The State of Cloud Services

cloud computing

cloud computing (Photo credit: kei51)

My clients ask me all of the time how they can make money at cloud services. The fact is, for small carriers, there are a few opportunities, but the industry still has a way to go to be ready for prime time for small carriers as a revenue opportunity.

I say this because my average client only has a handful of business customers who can really benefit from using cloud services, and so the small volume they might be able to sell to them does not look like a profitable product line.

What is available today?

First, there is a very robust market in providing data storage and back-up of data. But there is only money to be made in this from business customers because residential customers can get mountains of free web storage if they look around. It’s possible for a residential customer to easily store a terabit or more of data for free.

But businesses don’t want to, and probably should not use cheap or free web storage. There are already horror stories of web storage services that have shut down and that have left people without access to the data they have stored in the cloud. So a business needs to store their data where they know they will always have access to it. This probably means storing it with a vendor that has multiple data centers so that there is a duplicate backup copy of everything to avoid the issue of natural disaster.

And it’s not hard for a small carrier to get into this business themselves and to store some data in their own central office. And if their customers want a second back-up copy there are a number of reputable data centers around the country that are owned by other small carriers and that seem pretty secure and safe. There is even a little money to be made to be the middle man and in sending all of the data to somebody else for your customers.

The other thing that is widely available today as a cloud service is IP Centrex. There are a number of national companies that will sell this service to anybody that has a fast enough data connection.

But one of the catches to this service is that these nationwide sellers do not offer phone numbers everywhere. This means that when they go to sell in rural areas they probably do not have the ability to do number porting to let the customers keep their local numbers. This is a big deal for businesses. We have always assumed that the nationwide sellers work through some other nationwide CLEC to terminate traffic, and those CLECS, like a Level3 have gained the ability to do number portability in RBOC areas, but for the most part they do not have those agreements in place for the rural areas.

But number portability aside, it is possible for anybody to resell the IP Centrex services. If you are competing in a neighboring larger town you could offer these services in the cloud as a reseller of one of the nationwide carriers. The margins are not nearly as good as if you offered this on your own switch, but they are okay.

Finally, the real promise of cloud services is that it could offer the software a business uses everywhere on any device. These are huge advantages to large companies having this ability and many of them have migrated their software to the cloud. But they have done so with a lot of effort. Most companies operate a unique set of programs. While a business may use the standard nationwide software like Microsoft Office or Quickbooks, most companies also run a number of unique and homegrown programs. The real challenge for a company that wants to take its software to the cloud is not getting the big name software to the cloud – because most of that software now has the option of cloud licenses. The issue is in moving all of the home-grown and one-off software that a company uses. As I mentioned yesterday, many companies still operate some PCs with Windows XP. It’s not as automatic to move older legacy systems to the cloud as you would hope and it takes some effort and trial and error to get some things to work in a cloud environment.

And there is no profitable product out there yet for the small carrier who wants to offer cloud software to customers. There are bits and pieces, but no easy platform that just lets you sweep your business customers into the cloud. This is probably coming, but it is not here yet.

So in summary, other than data storage and IP Centrex, there are not a lot of viable, money-making ways for a small provider to make money yet on cloud services. But I think the day when you can is fast approaching. There are bits and pieces already available for offering cloud-based software and the options are growing all of the time.

So, You Want to Get Into the Data Center Business?

Data Center

Today’s guest blogger is Mike Fox. He was one of the founders of CCG and we still work together on a number of projects. He is working today for Fox Management Advisors.

Cloud computing, business disaster recovery and continuity, off-site data storage, co-location, managed services, mirror site operations, data warehousing ….. what does it all mean, and, more importantly, how can you get some of this business?

On the surface, data centers are closely related to telco operations – high capital costs, spiky investment, technology driven, and (hopefully) good long-term investments.  Furthermore, telephone companies are natural partners (or owners) of data center operations due to the requirement for robust (and redundant) bandwidth connectivity (preferably fiber based).  Site security is also a critical factor; something telcos are well acquainted with and can naturally support.  However, given the fast-moving nature of both businesses (telecommunications and data centers), there are several key aspects that must be considered.

Location, Location, Location

As with real estate, one of the most critical factors when considering whether or not to invest in or build a data center is location.  In addition to other issues, location impacts costs (e.g., power costs – which are one of the primary cost elements), vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters, access to qualified technical personnel and your sales opportunities.  Some of the key location-based factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Cost and availability of real estate – is there sufficient open space for expansion
  • “Green” attributes – availability of green power and other low sulfur emission power sources
  • Cheap and abundant power from multiple sources
  • Climate – e.g., climate can affect HVAC cooling costs and design
  • Available education resources – colleges, universities and technical training
  • Access to redundant sources of broadband facilities – especially fiber optics
  • Local/State income tax rates – including any ‘incentives’ available for tech-based companies

Locating a data center near or in conjunction with a telephone company can be advantageous from the perspective of securing an anchor client (telcos house and store a lot of data), proximity to superior broadband connectivity, and access to technical expertise (e.g., it is not too far of a leap for telco IP technicians to be trained to be able to handle many of the technical needs of a data center).

Access to sufficiently trained technical personnel is very important.  While telco technicians have many of the same skill sets necessary to meet the needs of data center operations, it is likely that you will need more highly trained and certified employees than are necessary for traditional telco operations.  Therefore, locating close to colleges, universities and technical training centers, while not a requirement, can be a great advantage.  That said, I am personally aware of several data center operations that are several hundred miles from such educational facilities.  These operations were able to attract very qualified people due to their unique location – e.g., sometimes people would prefer to NOT live in the big city!

Not being located in the ‘big city’ is also positive from the perspective of site vulnerability.  Assuming you have sufficient broadband and power availability (again, redundant feeds, if possible), then locating in rural areas is very attractive for companies wishing to house their data in secure locations with very low risk profiles from both man-made (e.g., terrorism) and natural (e.g., hurricanes) disasters.  Coincidentally, most rural telcos are NOT in high risk areas; particularly with respect to terrorism and other man-made disasters.

The cost of power is also very location dependent.  In many rural states (e.g., Wyoming, where I reside), the cost of power is below the national average (often way below).  For example, the cost of power in Wyoming is consistently below $0.04 / Kwh (again, depending upon the exact location), which is less than half the national average of over $0.11 / Kwh.  Furthermore, availability of power is a location-based factor – is your location subject to issues such as rolling brownouts, which are common in some of our country’s more populated locations?

Know Your Business; Know Your Market

Like many technology-based businesses, the data center business is rapidly evolving.  What might have been a great business model a year ago, may have no legs today.  Rates, services, packages, bundles and even target customers are changing daily.  However, there is no doubt that in one form or another data storage, remote site availability, business disaster recovery and ‘cloud computing’ (the meaning of which is also evolving daily) will be viable products for years to come.  The key is to know where to start and how to focus effectively to meet your customers’ needs for many years to come.  It’s not necessarily ‘rocket science’ but it’s also not child’s play.  As such, we are prepared to assist with the evaluation of these and many other similar opportunities and, if it looks positive, help you launch or expand existing data center operations.