One year after announcing the full acquisition of Toronto-based data centre provider Q9 Networks, BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada is firming up its strategy for the Bell Business Cloud as a partner that can provide control over both public and private cloud deployments.

Q9 was investing in a nationwide private cloud offering that offered the benefits of Canadian data residency before its August 2016 acquisition by Bell. The telecommunications carrier plans to continue supporting those services, as well as a connection to public cloud service through a partnership with Microsoft Azure. To marry the two worlds of public and private cloud offerings, Bell will be doing a marketing push that focuses on a connect-first approach to the cloud that offers a convenient way to manage their cloud infrastructure.

“We’re making sure our customers are at the centre of the equation and we’re doing that with our self-service portal,” says Mike LaPalme, director of product management for IoT, data centre, and cloud services at Bell. “One multi-cloud portal to rule them all, with the ability to consume, manage, access private and public cloud whether it’s Bell infrastructure or not.”

Bell will be looking to make deals with other public cloud providers, he adds. LaPalme points to the IBM Cloud partnership that Bell made in February 2016 as another example of the connections it can provide for the enterprise. Its Bluemix platform as a service offering is a good complement to the applications as a service offered through Azure, he says. Bell is interested in expanding both its cloud platform and applications offerings, notably analytics and business intelligence.

Partnering with infrastructure providers is a good strategy for carriers, says Sid Nag, research director for cloud, at Gartner Inc. While carriers missed the boat on building out a cloud network initially, they can now come to the table and provide a connection point for customers.

“They certainly have deep pockets to build another public cloud enivonrment, but then you have to compete with the companies that are already market leaders,” he says. “Plus a different skill set is needed to run these data centres.”

LaPalme says that alignment of Q9’s services is ongoing at Bell, but has been going smoothly because Bell was involved with company strategy as an investor even before the full acquisition. Work is being done on connecting the Q9 datacentres¬†into one rational infrastructure with its own, and some of the other acquisitions that it’s picked up recently. With 28 “bunker-style data centres” across the country, Bell is already the largest operator of data centres in Canada.

“Bell is not morphing into an IT company, it’s fortifying its strengths around the network,” he says. “We could perhaps be the trusted entity that a customer reaches out to access all infrastructure.”

Meeting the customer with a hybrid approach should work well, according to Nag. Few enterprises will want to jump into using public cloud services with two feet.

“Nobody is flipping a switch and moving everything to the public cloud,” he says. “They want an interim that’s also hosted on private.”

As for its competition in this space, LaPalme says it remains the same as with other service offerings – Bell is up against the cloud services being offered by other telecommunication carriers in Canada. According to an IDC Canada assessment of data centre operations and management released in September 2016, Bell was placed in the “major players” category while Telus and Rogers were considered to be in the “leaders” category. But that same report also placed Q9 in the leaders category as a separate entity from Bell.

Bell isn’t looking to build any new large data centre facilities in the near future, but it could tap the space in some of its 1,700 central offices across Canada to create cloud nodes that push its edge closer to certain customers. LaPalme describes them as potential satellites to the main data centres.

“Our roadmap has the objective of becoming Canada’s cloud service broker,” he says. “You don’t get there without a focus on the network and getting our customers to the required workload through the most effective method.”

In doing so, Bell will be looking at changing some of the key performance indicators it’s using to measure its cloud services. It’s moving away from yield per volt amp and towards yield per square foot.

That measurement approach makes sense to Nag, who points out that a server that is not virtualized still draws the same power as one that is running 65 virtual machines. The edge network approach is also a traditional networking approach to deliver services.



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