.
For many of the solutions that are in place today, clients are saying they are expensive and/or they're just not meeting their service-level agreements (SLAs) to their business unit. One of the solutions that we recently put in place for a client is that we put them in two of AT&T's geographically diverse data centers. We wrapped it with AT&T's private-networking capability and then we solutioned our AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service and Storage as a Service.
The customer ended up with a better SLA and a very powerful return on investment (ROI) as well, because they're only paying for the cloud resources when the meter is running. They now have a stable environment so that they can get in and test their plans as often as they'd like to and they're only paying for a very small storage fee in the event that they actually need to invoke in the event of a disaster. So DR plans are very popular.
Another use case that’s very popular among our clients is short-term compute. We work with a lot of customers who have massive mathematical calculations and they do a lot of number crunching.
One customer that comes to mind is one that looks at the probability of natural disasters on large structures, such as bridges, tunnels, nuclear power plants. They came to AT&T, looked at our Synaptic Compute as a Service, and ultimately ran a very large number of VMs in a workload. Because of the large amount of data crunching they had to do, they ran it for two weeks straight on our platform. They finished the report. They were very pleased with the results, and the convenience factor was there.
They didn’t have to stand up an environment temporarily for themselves and now they use us anytime they sign a new client for those bursty type, short-term compute workloads.
Certainly test and development is one that I am seeing CIOs, directors of IT, and other functional managers as one of the most highly adopted use cases, in that it’s lower risk. Over the years, we've gone from, "Will I use the cloud?" to "What workloads are going to fit for me in the cloud?"
For those that are earlier on in their journey, using AT&Ts Synaptic Compute as a Service for their test and development environments certainly provides the performance, the global reach, and also the economics of pay per use. And if a client has private networking solutions from AT&T, they can fully integrate with our private networking solutions.
Finally, in the compute space, we're seeing a lot of customers start to hang virtual desktop solutions off of their compute environment. In the past, when I would ask clients about virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), they'd say, "We're looking at it, but we're not sure. It hasn’t made the budget list." All of a sudden, it’s becoming one of the most highly requested use cases from customers, and AT&T has solutions to cover all those needs.
Gardner: I'm particularly interested in the spiky applications, where your workload spikes up, but then there is no sense of keeping resources available for it when they're not in use. Do you think that this will extend to some of the big data and analytics crunching that we've heard about or is that hurdle of getting the data to the cloud still a major issue? And does your unique position as a network service provider help pave the way for more of these big-data, spiky types of uses?
Costello: I don’t think anyone is in a better position than AT&T to be able to help customers to manage their massive amounts of data, given the fact that a lot of this data has to reside on very strong networking solutions. The fact that we have 38 data centers around the world, a global reach from a networking perspective, and all the foundational cloud capabilities makes a whole lot of sense.
Speaking about this type of a bursty use case, we host some of the largest brand name retailers in the world. When you think about it, a lot of these retailers are preparing for the holidays, and their servers are going underutilized much of year. So how attractive is it to be able to look at AT&T, as a service provider, to provide them robust SLAs and a platform that they only have to pay for when they need to utilize it, versus sitting and going very underutilized much of the year?
We also host many online gaming customers. When you think about the gamers that are out there, there is a big land rush when the buzz occurs right before the launch of a new game. We work very proactively with those gaming customers to help them size their networking needs well in advance of a launch. Also we'll monitor it in real time to ensure that those gamers have a very positive experience when that launch does occur.
Gardner: I suppose one other area that’s top of mind for lots of folks is how to extend the enterprise out to the mobile tier, to those mobile devices. Again, this seems to be an area where having the network services expertise and reach comes to an advantage.
For an enterprise that wanted to extend more of their apps, perhaps the VDI experience, out to their mobile devices, be they smartphones or tablets, what offerings do you have that might help us grease the skid towards that kind of a value?
Costello: AT&T has a very successful mobility applications business, and we have a couple of examples of how customers use our cloud services in conjunction with making their mobile applications more productive.
First and foremost, we have a set of experts and consultants who help customers to mobilize their applications. So there might be internal customer proprietary applications, and we can really help them move to an on-demand mobile environment.
Secondly, a couple of cloud examples of how customers will use our capabilities off the shelf. One is our AT&T Synaptic Storage as a Service capability. We find that many customers are looking for a secure place to collaborate on data sharing. They're looking to have a place to access their data and store their data to enable a worker on the go scenario, or to enable a field services applications or technicians.
Our AT&T Synaptic Storage as a Service capability gives the end-user that ability to store, distribute, share, and retrieve that data on the go using any web-enabled device. Another example is AT&T's Platform as a Service capability, a great foundational tool for users to go in and use any one of our pre-built application and then instantly mobilize that application.
We have a customer who recently used this, because they had a customer meeting and they didn't have a sophisticated way to get surveys out for their customers. They wanted to create a database on the fly and get instantaneous feedback.
So they went into AT&T's Platform as a Service -- and this is a marketing person mind you, not a technical user -- they entered the questions that they required of the customers. They sent the quick questionnaire out to the end-users, five simple questions. The clients answered the questions.
Ultimately, that customer had a very sophisticated database with all of that information that they could use for market sensing on how to improve their products, number one. But number two, it made sense to use it as a marketing tool to provide promotional information to those customers in the future.
Gardner: Very good. We've been talking about how global telecommunications giant AT&T has been creating and delivering advanced cloud services for the customers, and we have seen how they view the VMware-centric infrastructure approach to help provide virtual private clouds and other computing capabilities as integrated services at scale.
So thanks to our guest, Chris Costello, Assistant Vice President of AT&T Cloud Services, really appreciate your input.
Costello: Thank you.
Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks again to our audience for listening, and do come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.
Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast on how telecom giant AT&T is leveraging its networking and cloud expertise to provide advanced cloud services. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2013. All rights reserved.
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