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A Watershed Event for Cloud:  Managed Services On Demand

We are in the business of solving real problems. That’s what our customers expect.  And today, we are announcing a new managed service that does just that.  Today we are introducing a cloud-based managed services offering that will help corporate managers minimize costs, complexity and risk while increasing agility and freeing budget for capabilities that transform the business and create competitive differentiation.  At CenturyLink, we believe that one of the most significant measures of problem solving is doing what we do best – managing the infrastructure that underpins the critical business initiatives of our clients and infusing that management with the automation and economics of our cloud platform.  Combined, those two elements deliver a value that no other provider can compete with today.  Infrastructure and people to run that infrastructure on-demand, paid for by the hour. Simply put, we are making cloud easier to manage for our customers.

We all know that Cloud is crossing a threshold into a new level of enterprise adoption possibilities. Enterprises now consider the cloud to be a basic necessity; a core element of their IT portfolios.  The challenge, however, is that most cloud platforms still operate on the do-it-yourself basis as cloud providers have mostly catered to early innovators. If your business outsourced your infrastructure to the cloud, you saved on hardware and facilities but you still had to piece together a set of people and services to manage the stack.  The simple management approach to cloud services has been missing.

Building the ecosystem that delivers both infrastructure and management on demand is a significant investment for any provider.  Perhaps that is why we are alone among our peers with this capability.  But it’s the right thing to do for our business clients and one of the most substantial developments I have seen in the market when it comes to realizing value from the cloud. I am proud to be part of CenturyLink’s transformation of enterprise cloud computing with an optimized experience that brings cloud together with expert managed services. It’s a game changer for the cloud, our business and our customers.

Cloud-based managed services represent a natural evolution of our cloud hosting business.  CenturyLink has offered managed hosting for years to some of the biggest companies in the world. With this service, we’re extending that heritage to offer managed applications in an on-demand model on our flagship platform, CenturyLink Cloud. Our industry-leading managed services are now married with our innovative cloud platform to create a self-service user experience that is consumed on an hourly basis. 

One-click access to managed services delivers our expert management resources in a new way, providing our customers with extraordinary flexibility. When you request a virtual machine (VM) with an operating system (OS) and apps, you’re getting substantially more than an OS image on a VM. You’re getting the full support of the CenturyLink organization. You just check a box when you’re setting up a VM and we’ll manage it for you - patch management, licensing, 24/7 active support or configuration.  Businesses can now choose to consume managed OS and applications – web servers, middleware, directory services and database applications – with the ease of a cloud utility and pay-by-the hour billing.

One of the great things about being part of an organization as large and capable as CenturyLink is the opportunity to craft a plan and then have the resources to follow it through to execution. We’ve been able to infuse our self-service/innovator roots from the Tier 3 acquisition with the “white glove” service standard of the previously named Savvis business unit. It’s an incredible match. We understand that there isn’t exactly a shortage of cloud providers in the market today. Yet, few can deliver fully managed Windows and Linux stacks in a public cloud as well as a hybrid cloud delivery model, which includes a mix of both virtualized and non-virtualized infrastructure. CenturyLink offer this breadth of capability along with the network to transport application workloads via an application-aware network.

This is a watershed moment for both the cloud as an industry and for CenturyLink as a company. It’s an exciting moment to be involved with taking cloud services to the next level. Free your people resources, expedite your capabilities and let CenturyLink do the heavy lifting on managing the infrastructure that you use every day to achieve the vision and promise of your organization. Visit our Managed Services page to see how CenturyLink can help your business become more agile in the cloud. 

 

8 Managed Services, Remastered for Public Cloud

Today, we announce a new way to consume managed services - a cloud-friendly way.

This is exciting news for us, given CenturyLink’s expertise in both cloud and managed services.  Our CTO Jared Wray posted his thoughts here on what this news means for our company and the industry.

Let’s look into the details of these powerful new cloud-based managed services.  The heart of our value proposition to customers is two-fold:

  • Automation, front-and-center.  We’ve automated best practices for the configuration, monitoring, and ongoing administration of 8 managed services.  The provisioning of each service is also automated, via our Blueprints orchestration engine.
  • Humans, when you need them.  Of course, humans play a key role in uptime and performance of managed environments.  But our managed services involve them intelligently, with proactive notifications.  These alerts indicate that a decision, or perhaps a manual action, is required.  That means our team is engaged, and hands-on with your environment whenever it’s needed, 24x7.

Both of these principles are hallmarks of public clouds – automation to the Nth degree, with humans jumping in only when needed.  This approach yields self-service, hourly billing, and scale.  All three are big wins for customers.

Here’s what is available on CenturyLink Cloud, effective June 30.  8 managed services: 2 operating systems and 6 applications, including:

  1. Microsoft Windows Server, both 2008 and 2012
  2. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5
  3. Active Directory
  4. Apache HTTP Server
  5. Microsoft IIS
  6. MS SQL
  7. MySQL
  8. Tomcat

The new services will be available in our Santa Clara and Sterling data centers, with additional sites online in the coming months.

Here’s what customers get

CenturyLink has set an “enterprise-class” standard for services rendered, and that tradition continues in cloud.  These offerings allow customers to run websites, database apps, and identity management systems in the CenturyLink Cloud – with peak uptime and increased security.

Our automation (and engineers) will perform:

  • Licensing
  • Installation
  • Configuration
  • Administration
  • Monitoring
  • Maintenance (patching, hotfixes, change management)
  • 24x7 Support

Further, managed services are a “first-class citizen” in the platform. Users can interact with managed environments just like any other instance in CenturyLink Cloud.  Managed and unmanaged servers can be on the same network.  Users can provision managed services on Hyperscale, apply autoscale policies, and run Blueprints.

This initial breadth of services – and the depth of management performed for each one – offers customers substantial flexibility when it comes to allocating their internal human capital.  Increasingly, we see enterprises looking to outside experts to keep their critical “run the business” systems online.  This set of services is just that, married up with the best elements of the cloud model.

As we say a lot here – we’re just getting started with managed services in cloud.  Look for more updates from us in the coming months.  In the meantime, contact us so we can discuss your managed services needs.

 

June Software Update Brings Bandwidth Price Drop and More

Last month CenturyLink Cloud announced some major pricing changes that took effect instantly for many customers. The adjustment to public  bandwidth pricing –  from a 95/5 billing model to $0.05 per GB transferred outbound – took effect on June 1st and gives our customers one of the lowest entry-level bandwidth prices in the cloud. 

Our latest monthly platform release reflects this bandwidth change in a few places. Bandwidth graphFirst, the bandwidth graph on the CenturyLink Cloud dashboard now shows you how much data has been transferred over public IPs. And because we’ve moved to a simpler bandwidth calculation, your real-time consumption is now rolled into our ever-present cost widget. This helps customers see their costs as they happen versus waiting until invoice time to see how the bandwidth charges were calculated for the month. Customers will also see their bandwidth consumption clearly called out on the monthly invoice. Pricing and consumption transparency is key as you assess your spend and make on the fly adjustments based on forecast usage. For more on our bandwidth update, take a look at the FAQ in our Knowledge Base.

We also introduced some major changes to the “create server” process in the CenturyLink Cloud. The new experience is fast, clean, and powerful. Let’s look at the major components.

      Create Server Page    
         
  1. Cost. Transparency matters! Even though virtually no other cloud provider lets you see cost estimates at the time of server creation, we think it’s important to show this. As you choose Operating System and your server specifications, we dynamically update the projected monthly cost so that you can make informed decisions.
  2.      
  3. Group Designation. How can you manage cloud resources at scale if you’re stuck scrolling through a flat list of servers? An enterprise cloud portfolio is made up of diverse departments, projects, and teams, and we’ve made it easy to choose which Group to put your new server into.
  4.      
  5. Resource Allocation. Not every workload is a fit for fixed server instance sizes, and our customers like being able to build machines with any amount of CPU, memory, and persistent storage. Additionally, users can attach a CPU Autoscale policy to a new server.
  6.      
  7. Storage Backup Level. Not only does CenturyLink Cloud provide persistent volumes by default, but we also bake in image-level backups for each virtual machine. In the previous “create server” experience, users had a choice between “standard” or “premium” storage, but it wasn’t obvious what those choices meant. In this new interface, we identify “standard” and “premium” as the backup level and clearly describe what’s included in each choice.
  8.      
  9. Time to Live. Server sprawl is a security, management, and billing nightmare. Servers are easy to set up, but easy to forget. The CenturyLink Cloud “create server” actively tries to combat this by asking the user whether they’d like us to delete their server at a future date.
  10.      

For even more on all the features in this release, check out our latest Release Notes.

CenturyLink Recognized as a “Visionary” in the Gartner Cloud IaaS MQ

Plus 5 Observations on the Market Landscape

Last year, we opined that the cloud market, based on our read of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service, had grown up.  If 2013 was the year of maturity, 2014 is the year the market hit the gas.

Download the Magic Quadrant reprint here, and take a look at the findings for yourself.  You’ll notice that most vendors are lower and to the left than they were a short 9 months ago when the last MQ was published. This market raises the bar at a rapid pace – and only a handful of companies have been able to improve their standing by adding new features and new customers.

Per usual, the cloud team at Gartner doesn’t take vendors at their word, but instead dives into each vendor’s product portfolio, while conducting countless customer interviews.  Their findings on CenturyLink?

    “[CenturyLink Cloud] combines an excellent, differentiated set of features on a well-engineered platform with an easy-to-use self-service portal. It is one of the few services with both cloud-native capabilities that are attractive to developers and the governance and management features needed by large enterprises.”1

This is a brilliant summary of our platform.  Further, it reflects our slogan of “IT-Ready, Developer-Friendly.”  Delivering a platform that delights both constituencies is our core focus.

What about the future?

    “CenturyLink…has a competitive feature set for self-service, and successfully blends the self-service and managed services models across a hybrid solution portfolio. The existing CenturyLink base of managed hosting, colocation, and network customers, provides it with cross-selling opportunities.”

With IT and developers in mind, we’re building our platform, 21 days at a time.  In the coming months, enterprises will consume managed services and other infrastructure products via the CenturyLink Cloud UI.

    “CenturyLink, has a compelling and distinctive vision of application-fluent infrastructure that spans network, compute and storage capabilities.”

This comment really stood out to us.  We talk a lot about infrastructure today, but in a few years, the conversation will go up the stack to focus more on application services – whereby the underlying infrastructure needs to be application-fluent.  As Gartner notes, this is a big part of our vision, along with Cloud Foundry and their growing ecosystem.

Here’s a few other observations of noted after reading the 2014 Gartner Cloud IaaS MQ:

  1. Consolidation - but not as much as some thought.  Most of the players have survived in tact since August 2013.  CenturyLink includes the products from Savvis and Tier 3, while IBM and SoftLayer combine.
  2. Scale and deep pockets matter.  Analysis from Jack Clark at the Register (including his article on our recent price reduction), and now the positioning on the MQ, reflects the reality that two camps have the ability to compete over the long-term: the large Internet companies with consumer businesses to subsidize their cloud build outs; and the traditional enterprise IT brands with a diverse portfolio of services.  If you don’t fall into one of these categories, your position is likely weakening.
  3. Managed services and cloud – the next wave of enterprise differentiation?  By our count, there are only 6 companies that appear on both of the most recent Cloud Infrastructure and Managed Hosting Magic Quadrants.  As enterprise adoption of cloud matures, these are likely to become attractive services as IT seeks to further outsource tactical applications, all while getting the inherent benefits of cloud computing.  But as Gartner notes, customers are not going to settle for a vanilla IaaS offering just to reap the benefits of managed services.  Vendors need to be highly competitive in both areas if they want to succeed.
  4. Convergence.  Technology is at its best when it’s invisible.  With cloud infrastructure, so much complexity is abstracted away from the user.  But it’s still too hard to manage multi-tenant workloads alongside those that have different isolation requirements.  That difficulty will go away soon.  In addition, Gartner predicts that IaaS and PaaS will overlap.  These are not the tidy product categories that many vendors talk about today; Gartner notes that customers will “decide on a trade-off between control and convenience” from a range of blended services.
  5. Customers are looking for strategic partners as their cloud spend grows.  For as quick as the market is moving, the IT spend is shifting to cloud even faster.  In fact, “Gartner’s 2013 CIO Priorities Survey indicates that 28% of CIOs expect to source all critical applications and operations via the cloud by 2016, and 55% expect to do so by 2020 (see “Hunting and Harvesting in a Digital World: The 2013 CIO Agenda)”.  This, in turn, means that most businesses are increasingly viewing vendors as a “long-term strategic partner,” instead of on a tactical “per project” basis.

Each cloud vendor has a story to tell.  We would love to hear about your plans for cloud, then discuss how we can help.

1“Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service,” Lydia Leong et al, May 28, 2014

 

Why Reliable Cloud Performance Matters

People are right to be wary of any vendor claiming to be the “top performing!” or “fastest!” cloud provider. Most folks know that ANYTHING can look spectacular – or unspectacular for that matter – if you stack the deck just right. But at the same time, cloud shoppers have a deep hunger for legitimate information on realistic performance expectations. Cloud performance has a direct impact on what you spend on compute resources, how you decide the right host for your workload, and how you choose to scale when the need arises. In this blog post, we’ll summarize some recent findings and put them in context.

With the launch of our new Hyperscale instances, we approached an independent analytics company, CloudHarmony, and asked them to conduct an extended performance test that compared CenturyLink Cloud Hyperscale servers to the very best equivalent servers offered by AWS and Rackspace. CloudHarmony is a well-respected shop that collects data from dozens of benchmarks and shares the results publicly for anyone to dissect.  After running a variety of benchmarks over a long period of time (to ensure that the test gave an accurate look over an extended window), they shared their findings with the world.

The results were positive – as we’ll talk through below – but how do reliable performance metrics help you in your cloud journey?

More Bang for the Buck

In an ideal world, you want reliable performance at a fair market price and no hidden charges. In the CloudHarmony results, we saw that our Hyperscale SSD storage provided excellent disk read performance and strong disk write performance through a variety of tests. In the results below – run against AWS c3 servers and Rackspace Performance servers – you can see that Hyperscale has a fantastic IO profile for large block sizes.

Disk Read Performance

Disk Read Performance

Why does this matter? Consider databases running on Microsoft SQL Server that often works with 64k blocks. By running this workload on Hyperscale, you get persistent storage, high performance, and no charges for IO requests or provisioned IOPS. This results in predictable costs and fewer resources needed to achieve optimal performance.

Simplified Decision Making

Choice is great, but is also a paradox. When you’re faced with dozens of server types to choose from, you find yourself selecting a “best fit” that may compromise in one area (“too much RAM!”) in order to get another (“need 8 CPUs”). In CenturyLink Cloud, we have two classes of servers (Standard and Hyperscale) and both have shown to have reliable performance. Pick whatever amount of CPU or memory that makes sense – which is of course how traditional servers have always been purchased.

Choose Your Own VM Size

If built-in data redundancy doesn’t matter, but reliable, high performance does, choose Hyperscale. Need strong, consistent performance but want daily storage snapshots and a SAN backbone? Use Standard servers. Straightforward choices means that you spend less time navigating a gauntlet of server types and more time deploying killer applications.

Predictable Performance & Scaling

Valid performance testing results can help you understand how best to scale an application. Should I add more capacity to this VM, or does it make sense to add more VMs to the environment? That’s a hard question to answer without understanding how the platform reacts to capacity changes,. The CloudHarmony results not only showed that the CenturyLink Cloud Hyperscale CPU performed better than the others in the “Performance Summary Metric” that compared cloud servers to a bare metal reference system, but also showed that performance improved as CPU cores were added. That’s obviously not shocking, but it’s good to see that performance change was relatively linear.

CPU Performance

How does this information help you maximize your cloud portfolio? If you know that you can add resources to a running VM *before* scaling out to new hardware, that can simplify your infrastructure and lower your costs. Scaling out is fantastic cloud pattern, but it doesn’t always have to be the first response. You can trust that Hyperscale scales out *and* up well, and you can plan your scaling events accordingly.

Summary

Performance metrics are only a snapshot in time. The individual results may change from month to month or year to year, but a reliable performance profile means that you can minimize costs, make decisions faster, and make predictable choices.

Want to read this CloudHarmony report in full? Simply get it here and see all the details about this thorough analysis. Price out a Hyperscale server for yourself, and sign up to take the platform for a spin!