Verizon have been building a new cloud platform, announced on October 3 in New York, called the Verizon Cloud.

Verizon are already in the cloud business. They run the VMware-based vCloud Express and Enterprise Cloud and they provide managed clouds and private clouds to enterprises. Why does an infrastructure giant like Verizon decide to build a next-generation cloud?

The last five years of Verizon cloud

Verizon is both an American telecoms giant and a global IT services provider. It turns over billions of dollars and employs most of 200,000 people around the world (for those who do not live in a Verizon part of the globe, Verizon rhymes with horizon).

Cloud is not a new venture for Verizon. Gavan Egan, who runs the cloud business for Verizon in Europe, said “We’ve been in the cloud business for well over 5 years now. Our focus is really on enterprise cloud hence you see that’s the branding around a lot of our platforms…Verizon today offers a whole range of cloud and hybrid cloud options – public cloud, private cloud, co-location. We’ve got 15 data centers around the world where we work this kind of business off”.

Egan explained how Verizon built up its cloud business. “Verizon bought Terremark nearly three years ago. Verizon had an offering which it had deployed in data centers around the world, and which was very successful in the enterprise space. These were complemented by the acquisitions of Terremark and Cloudswitch.”

Why build a next generation cloud?

Verizon felt the use of cloud services was limited. Egan described what kind of cloud usage Verizon was seeing from its enterprise customers. “We’ve got a huge amount of experience running cloud and with the challenges that our customers had in terms of using cloud. Why have companies only put a limited set of types of application on the cloud?”

“Today, on all our cloud platforms, 50% of applications are web-facing applications. Another 40% are test-and-dev type applications”. Enterprise customers refuse to put many workloads on current public cloud offerings.

“We wanted to build a cloud that would broaden the use case for cloud so you want to put more and more on the cloud”. Egan said they also want to scale. “Cloud today solves challenges with hundreds of thousands of VMs. We set out trying to solve challenges with millions and tens of millions of VMs”.

The next generation cloud

Having decided to expand the usefulness of cloud computing for its enterprise customers, how did Verizon tackle the problem? “Two and a half years ago we started thinking ‘OK, what’s our next generation cloud?’. At that time, Terremark had always been a leader in terms of functionality in cloud and we wanted to maintain leadership capability there. ”

Along with maintaining this functionality, Egan said Verizon wanted to improve performance “With the Verizon cloud compute platform you get guaranteed performance in the cloud. We guarantee your performance, in terms of memory, in terms of storage and also in terms of network”.

Verizon also wants to improve manageability. Current cloud customers “buy cloud in bundles – I want this size bundle, that size bundle. We decided to give customers complete flexibility, in terms of the amount of compute, memory, stores they need to run the different workloads that they require”.

“We will allow you to set up your workloads on our cloud and then dial the number of IOs you need for that application. Dial up the size of the network you need for that. You dial it up and we will guarantee that you will have access to those resources for the whole time. And you know what, if you don’t need them, you just dial them back down”.

The new Verizon Cloud will target both cloud natives and the traditional IT departments where Verizon has traditionally played. “You will be able to acquire resources on this cloud using a credit card from your home computer. You will be able to contact Verizon to do different types of contract on the cloud. We really opened up in terms of flexibility and the ease of adoption in terms of the cloud platform”.

The technical stack

Egan said they could not simply ramp up capacity on their existing offerings. “We looked at VMware – who we have a very good partnership with, the Verizon cloud is fully VMware compatible – and to achieve the scale we wanted to, we had to do something different”. Everything from the hardware up is new. “We’ve worked with partners such as SeaMicro, NetApp, HGST from Western Digital. We’ve invested in driver technology around that hardware”.

Network administrators get more access using the new Verizon Cloud, because Verizon built on the work of Cloudswitch. “Cloudswitch was an important acquistion because it gave fantastic capability in software. That was really important to us in terms of how we looked at our cloud infrastructure going forward”.

What difference does CloudSwitch make? “Today most clouds are presented to customers at layer 3. This will be presented at layer 2. You will get full access to layer 2 controls, so you will be able to do your own SDN, create own subnets, and so on – really making this an extension of your own data center”.

The base of the software stack is a virtualization layer with a modified xen hypervisor at its core. Verizon are talking with partners such as Cloud Foundry and Cloudera about the PaaS layer and other technology they are likely to run.

The end of private cloud?

The Verizon Cloud goes into public beta in the next month and into GA sometime next year. If the Verizon plan to expand cloud use works, it could be the beginning of the end for private clouds. Egan thinks “the business case in terms of private cloud is going to shrink. If you look at the market for private cloud today, why do companies do it? Performance is a big thing, security is a big thing. We believe we address a lot of that with our next generation cloud”.

When an infrastructure giant gets into cloud, it not only aims to be a global leader, it plans to change the game.