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Five Things I Learned From Attendees at the Microsoft WPC Conference

Last week, CenturyLink Cloud attended the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX and hosted a booth where hundreds of attendees stopped by to talk about the cloud. Besides seeking what one attendee called “the best t-shirt from any conference, ever”, most people wanted to have a discussion about how the cloud could positively impact their business. With over 15,000 attendees from over 150 countries represented, this conference offered us a prime opportunity to hear about the interests and needs of a diverse audience.

Over the course of four days, I noticed a theme among the conversations I had with software vendors, Managed Service Providers, consulting companies, and even Microsoft themselves!

#1 - We’re past the “cloud 101” discussion

It appears that a vast majority of technical staff now understand the basics of the cloud value proposition. There was no “what is this cloud thing people are talkin’ about?” types of questions from any of the attendees. Rather, the questions and conversations were more nuanced as Microsoft partners were trying to figure out how they could capitalize on the cloud, and where the cloud was forcing them to change their existing set of products and services. Most people understood that the cloud brings agility, and that it may not result in an explicit cost savings. It was fun to brainstorm and debate the merits of cloud computing for specific scenarios and workloads and help people find the right uses for cloud platforms.

#2 – The market seems interested in much more than CPU cost and massive scale

Price drops and eye-popping case studies dominate the tech press, but these conference attendees were more focused on looking at the whole picture. Cheap CPUs and storage are nice, but there’s a lot more to running applications in the cloud than that. Likewise, the stories of customers running 50,000 core clusters or scaling to thousands of machines are fantastic, but those represent a small fraction of the daily workloads being run by small and large businesses. Instead, I heard again and again that organizations are looking for all-up value in a maintainable package. Many were asking about flexible provisioning options (i.e. locations, VM sizes, application services), enterprise-class management options, and a monthly bill they could understand.

The partners and users we talked wanted solutions, not just components.

#3 - The reseller market is a huge, unaddressed space

CenturyLink Cloud was at the show to tout our Reseller Edition capabilities that let customers rebrand and white label our cloud for their own needs. A handful of other cloud providers offer some type of reseller program, but few offer a comprehensive – and lucrative – set of services for offering someone else’s cloud as their own. I spoke to many software vendors who have to send their potential customers elsewhere to get temporary infrastructure to try their software. These vendors were very interested in being able to offer software AND a globally distributed set of infrastructure to run it on.

I also heard numerous consulting companies complain about the challenges of migrating the infrastructure of small customers to the cloud. They loved the idea of being able to offer “their” cloud to their customers and centrally manage and maintain modern and legacy systems – including those running Microsoft software –  using the CenturyLink Cloud platform. Managed Service Providers were also looking to complement their existing product portfolio’s with cloud services and I saw that many of them are shopping around for a partner to collaborate with.

Building clouds is hard. Many smart companies have failed doing it. However, being able to rapidly white label someone else’s world-class cloud infrastructure is compelling and I heard that over and over again at the conference.

#4 - Usability matters

Cloud providers aren’t selling services, they’re selling an experience. Just about every cloud infrastructure provider is offering the same base capability to provision virtual servers. There are differences to be sure, but most providers are selling an experience delivered through programmatic APIs, web-based management tools, professional services, and a support organization. For the self-service options like APIs and web-based tools, usability is an enormous factor in the long-term success of the customer.

The easiest way for me to get people to stop at our booth was to do a demonstration of our platform. We are still one of the only cloud providers who features our software on our company home page. Why? Because we spend a significant amount of time crafting and optimizing a user experience that helps our customers quickly and efficiently provision and manage cloud assets. Organizations are asking their existing staff to maintain more (transient) infrastructure without adding new headcount, and we think it’s important to introduce thoughtful design and usability-focused enhancements wherever possible. The WPC attendees really responded positively to time-saving CenturyLink Cloud features like Group-based server management, server environment orchestration, server scheduling, global search, simple billing, and much more.

#5 - Cloud race is FAR from over

Some have said that we’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and I agree. Cloud computing is in its infancy and while leaders are emerging, the market is constantly expanding. CenturyLink Cloud was attending a Microsoft conference where Windows Azure and Office 365 were front and center, and we STILL had hundreds of people approach us about partnering with us on their cloud efforts. That’s not an indictment of Microsoft’s cloud, but rather a fantastic example of the diversity of customer needs and the ability of cloud providers like CenturyLink Cloud to address unmet demand.  I talked to VERY few people who had a fully committed cloud strategy and found that scores of attendees had workloads spread around different clouds, or were simply trying things out.

Want to partner with a successful, globally available cloud provider that delivers a well-engineered and easy to use platform? Give CenturyLink Cloud a try!

The 8 Steps to Offer Your Own Branded Enterprise Cloud

Are you an MSP, VAR, or systems integrator? Do you want to start offering cloud services to upsell existing customers, while attracting new ones? CenturyLink Cloud is here to help. Last week, we announced a Reseller Edition of our cloud and we offer unique expertise in partnering with companies that want to quickly add cloud services to their product portfolio. In this blog post, we’ll walk through 8 quick steps to follow in order to get up and running as a cloud reseller.

1. Investigate the market and select a reseller.

We recently did a reseller-focused webcast with the folks at Talkin’ Cloud and a spot survey showed that over 75% of attendees were actively looking for a cloud partner. Clearly, a large number of telcos, SIs, and regional service providers are scouring the market and aggressively assessing whom to partner with.

If you are looking for a partner, what should you be asking each vendor? How can you ensure you are partnering with an innovative, differentiated provider that can bring you new revenue over the long-haul? Here’s a great starting point:

Does the provider have a global set of data centers?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Your customers are more global than ever, and physical locations close to users and customers matter. Also, data sovereignty regulations impact where the physical “host” servers need to be.

Can the provider support the complex infrastructure and networking needs of your managed customers?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: If not, there’s a good chance your customers won’t find your new cloud services attractive for their enterprise workloads.

How often to legacy systems need to be re-architected to fit the provider’s cloud?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Agility and immediate access to resources are key drivers to move to the cloud in the first place. But this doesn’t need to be at odds with legacy applications - even complex environments can be migrated cleanly to the cloud if you choose the right provider.

What controls do you have in place to protect data sovereignty?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Larger businesses need peace of mind to know their data is securely stored in isolation, in a physical location they can specify.

Which 3rd party products are commonly added by the provider’s customers, if any?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Add-on services can be helpful for specific scenarios, but when it comes to the core scenarios of cloud management and automation, you should look for a provider that has significant capabilities built-in. Bringing in extra modules just adds cost and complexity for you and your customers.

How does the partner manage customer accounts and billing processes?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: These back-office functions are vital when it comes to quickly monetizing the service. Sure, it’s not a sexy set of features, but it will make invoicing a breeze.

Can I rebrand the provider’s offering and make it look and feel like something from us? Does this feature cost extra?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: This is key to customer loyalty and building brand equity.

How do I make money with your cloud?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Powerful features and a highly capable global cloud platform don’t mean anything without a competitive partner program, and a spirit of partnership with your selected vendor.

How can I extend my business model of value-added services to the provider’s cloud?

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: This last question is key. How can you make sure that customers don’t just use a commodity cloud offering, eliminating your unique expertise? Among other things, CenturyLink Cloud encourages customers to differentiate on price and by offering exclusive intellectual property through Blueprints that encapsulate best practices on building highly-available, tuned application environments.

2. Evaluate CenturyLink Cloud - sign up for an account.

This one’s easy! Just visit the self-service sign up page and register for a new CenturyLink Cloud account.  Within moments, you will receive an email with temporary credentials and a link to the easy-to-use CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal.

3. Change the site aesthetics to fit your brand.

Once you’ve logged in, the first thing to do is customize the Control Portal UI to match your brand. CenturyLink Cloud offers a variety of settings that allow you to rename the interface, modify logos and shortcut icons, and alter the color scheme of the site. These superficial – but important – changes go a long way to maintaining a brand identity with your customers.

CenturyLink Cloud Portal Rebranding

4. Update the support-related hyperlinks.

Your will likely want your customers to take advantage of the support experience that you currently offer. Fortunately, you can easily override existing support links and point to your own online assets. For instance, you can change the default support email address, phone number, knowledge base URL, chat service URL, and much more.

CenturyLink Cloud Portal Rebranding

5. Update outbound email templates.

Each email that comes from the cloud platform should reflect your brand and message. To achieve this, CenturyLink Cloud added configurable settings that let you change the email addresses, signature, subject lines, and message body of the most common system alerts.

CenturyLink Cloud Portal Rebranding

6. Integrate with your existing billing, configuration management, and identity systems.

Unless you want to build a silo cloud service that doesn’t integrate with the rest of your back office systems, you’ll want to pay careful attention to this  step! To integrate your billing systems with CenturyLink Cloud, consider using our helpful Billing API that gives you access to usage estimates and monthly invoices. While you can easily access and download invoices from the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal, the Billing API gives you a way to directly integrate our cloud with your financial systems.

Many organizations have investments in change management or support systems that track assets throughout their lifecycle. How can you ensure that servers in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud are properly “tagged” and linked to a configuration management database? One useful option is to add account-level “custom fields” that are populated whenever servers are added to the CenturyLink Cloud cloud.

CenturyLink Cloud Portal Rebranding

You can access these custom field values through the CenturyLink Cloud API as well. If you chose to provision servers from within your own custom portal, you could call the Create Server API and tag the server with an identifier from your own system. This makes it simple to reconcile changes to servers in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud with the entries in your local systems.

Finally, if you offer a centralized identity directory to authenticate users of your existing platform, you may want to reuse that with the CenturyLink Cloud cloud. CenturyLink Cloud supports the SAML identity protocol for single sign-on between external identity directories and the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal. Consider SAML and SSO if you want to make it simple for customers to reuse their existing credentials to log into the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal.

7. Choose your preferred data centers.

You’re nearly ready to open the doors of your new cloud offering! In this step, assess which data centers you want customers to deploy servers into. The “Preferred Data Centers” settings let you choose which data centers show up for users who provision and manage servers.

CenturyLink Cloud Portal Rebranding

8. Establish cloud costs and promotions.

While you likely established contractual settings early on, this final step involves configuring pricing details in the platform. We offer a very competitive pricing plan that ensures that you can generate a strong recurring revenue stream while giving customers a cost-effective cloud solution. Contract terms and promotion codes are managed by CenturyLink Cloud but we work closely with you to rapidly apply pricing parameters to your account.

Summary

The cloud offers a compelling and lucrative opportunity for existing managed service providers and systems integrators. Instead of building and maintaining your own cloud, consider partnering with CenturyLink Cloud and bringing cloud services online in a matter of days or weeks!

Codenvy Cloud IDE Now Directly Supports CenturyLink Cloud Platform as a Service PaaS

Just a couple weeks ago, we looked at how Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) helps developers rapidly build and deploy applications to the cloud. We also covered a new breed of cloud-based development environments (IDE) that developers can use to create and publish their web applications. Since then, the cloud-based IDE we featured – called Codenvy – has updated their product to support the CenturyLink Cloud Platform as a Service. In this post, we’ll walk through how to quickly and easily deploy and manage Platform as a Service applications from your web browser.

To start with, when users of Codenvy start a new web application project, they are asked which technology they want to use, and then which PaaS to deploy to. At this moment, the CenturyLink Cloud Platform as a Service is available for Java Web Application (WAR), Java Spring, and Ruby on Rails projects. Note that Platform as a Service works with more environments than these three, but these are the technologies supported via Codenvy.

Codenvy Cloud IDE

Once the user chooses the technology and corresponding PaaS, they choose a simple project template (if one exists for that technology), and are then asked for the management API endpoint of the Platform as a Service environment.

Codenvy Cloud IDE

The project framework is then created, and the user is prompted for their Platform as a Service credentials. After providing a valid username and password, the application is deployed and Internet-accessible. All of this in matter of seconds! To update the application, developers visit the PaaS menu option and choose CenturyLink Cloud Platform as a Service.

Codenvy Cloud IDE

From the subsequent window, developers can modify the name, URL, and memory allocation of the application. Additionally, the application can be started, stopped, deleted, and updated. It’s also possible to add Platform as a Service application services – such as RabbitMQ for messaging or Microsoft SQL Server for relational database storage – to a project.

Codenvy Cloud IDE

Codenvy can also be used as a simple management interface for any applications running in Platform as a Service. This can come in handy if you’re on a shared machine without the typical Cloud Foundry management tools available!

Codenvy Cloud IDE

This interface shows you each application running in your Platform as a Service environment, and lets you start, stop, restart, or delete it.

Codenvy Cloud IDE

Summary

We’re excited to be a supported part of the innovative Codenvy platform and think that this lowers the barrier to entry for our customers while making it simpler for developers to build amazing applications in any language of their choice. Want to try it out? Sign up for a free Codenvy account and then take Platform as a Service for a spin!

Enterprise Cloud Monitoring, Made Simple

In the coming months, CenturyLink Cloud will launch new, enterprise monitoring capabilities, powered by ScienceLogic and New Relic.  We wrote a guest blog post for ScienceLogic, describing our approach to monitoring, check it out here.

Resellers, MSPs, and SIs: The Private Label Cloud Services Opportunity

The shift to cloud services is, in part, about empowering business users to manage more of their own IT needs themselves. To wit, traditional infrastructure service providers are rapidly introducing self-service, elastic capabilities to meet market demand. Enterprises can deliver on their “IT-as-a-Service” roadmap with a branded cloud administrative portal – complete with rapid provisioning – that matches corporate guidelines.

Solving this scenario has been a roadmap priority for CenturyLink Cloud. So we are pleased to announce new functionality today that helps resellers, ISVs, and enterprise IT shops deliver a personalized version of our cloud. Leading infrastructure provider like PEER 1  have found success with our model, and so can you.

How do we deliver a personalized cloud? Five key ways: user interface rebranding, content settings, email templates, single-sign-on support, and API access. Let’s briefly look at each of these.

User interface rebranding

Easily alter the visual appearance of the Control Portal, our web-based cloud management interface. This is the easiest – although most superficial – way to rebrand our cloud as your own. We provide two collections of settings for changing the look and feel of the admin console. The Site Branding settings let you define (1) the name of the site, and (2) the graphic logo associated with your brand.

 

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Changing the site name and corresponding logo is straightforward, and you can revert to the default settings at any time.

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Another way to customize the appearance of the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal is to change the color palette used throughout the site. On the Color Scheme page, we offer a handful of default themes and let you define your own, to match corporate branding guidelines, for example.

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The page shows a preview of the selected color scheme in real-time, so you can easily fine-tune colors to your requirements.

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These changes – while cosmetic in nature – help adoption and increase engagement.

 

Content settings

Enabling configurable settings is another big enhancement we introduced today. Now, many previously hard-coded settings can be adjusted in the UI.

First up, we give users the choice of showing or hiding the page footer. This flexibility is especially helpful for those embedding the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal within a frame. Links within the footer can also be personalized.

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Cloud services involve recurring revenue, which means ongoing support is crucial. So, we let brands leverage their existing support resources and channels. For instance, users may toggle the appearance of customer support panel. If shown, users may customize which email address and phone number appear, and the URL for new support or feature requests. In addition, we enable you to specify the location of your particular knowledge base for users. Finally, you have the choice of linking to your own legal information and privacy policy.

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This combination of settings makes it possible to specify where users can go for the most important support functions. Simply contact the CenturyLink Cloud NOC to activate these settings for your account.

 

 

Email Templates

A cloud infrastructure platform must make heavy use of automation and asynchronous processing. As a result, we send many different types of notifications to customers when certain tasks have completed or events have occurred. We’ve updated our software to enable customization of the 10 different email messages that are sent out from the CenturyLink Cloud platform.

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Each of these templates supports a unique “from” email address, subject line, and message body. Many of the templates also support tokenized values in the message body so that you can provide specific data points in the email.

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These templates help our customers craft specific messages in response to platform events and ensure a consistent voice in communication to customers.

Single sign on (SSO) support

Integration with an existing identity management system is often crucial for resellers and enterprises. So instead of forcing users to create yet another set of credentials, CenturyLink Cloud wants to make it easy for your users to simply access these functions with their same credentials.

CenturyLink Cloud supports the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) v2 standard, a protocol widely used to create SSO solutions. Using SAML, your identity management system (e.g. Windows Active Directory) generates a valid SAML token that is passed to CenturyLink Cloud. We then validate that token and log the user into their Control Portal account. We’ve created a comprehensive Knowledge Base article (Using SAML for Single-Sign-On to the CenturyLink Cloud Control Portal) that demonstrates a complete walkthrough of creating a new Identity Provider and hooking it up to the CenturyLink Cloud platform.

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API access

There are plenty of cases where our customers want to interact with the CenturyLink Cloud cloud from within their own applications and portals. Thanks to our comprehensive API, it’s possible to do nearly everything in our cloud via a web service interface. Our API covers a number of critical feature areas:

  • Servers. Create, configure and delete servers. Also reboot them, create snapshots, restore snapshots, and much more.
  • Groups. Create and delete Groups of servers. Power off the servers in the group, put all servers into maintenance mode, and more.
  • Blueprints. Orchestrate your solutions by querying and deploying Blueprint templates.
  • Accounts. Create, update, suspend, and delete entire accounts.
  • Users. Query, create, update, and delete user records.
  • Billing Details. Among the first of its kind, our billing interface lets you retrieve invoices, view month-to-date charges, and see an estimate of future charges.

This API makes it simple to add CenturyLink Cloud actions into your own internal processes. For instance, you could provision users in the CenturyLink Cloud cloud whenever you onboard a new employee within a certain department. Or schedule a job that pulls CenturyLink Cloud invoices into your ERP system on the last day of every month. Provide a single page interface for developers to spin up temporary development environments. There are countless scenarios where the CenturyLink Cloud cloud can provide a backbone to services that you want to provide your customers and users.

Wrap Up

These features offer a unique opportunity for organizations to capitalize on the shift to the cloud. Have ideas on how we can make these capabilities even better? Leave a comment here or contact us if you have an idea for additional features that would make CenturyLink Cloud your choice for a private label cloud.