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Q&A: Markley looks to lighten load as an IaaS provider

Interest in cloud continues to gain traction, so how does a small infrastructure services provider compete with the Amazon Web Services of the world?

As the thirst for cloud services continues to grow, smaller Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers have been looking for ways to leap into a market dominated by Amazon Web Services. With Gartner predictingthe revenue of Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS providers to climb from $6.1 billion in 2012 to $9 billion this year, that's a significant amount up for grabs.

The Markley Group runs a sizable carrier hotel in downtown Boston, and counts the Boston Red Sox, Harvard University and The New York Times among its clients. Recently, Markley decided to expand its role and to branch out with its own IaaS. met with Aaron Patrick, Markley's cloud services architect, and Josh Myles, its product manager, to discuss how the company, as a fledgling IaaS provider, differentiates its IaaS from the IaaS provided by Amazon.

Aaron PatrickAaron Patrick

What does IaaS mean for Markley, and how will it work?

Aaron Patrick: What IaaS means for us as a colocation provider and carrier hotel is expanding our portfolio and offering more services to customers. We're offering customers the capability to offer storage and compute on-demand. It's something they are asking for, and we don't want to lose those customers.

What sorts of customers are asking for this?

Patrick: There are a couple of use cases that are ideal: For example, a business that has seasonal opportunities, such as a baseball team, or maybe a business that during tax time gets really busy but the rest of the year doesn't have that need for capacity. Customers don't have to spend millions to buy servers they only need for two months. It allows customers to use their budgets more effectively. But it goes beyond just writing a check and buying some hardware. You need people with expertise, because things are undoubtedly going to break. Most businesses don't want to deal with any of that; they just want to focus on their core competency.

So, for virtualization you chose VMware. How did you make that decision?

Patrick: So, you have VMware, Microsoft, KVM and Xen hypervisors -- all of which are equally capable. But when it comes to running an efficient business, as well as providing interoperability for customers, we think VMware has some advantages. Not only are they a market leader with mature management tools, but we also have customers using them in this building. We got a lot of great feedback that contributed to our decision.

Did Microsoft not have enough interoperability for your needs? Or were there some other issues involved with Windows Server?

Patrick: We really felt that using the same platform most customers were using was the easiest way to enable them. Azure is a very capable platform, as is something like OpenStack, which has a lot of momentum. Both are capable -- so capable, in fact, that there are a lot of additional expenses there. You need a lot of development resources to be able to put that all together. That is not to say we won't consider bringing in alternatives, but for going to market and for all that interoperability, we felt VMware was a good choice.

Do you think it's good for your cloud customers to know that?

Patrick: We want to stay away from vendor lock-in. We want to be as open as possible. It is important not to dictate to a customer what they have to use. That is something we don't want to force on them. What we want [is] to deliver the capabilities they need so they can do whatever it is they need to without being impeded by some technology decision we made.

What are some of the challenges you face as a cloud provider?

Patrick: I am responsible on the technical side for bringing all this to market. Not only for choosing technologies, but the other stuff on paper, such as what architecture to choose. We are working with a half-dozen vendors, so I have to make all this work together with the public cloud, how we offer security features to make sure we are in compliance, but also still be able to offer value-added services to customers that allow them to be as adequately secure. So, just the challenge is just making it all click.

Josh MylesJosh Myles

Josh Myles: In terms of the biggest challenge, [it] is really just keeping pace with the market, but at the same time keeping a focus on what we want our product to be. We want to make sure we are not seen as a commodity play. We are not 'that data center in middle America.' We are built up and operating out of One Summer Street, and are catering to large enterprise customers who expect an enterprise-class infrastructure and who also expect us to be nimble, responsive, and maybe customize some things for them if they request it.

What sort of customization services might you do?

Myles: When I say 'customize,' it is aligning our roadmap with the natural cloud evolution of our enterprise customers. We started with IaaS because these enterprises have hundreds of IT employees who understand their jobs and are working on apps and their platforms. So not to impede on what their jobs are, we said we'll take this layer and below off your hands. And as they turn their attention to their different business needs, we will naturally evolve the platform.

What is your view of Amazon and how they are doing?

Patrick: They are doing great [laughs]. They have a $1 billion in revenue and they release new products all the time.

Are they [Amazon] blotting out the sun for all the other providers?

Myles: I think they [Amazon] are a first mover who is creating a phenomenal market. I can't speculate if they will forever maintain their market share, but I think they are creating visibility for cloud in general. So, kudos to them.

Patrick: We are not naïve. I don't think we are going to take them [Amazon] head-on or put them out of business. We are competing in the same spaces as them just because there is a lot of demand for it. We believe we have certain advantages, like owning and operating out of this building, and that there is enough demand around [locally].

So, we understand you have never lost power in this building?

Patrick: Right. We have never lost commercial power. Even if we did, we have 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel in the basement and 26 generators and battery backup generators and, of course, other engines on the roof that will consume that diesel. We could run this building for weeks without power.

Is this going to be a point of differentiation with customers when you are pitching them to go with you and not someone else?

Myles: Well, definitely on the data center side. Another major point is the network density, or the number of carriers that are here. The typical data center will have a handful; we have over 50. So, if there is a particular carrier you need in order to get to a particular part of the world, then very likely you can access them through this facility. For larger customers, this is their primary node in the global network.

Any technologies you have your eyes on for what might be game-changers?

Patrick: Sure, open source. I think enabling an open platform offers the capability to use more commodity-based hardware and really reduces the expenses on our side without sacrificing any capabilities. There is all this software-defined networking and software-defined storage; these are industry things that are not necessarily specific to any vendor but are based on open standards. So, not only for interoperability but also for us to continue offering the same and new capabilities, keeping costs down is really important.

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