IT shop goes for costly Verizon cloud over AWS, Azure

For its CaaS cloud, Verizon makes customers sign a one-year deal and pay a premium price. Still, one company elected for the services over AWS, Azure.

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Why would any company shun cloud computing services from industry leaders, such as Amazon, Microsoft and others, to go with Verizon's Compute as a Service cloud, which tends to have higher prices than its competition and locks customers into a year-long contract?

I got the feeling that what I was asking for was not the first [Verizon had] heard of it.

Robert White, IT manager, Global Gossip

That's exactly what Global Gossip, an Australian telecommunications provider, chose to do in its search for a U.S.-based cloud services provider. The answer may be as much related to corporate culture as necessity. Verizon had provided Global Gossip with backhaul services for years, all without downtime. This kind of reliabilitywould come at a price that was worth trading for some of the touted benefits of a true cloud service.

Unlike traditional hosted IT services, cloud services are not supposed to lock customers into long-term contracts regardless of whether they are using the service. Not so with Verizon's Compute as a Service (CaaS).

"We are indeed bound by their one-year agreement," said Robert White, IT manager in charge of core infrastructure and systems at Global Gossip.

Global Gossip, which provides Wi-Fi services to U.S. national parks, wanted to expand its offerings to U.S-based hotels. But when the company started working with hotels in the U.S., it experienced sluggish service from its Sydney data center. The company needed to move its facilities that served this new market to a more central location.

In doing so, it wanted guaranteed uptime, but that would come at a price. White evaluated cloud companies that tout the benefit of going from zero capacity to some capacity to zero again and not paying anything when at zero. "When you consider that you're indeed starting from nothing every time, is this really such a benefit?" he asked.

Verizon's CaaS does meet the requirement for elasticity. Servers can trundle along at a very low level and users pay a small amount, then when they require lots of power, users can quickly increase server capacity without interrupting services. Users pay for this additional power while it's in use and then scale back again when it's not required and resume paying a small amount.

"… This is a benefit of the CaaS service, as our service running on top of it is not interrupted," White said.

But the choice of Verizon was not a foregone conclusion. White did due diligence on other cloud providers in the market.

Cloud provider shortlist
White spent several months evaluating cloud providers before he narrowed down the list to seven companies: Verizon, BlueLock cloud hosting, Colt cloud services, Telstra cloud services, Amazon Web Services, Rackspace Cloud and Windows Azure from Microsoft.

Of the big cloud computing providers, Amazon experienced a major outage right in the middle of White's study, which made it hard to actually test the service. He felt Rackspace could deliver what Global Gossip needed but he just didn't click with the vendor's sales team.

White looked at Windows Azure but realized his company would have to rewrite most of its apps to run on Azure, which wasn't feasible. That left the telecom providers -- Verizon, BlueLock, Colt and Telstra.  

He rifled through his short list. Colt did not respond to his technical questions, Telstra was too new to the game and too expensive, and BlueLock, although approachable and friendly, seemed to be hearing his requests for the first time.

White said he believed Verizon had the experience to backup its claims. "I got the feeling that what I was asking for was not the first they'd heard of it," he said.

SLAs a big factor
With its roots in traditional telecom, Verizon had a concept of service-level agreements (SLAs) that stood apart from the other service providers; the carrier offered 100% uptime. White said he has experienced no outages since Global Gossip signed up this summer.

Conversely, Amazon Web Services SLA only offers 99.95% availability over a trailing 365-day period. Outages of less than five minutes don't count toward the availability goal. The customer has to notice the problem and provide proof. And Amazon's penalty is 10% of one month's bill.

AWS is considerably cheaper than Verizon's CaaS, but White said you get what you pay for. 

He added that 10% of one month's bill would never cover the cost of the damage to Global Gossip's new U.S. services. And the monitoring that comes with Verizon's CaaS means he doesn't have to continually check and worry about whether his servers are up and running. Verizon sends him alerts when his systems approach their threshold. He can either add more capacity or Verizon will do it automatically, on request.

Support for VMware mattered
Verizon CaaS allowed Global Gossip to create its virtual machines (VMs) by logging into the CaaS portal in Sydney and provision VMs in San Jose within 10 minutes. No calling to get the physical equipment. And White says he has complete portability of that across Verizon locations in different geographies.

He can clone a machine in the San Jose data center and move it to London. "As the business grows and we need more server power in Europe, we can take it from San Jose and move it into the cloud in London," he said.

Global Gossip uses VMware for server virtualization internally and that also influenced White's choice of cloud service provider. "We know it and are comfortable with how it works," he said. Verizon CaaS uses VMware virtualization under the hood.

White likes the idea of being able to share VMs between their private and public cloud and wants to be compatible with that approach. As of yet he says this capability isn't available from the Verizon CaaS portal. "We'd have to call an engineer to make that happen," he said.

Global Gossip has eight hotels that run on the Verizon CaaS platform today, which means potentially thousands of hotel guests logging on to the Wi-Fi service at any one time. So far, even with the heaviest traffic, he said he's seen minimal CPU and memory usage. White expects 40 hotels will be installed on Verizon CaaS in the next nine to 12 months.

Jo Maitland is the Senior Executive Editor of SearchCloudComputing.com.

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