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Automation in a Multi-Cloud World

Note: This is a transcript from a conversation with Ciena Blue Planet in fall 2019; it has been edited for clarity. To listen to the recorded podcast, press play below.

Beau Allen (Host): Welcome to the Ciena network insights podcast. I'm your host, Beau Allen, and today we'll be diving into cloud networking and specifically the challenges that enterprises face with today's increasingly hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Gartner forecasts that the worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 17% in 2019 to a total of $214 billion. So the cloud is clearly at the forefront of enterprise digital transformation strategies, and the foundation of this transformation is direct connectivity to both public and private clouds. We're going to discuss the impact of today's cloud-first era on data centers and some of the trends on the horizon related to enterprise migration to the cloud. Joining me today, we have Matt Senderhauf, director of product management at CoreSite, one of our Blue Planet customers. Thanks, Matt, for joining us. Why don't you tell us about yourself and CoreSite?

Matt Senderhauf (CoreSite): Thanks, Beau. It's a pleasure to be here to talk about CoreSite and the partnership we have with Ciena Blue Planet. At CoreSite, we own and operate 23 data centers across eight markets in the U.S. We have three additional data centers that are actively under construction with a number of expansions in some of our existing facilities. As demand for data centers continues to grow, we're investing to stay ahead of that demand. The markets that we are located in are highly interconnected; we can reach more than 75% of U.S. businesses within five milliseconds. And we value our rich ecosystem of networks, enterprises and cloud service providers within our facilities.

In my role at CoreSite, I manage all of our interconnection products, specifically a number of products that relate to the Ciena Blue Planet partnership; our Open Cloud Exchange, which is an automated, Layer 2 Ethernet exchange for connectivity into public cloud providers. We also leverage it as an SDN platform to connect all our facilities in markets across the U.S. for connectivity between our customers.

Host: That's great, Matt, thanks for joining us today. We also have Kailem Anderson of Blue Planet, which is a division of Ciena. Kailem is a returning guest to our podcast. Kailem and I spoke this time last year about the future of artificial intelligence in networks. Kailem, can you remind us a little bit about your role, how Blue Planet fits in and supports data centers in the cloud?

Kailem Anderson (Ciena Blue Planet): Happy to be on the podcast again. My responsibilities at Ciena Blue Planet include leading the portfolio and engineering organization. Essentially, anything to do with the Blue Planet software business associated with our investments, roadmap, R&D strategy, and where we're steering the portfolio, sits under my responsibility. How does Blue Planet support data centers and clouds today? Well, data centers are one of the multiple domains that use Blue Planet for automation.

Data center providers, such as CoreSite, automate access from primarily enterprise customers to multiple clouds; this translates into better speeds and control for customers, more responsiveness and overall better customer experience. Automation has become a requirement. Data from the cloud can't be manually manipulated, controlled and operated; customers expect a seamless experience. In this world of instant gratification, where on-demand services are the norm, a seamless way data center interconnect providers can interact with their customers and cloud providers are critical.

Host: That's great. Thanks, Kailem. Thanks, Matt, for the intros. Let's get started, guys. Why don't we start by talking about the current industry landscape, and Matt, can we start with you? There is so much data moving to the cloud; it's a megatrend. It's certainly had an impact on data center companies like CoreSite. Can you discuss some of the current challenges that are driving companies to turn to the cloud?

MS: I appreciate this question. I think that there are several misconceptions about the movement to public cloud providers consuming colocation business, and that's not the case. They are complementary to each other. As skyrocketing data demands for video, IoT, 5G and AI, other services are putting pressure on companies to become more agile and improve performance while generating revenue and cost savings. As that pressure continues to come down, the public cloud should be considered as a tool for IT departments as they face these challenges.

Leaders are looking for flexible solutions to accelerate application development and deployment, stabilize mission-critical operations, reduce the cost of storage and compute and deliver content and communication across the world. As IT leaders look to modernize their IT environments and help their organizations transition to this model, they're increasingly looking at a hybrid-cloud and a multi-cloud approach as their next major advancements.

Host: Maybe we can dig into that a little bit because you just mentioned hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud. What makes an enterprise go toward a hybrid-cloud or especially a multi-cloud approach? Whenever you're talking about the available options, one of the questions I have is if a company starts with one cloud provider, why not just stick with what works? What are the trends? Whether it's public versus private or different cloud providers, what makes a company make these choices that end up in this multi-cloud, hybrid-cloud environment?

MS: We see the vast majority of customers taking on a hybrid cloud architecture as they try to balance the cost, the time to market and the quickly changing landscape of their business. In addition to that, I've seen stats showing, on average, businesses are consuming five different cloud providers at any given time. That speaks to the multi-cloud approach. But with that, there are very few medium- to large-size enterprises that can rely solely on that public cloud approach due to challenges with security, latency and performance.

When we talk about hybrid cloud architecture, there's no better place to execute that plan and retain future options than a colocation data center with a very strong cloud and managed services ecosystem. At CoreSite, we put in a significant effort early on to make sure that we were partnering with public cloud providers because we saw an opportunity. We saw there was going to be a demand for those use cases, and cloud providers don'tallow individual companies to connect directly into their compute nodes where all this processing takes place. Public cloud providers put on-ramps into different colocation facilities across the U.S. and the world. Within the U.S. are only a couple of colocation providers, CoreSite is one, that cloud providers have chosen to put these on-ramps into their compute nodes. Being colocated within a facility where you have the option to maintain your private cloud and get direct, dedicated, access to the public clouds is key to your business.

Host: Kailem, I can imagine that we're seeing similar dynamics on the Blue Planet side that have gotten us started down this same path from a Blue Planet support perspective.

KA: Absolutely, there are a few key points I'd highlight here. Firstly, it's clear that enterprises are moving to the cloud, and they're not just moving their apps and workloads to the cloud. They're also moving to virtualized and cloud-based services, and all of this needs to be on-demand and scale-up as customers need it, scale down as their needs change.

The second point is just like enterprises, and their cloud strategies are evaluated, service providers are doing the same. Many of them have virtualized their offerings; it's important to virtualize the network as well. An orchestrated virtualized network drives many benefits, not just for the carriers but to the end customers in terms of a better experience and flexibility in service consumption.

The third key point that I'm passionate about is automation. It is a required initiative to manage the evolution of virtualized and cloud-based architectures. It helps enterprises and service providers overcome these challenges related to operationalizing deployments. As I like to say in a virtualized, on-demand world, automation isn't an option; it's a mandate.

Host: I'm sure we'll be talking about the automation part of things quite a bit here as we get through these topics. Let's look at what's accelerating, what are the hot trends that are moving towards this either hybrid cloud or multi-cloud approach. Kailem, I know you talk to quite a few customers; can you highlight what you're hearing from customers in this area?

KA: Many of our customers need to keep up with rising trends, and things like edge compute, IoT, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and every other buzz word that you hear in every industry. They're under pressure to deliver a seamless experience to their end customers. For example, if you look at enterprises, someone like Orange Business Services, they've got to automate a lot of these new technologies to be able to deliver them consistently.

All of the use cases are relatively similar. Give me a seamless experience from how I order service via a catalog-based approach,where I can select what I want when I want, where I want with the policies that are unique to me. Then allow that service to be delivered seamlessly to my various sites. Whether that's a virtualized SD-WAN service, similar to Orange, that can consistently serve my enterprise branch offices; whether it's a data center interconnect service in the case of CoreSite where they want to stitch their customers to key cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, the experience needs to be simple, seamless and predictable.

Host: Kailem, one of the things you mentioned was edge computing. Edge compute is front and center for data centers, as more and more operations are moved to the edge. Matt, can you dig in a little bit there and tell us a more about edge compute and where it fits in with what CoreSite is doing.

MS: Edge computing is processing data as close as possible to where the data is being generated. When we look at the hybrid cloud model we discussed previously, it's a perfect example of understanding computing at the edge.

CoreSite's partnership with CSPs, and having the iron-ramps deployed within our facilities, ensure that our customers are getting as close to the edge as possible. It will give you the best possible performance as opposed to connecting over the public internet, where your traffic may be routed all over the map before it reaches its final destination, or within a colocation facility that may not have a partnership with the major cloud providers. The emergence of IoT, AI, and specifically 5G, is continuing to drive exponential data growth within data centers. Being in a colocation facility where those 5G networks are backhauling the traffic from cell sites,is going to, again, ensure the lowest latency and best performance for your business.

Host: Let's talk about one of the other items that was a hot trend: IoT. We know that's another megatrend. There's a huge number of IoT devices that are coming online already, and more are predicted to over the next five to 10 years. Kailem, can you talk about analyzing and processing in real-time. Matt just talked about low latency, and driving those workloads back into the data centers. Can you talk a little bit about that, Kailem?

KA: More devices are coming online that require connectivity to the network, including smartwatches, thermostats, appliances, drones, driverless cars. The list is endless. With more devices generating data, you have more applications that want to utilize that data and process it. More data are being created, and the enterprise needs to process that data closer to the devices themselves so that the consumer can have a real-time experience.

Centralizing that data, in many cases, just isn't an option; it needs to be processed as close to the source as possible, with minimal latency. Take a driverless car, for example. A few milliseconds of delay can be catastrophic in that scenario. Processing it, automating it, and orchestrating it all has to happen at the edge of the network; this creates an opportunity for data centers to back up and manage those large volumes of data requiring network bandwidth and capacity. And again, data centers will need automation to process this data generated by IoT more quickly and seamlessly. Automation is a mandate that brings together the need to orchestrate and coordinate with the compute, the applications, the network, the storage, all in a coordinated way that delivers a unique experience to the customer.

Host: Let's dig into that. We talked edge, we talked IoT, but automation keeps coming up in this conversation over and over. Why is it so important for data center operators today? What is the key component that automation brings?

KA: A few key points. The first one is on-demand control and access to multiple cloud providers, which rely on automation, helps accelerate service delivery, and provides the best in class customer experience.

The second point, injecting automation to make a network more agile and further using things like artificial intelligence and machine learning for intent-based policies, makes it intelligent to enable a more autonomous, unique capability ultimately.

The third point, automation has become a requirement today. Data centers for the cloud can't be manually controlled and operated. And then this brings it all together with this concept of closed-loop automation. Closed-loop automation is critical in an edge and IoT based world, taking real-time telemetry from billions of IoT devices in the world, processing that is instantaneously deriving intelligent policy decisions by artificial intelligence. Then automating off those decisions to close the loop is instantaneous, whether that's a drone delivering a parcel or a driverless car delivering a passenger to their destination. It involves significant data processing happening in real-time to make decisions that can impact people's lives.

Host: Matt, can you chime in here? When we're talking about automation, that's one of the solutions that CoreSite provides. The Open Cloud Exchange and automation and self-service can be a part of that as well. Could you maybe just talk about automation in that context?

MS: We've had the Open Cloud Exchange in place since 2013, and we were on the bleeding edge of utilizing this technology to connect into cloud service providers. A couple of years ago, we started to see the adoption of the cloud significantly pickup, and growth models started to see a hockey stick growth trend. At that time, we looked at our platform and how we're getting our customer's connectivity into clouds. We realized that we needed to build up and build a better platform for increased demand.

As we were looking at different providers, we landed on Ciena Blue Planet. It's outstanding what Blue Planet can do in terms of customers being able to log into the CoreSite customer portal, have an option of the various cloud providers to choose from, whether that be Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, or Oracle Cloud, from that single pane of glass, the customer can on-demand turn-up EVCs (virtual connections), which establishes Layer 2 connectivity into the clouds, and immediately start consuming their resources in those public clouds. That ability to manage that multi-cloud architecture in an automated fashion is what has helped set CoreSite's products apart.

Host: That takes me into the next area to talk about, which is solving challenges and the barriers that some enterprises and operators have whenever they're looking to migrate customer data into the cloud. You just talked a little bit about the self-service side, but is there anything else? I would imagine that there's a lot to manage as businesses continue to make the shift to the cloud. Matt, can you talk about the challenges when you're making a move over to the cloud?

MS: There are several challenges that IT departments are facing when looking to move into the cloud or solving via a hybrid cloud approach. As an IT department, maybe your data center is on-prem, down the hall, in a closet. As your company continues to grow and data demand continues to increase, eventually, you're going to run into space and power challenges with that closet data center. You need to be looking at moving into a colocation facility that is purpose-built for that exact reason.

Another challenge is security. There are multiple layers of security, and at CoreSite, we have 24x7x365 in-house and on-site security-qualified personnel, in addition to key card and biometric scanner access, mantrap entries, perimeter and interior IP-DVR cameras and controlled site access.

One of the biggest challenges when looking at a hybrid cloud approach is a shortage of talent within a business. For instance, maybe you need to set up BGP routing, and you may not have on staff someone that understands the intricacies of BGP and being able to choose one path versus another when setting up those peering sessions.

What CoreSite has done to help with these challenges and help customers take that first step into moving into the cloud or a hybrid cloud approach is we've rolled out our CoreSite Interconnect Gateway. It's a fully managed cabinet where we'll deploy your routers, your switches, your firewalls, any of that equipment that you need, plus the connectivity from that cabinet back to your enterprise office building. We've partnered with several managed service providers that have the expertise in BGP routing for connectivity into the clouds and managing that stack on your behalf. It's a perfect way to take that first step out of the data center closet and into a colocation facility, and we're here to help along that path.

Host: That's interesting. It seems like CoreSite is moving more and more towards providing those additional services, the services that help eliminate those barriers.

MS: We've looked at a number of our partners for help with that transition.

Host: Let's talk about that. What about looking for cloud partners? What do you think enterprises need to consider and look at when evaluating the various cloud partners that are out there for them?

MS: There are many cloud providers available. It comes down to understanding your business needs and then aligning those needs with the various products and services of cloud service providers. Once you get that list, take a look at your architecture and where and how you want to connect into the clouds. There are various ways of doing that, whether it be over the public internet or if you're going to connect to them over more a direct connect type model. There's going to be various cost models for any way that you establish those connections. Looking at the costs of your cloud providers and then the differences in the way that they charge based on how you connect into them are going to be important for an IT department to dig into.

Host: Before we wrap up, I always like to finish a podcast with a last piece of advice or a look to the future, things like that. Let's talk about any advice that each of you, Matt and Kailem, would have on how to stay innovative and at the forefront where you're not lagging during the migration to the cloud and just managing that cloud migration, whether it's hybrid or mostly cloud approach. Matt, let's start with you.

MS: As business leaders, we're all out here trying to drive revenue and cost savings for our businesses. Understanding your underlying architecture, the variety of options out there to consume public cloud resources and the costs associated with those options will improve your business agility and flexibility. At CoreSite, we believe we offer the best in class options for your hybrid cloud model to help protect your security and cost-effectively improve performance. We do look forward to helping customers along their cloud journey.

Host: That sounds great. Kailem, any thoughts or advice from your side?

KA: Absolutely, and I'll keep it short and sweet with one simple statement. Automation. Data center operators should leverage automation. Let me rephrase that. Data center operators need to live reach automation to enable self-service capabilities for enterprises to collect multiple cloud providers. It's a mandate. It's needed. It drives the right customer experience. So automation, automation, automation is my mantra.

Host: Thank you, Kailem and Matt, for joining us today. It was a great conversation. I appreciate your insights. And for our listeners, you can subscribe to our Ciena Insights podcast on iTunes and also now available on Android using the radio public podcast app, or find them all on our website on

Matt Senderhauf | Vice President, Interconnection Strategy
Matt is VP of Interconnection Strategy at CoreSite and has more than 11 years of data center and telecommunications industry experience.