If you’re an investment banker or a vendor, and you’ve asked me in the last year, “Who should we buy?”, I’ve often pointed at enStratius (bought by Dell), ServiceMesh (bought by CSC last week), and Tier 3.
So now I’m three for three, because CenturyLink just bought Tier 3, continuing its acquisition activity. CenturyLink is a US-based carrier (pushed to prominence when they acquired Qwest in 2011). They got into the hosting business (in a meaningful way) when they bought Savvis in 2011; Savvis has long been a global leader in colocation and managed hosting. (It’s something of a pity that CenturyLink is in the midst of killing the Savvis brand, which has recently gotten a lot of press because of their partnership with VMware for vCHS, and is far better known outside the US than the CenturyLink brand, especially in the cloud and hosting space.)
Savvis has an existing cloud IaaS business and a very large number of offerings that have the “cloud” label, generally under the Symphony brand — I like to say of Savvis that they never seem to have a use case that they don’t think needs another product, rather than having a unified but flexible platform for everything.
The most significant of Savvis’s cloud offerings are Symphony VPDC (recently rebranded to Cloud Data Center), SavvisDirect, and their vCHS franchise. VPDC is a vCloud-Powered public cloud offering (although Savvis has done a more user-friendly portal than vCloud Director provides); Savvis often combines it with managed services in lightweight data center outsourcing deals. (Savvis also has private cloud offerings.) SavvisDirect is an offering developed together with CA, and is intended to be a pay-as-you-go, credit-card-based offering, targeted at small businesses (apparently intended to be competitive with AWS, but whose structure seems to illustrate a failure to grasp the appeal of cloud as opposed to just mass-market VPS).
Savvis is the first franchise partner for vCHS; back at the time of VMworld (September) they were offering indications that over the long term that they thought that vCHS would win and that Savvis only needed to build its own IaaS platform until vCHS could fully meet customer requirements. (But continuing to have their own platform is certainly necessary to hedge their bets.)
Now CenturyLink’s acquisition of Tier 3 seems to indicate that they’re going to more than hedge their bets. Tier 3 is an innovative small IaaS provider (with fingers in the PaaS world through a Cloud Foundry-based PaaS, and they added .NET support to Cloud Foundry as “Iron Foundry”). Their offering is vCloud-Powered public cloud IaaS, but they entirely hide vCloud Director under their own tooling (and it doesn’t seem vCloud-ish from either the front-end or the implementation of the back-end), and they have a pile of interesting additional capabilities built into their platform. They’ve made a hypervisor-neutral push, as well They’ve got a nice blend between capabilities that appeal to the traditional enterprise, and forward-looking capabilities that appeal to a DevOps orientation. Tier 3 has some blue-chip enterprise names as customers, and it has historically scored well on Gartner evaluations, and they’re strongly liked by our enterprise clients who have evaluated them — but people have always worried about their size. (Tier 3 has made it easy to white-label the offering, which has given them more success from its partners, like Peer 1.) The acquisition by CenturyLink neatly solves that size problem.
Indeed, CenturyLink seems to have placed a strong vote of confidence in their IaaS offering, because Tier 3 is being immediately rebranded, and immediately offered as the CenturyLink Cloud. (Current outstanding quotes for Symphony VPDC will likely be requoted, and new VPDC orders are unlikely to be taken.) CenturyLink will offer existing VPDC customers a free migration to the Tier 3 cloud (since it’s vCD-to-vCD, presumably this isn’t difficult, and it represents an upgrade in capabilities for customers). CenturyLink is also immediately discontinuing selling the SavvisDirect offering (although the existing platform will continue to run for the time being); customers will be directed to purchase the Tier 3 cloud instead. (Or, I should say, the CenturyLink Cloud, since the Tier 3 brand is being killed.) CenturyLink is also doing a broad international expansion of data center locations for this cloud.
CenturyLink has been surprisingly forward-thinking to date about the way the cloud converges infrastructure capabilities (including networking) and applications, and how application development and operations changes as a result. (They bought AppFog back in June to get a PaaS offering, too.) Their vision of how these things fit together is, I think, much more interesting than either AT&T or Verizon’s (or for that matter, any other major global carrier). I expect the Tier 3 acquisition to help accelerate their development of capabilities.
Savvis’s managed and professional services combined with the Tier 3 platform should provide them some immediate advantages in the cloud-enabled managed hosting and data center outsourcing markets. It’s more competition for the likes of CSC and IBM in this space, as well as providers like Verizon Terremark and Rackspace. I think the broad scope of the CenturyLink portfolio will mesh nicely not just with existing Tier 3 capabilities, but also capabilities that Tier 3 hasn’t had the resources to be able to develop previously.
Even though I believe that the hyperscale providers are likely to have the dominant market share in cloud IaaS, there’s still a decent market opportunity for everyone else, especially when the service is combined with managed and professional services. But I believe that managed and professional services need to change with the advent of the cloud — they need to become cloud-native and in many cases, DevOps-oriented. (Gartner clients only: see my research note, “Managed Service Providers Must Adapt to the Needs of DevOps-Oriented Customers“.) Tier 3 should be a good push for CenturyLink along this path, particularly since CenturyLink will make Tier 3’s Seattle offices the center of their cloud business, and they’re retaining Jared Wray (Tier 3’s founder) as their cloud CTO.