“Security is a challenge for every cloud provider,” says Alex Rodriguez, VP of Systems Engineering and Product Development for Pittsburgh-based communications and cloud service provider Expedient Communications. “You are asking clients to trust you with their critical applications and data.”
Expedient builds that trust by consistently delivering services that meet customers’ most demanding SLAs, he says during an interview at theCube (full video below). And it adheres to a list of security and privacy regulations from PCI to HIPAA for all its clients, including those that are not in the regulated industries. While most regulated companies face one audit a year, “we have three auditors a week in asking questions”, so its compliance is constantly checked and verified.
Cloud services, Rodriguez says, is largely an efficiency game. “Customers come to us every day saying, ‘Our budgets are shrinking but IT is growing 15% a year, and storage in particular is growing. How do we cope with this?’ We deliver the service our customers need at the price they need by focusing on key areas that we can support across many customers to get huge economies of scale.”
How huge? Expendient runs eight data centers in five states from Ohio to Massachusetts with a total of 200,000 square feet of floor space. It builds a new facility every 18 months and a 5,000 square foot expansion of existing facilities every 6-12 months.
One way it achieves that efficiency is by standardizing its infrastructure, in Expedient’s case on Dell servers and storage. On the storage side it has standardized on Dell/EqualLogic for backbone storage and Dell/Compellent for special services. “Every customer comes in saying it likes this or that vendor, this or that application. We have to pull that apart and tell them that we will guarantee SLAs based on this many IOPS, and they should not worry about how we provide that service.”
It also standardizes its security technologies, using Intel Trusted Execution Technology to protect against malware, for instance, and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to encrypt all data going in and out of its data centers.
IOPS is another issue that requires customer education. “Every customer knows how much storage they need,” he says. “What they don’t understand is how many IOPS they need. Customers will ask, ‘Why does our storage cost so much? We can buy that many Tbytes of storage for much less.’ But what they don’t understand is that that low-cost storage won’t give them the IOPS they need.”
To provide that, Expedient is building a combined flash and disk storage backbone and is virtualizing its environment on VMware to allow it to provide the service level the customer needs at the lowest possible price. And it is open to adopting practices of other providers, including those it has acquired over time, when they are better than its own.
Expedient chose VMware in part because that is the hypervisor of choice in its client base. This is particularly important for supporting hybrid environments, which are becoming increasingly popular. Some customers want to move virtualized applications and data completely out of their data centers. Others want the ability to burst core virtualized applications onto Expedient’s cloud during high demand periods. Having the same hypervisor as its clients makes that kind of close integration much easier.
Expedient’s communications capabilities put it in a particularly good position to support hybrid environments. In several of its markets it is a competitive data communications provider, selling services ranging from T1s to 10 Gig/sec connections. Services provided between locations on a 10 Gig circuit, he says, “look like they are on the client’s local LAN. That lets customers shift workloads around from location to location easily.”