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CenturyLink swaps Savvis for Tier 3 cloud, delivers customizable PaaS

CenturyLink acquired Tier 3 cloud to replace the under-performing Savvis cloud service and plans to deliver customizable PaaS.

A new chapter of upheaval has been written for the Infrastructure as a Service market this week with CenturyLink’s acquisition of Tier 3.

Tier 3's Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform is immediately available as CenturyLink Cloud and Tier 3's products, roadmap and vision are now the foundation of CenturyLink Inc.'s cloud strategy. 

What Savvis really had is semi-automated VMware, and what Tier 3 has is significantly more sophisticated.  

Carl Brooks, analyst,  451 Research

Tier 3 cloud will replace the Savvis brand within a year, according to CenturyLink spokespeople. Existing customers of the Savvis Virtual Private Data Center (VPDC) cloud service will be offered an upgrade path and professional services in order to migrate to Tier 3's infrastructure. Savvis' managed hosting services will also be rebranded under CenturyLink Technology  Services in 2014.

This is similar to a recent restructuring by IBM in which an acquisition -- SoftLayer -- replaced the incumbent SmartCloud Enterprise technology. As with that move, there are customers who will have to move their deployments to new services, and the parent company is offering migration help.

CenturyLink officials estimated between 2,500 and 3,000 total Savvis customers, but declined to specify how many use IaaS from Savvis, as opposed to managed hosting and other offerings currently under the Savvis brand.

Analysts say the number is probably not a big one.

"There weren't a whole lot of Savvis customers on Savvis's multiple attempts at cloud," said James Staten, analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, Inc., referring to Savvis's Symphony cloud services brand, which was changed recently to Savvis Cloud Data Center.

"If you were trying to do cloud with them, then it's been painful up until this point anyway," Staten said.

The Tier 3 cloud platform is based on the VMware Inc.'s vSphere hypervisor, but Tier 3 has written its own automation layer, called the Blueprints engine, rather than using vCloud software; the company has also started to look at alternate hypervisors, CenturyLink officials said.

This means CenturyLink can now offer a cloud with the kind of automation, self-service, and advanced management options forward-thinking customers have come to expect from IaaS, industry watchers said.

"What Savvis really had is semi-automated VMware, and what Tier 3 has is significantly more sophisticated and capable and qualifies as Infrastructure as a Service as opposed to jumped-up virtualization," said Carl Brooks, analyst with  451 Research based in Boston. 

"The Savvis management portal right now boils down to being able to look at a bill and file helpdesk tickets," Brooks added. "Compare that to what Amazon or Rackspace does."

Owning the source code to the automation layer will be key to CenturyLink's future cloud development as well, according to John Treadway, senior vice president at the consultancy Cloud Technology Partners in Boston.

"It's very difficult to have full control over your roadmap when you're waiting for a vendor to provide support for something everyone else can do by just coding it in Python," Treadway said.

Tier 3 acquisition to yield customizable PaaS

Tier 3 will offer IaaS capabilities CenturyLink can't currently offer, but one of the strongest elements of the new CenturyLink entity will be its intellectual property around Platform as a Service (PaaS).

The Blueprint orchestration layer will come in handy here as well, according to Andrew Higginbotham, CenturyLink's senior vice president of cloud and technology. Blueprints will be merged with AppFog, which Savvis bought in June, to create highly customizable PaaS, Higginbotham said.

*While Blueprints is an underpinning of Tier 3’s cloud services, Tier 3’s Web Fabric PaaS platform will also be integrated with AppFog.

"It may be a highly secure version, or it may be a Web-centric version, or it may even be a private dedicated version [of PaaS]," Higginbotham said.

AppFog's software development team is also already doing work around Iron Foundry, a .NET version of open-source Cloud Foundry PaaS.

Meanwhile, CenturyLink and VMware both say the acquisition will not eliminate CenturyLink's role as a vCloud Hybrid Service franchise partner -- in fact, a new vCHS data center will come online in the second quarter of 2014, according to CenturyLink officials.

Tier 3 also has a strong channel presence, as its service is re-branded by third parties such as PEER1 Hosting. These deals will continue, folded under CenturyLink's wholesale data center business.

*information added after initial publication

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.comor follow @PariseauTTon Twitter.

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