CenturyLink, under the leadership of CTO Aamir Hussain, is betting big on automation -- for its own business, but also for its enterprise customers that are moving more reluctantly into the world of network automation.
SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP) is mandating that its hundreds of thousands of customers move to HANA, its in-memory database and application development platform promising markedly faster processing capabilities, by 2025. But, so far, it's been slow going. According to a new survey of 377 enterprises from the Americas' SAP Users' Group, 55% had yet to purchase HANA, with three quarters of them indicating they did not see a business case that justifies the cost of doing so. Many of the survey takers were concerned about road map, upgrade and skill set issues complicating HANA adoption, which could be a three- to five-year process.
That is where CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) comes into play, with help from its partner, application automation vendor Vnomic. The pair have been working together to make the transition to HANA "as painless as possible," according to CenturyLink Senior Lead Product Manager Craig Belics.
While they've already undertaken the process with some customers, including a large chemical company, Belics says most are just at the early stages of exploring automation. They are either comfortable sticking with status quo or they see 2025 as too far ahead to worry about. He expects more action in the coming years, but isn't wasting any time getting the most visionary and forward-thinking enterprises up to speed. (See Big Data Is on CenturyLink's 'Automation' Wish List, CenturyLink Beefs Up SAP Support and CenturyLink Upgrades Integrated Managed SAP Solution.)
"This is why, as a service provider, we want to get ahead of them and say, 'the date is looming -- what is your plan? Do you want to go cloud first or hybrid on premises, and we can handle non-production workloads?' There are efficiencies to gain when you put it side by side and show them what you have to buy on premises along with the network pieces."
CenturyLink provides the cloud angle and leans on Vnomic to do the heavy lifting. Vnomic was formed in 2009 when clouds were just becoming real and the converged infrastructure model was just taking shape, says CEO Allen Bannon. The genesis of the company is to help enterprises manage the complexity inherent in offering services such as Share Point or Microsoft Exchange that include infrastructure, the application layer, security, governance and compliance. Vnomic automates these workloads and bakes the intelligence in so that the infrastructure is automatically set up the right way.
Bannon says working with Vnomic can take the transition to HANA from years to months, and having a telco like CenturyLink involved simplifies secure network connectivity and management.
"Today when enterprises want to deploy SAP on HANA, they have to have all the components, work across all the different teams -- network, applications, security, virtualization teams -- and make sure the resulting app meets the performance and scalability requirements of customers," Bannon says. "Then, additionally, they have to make sure it meets the policies the customer has, which results in 100,000 ways to make an error if this is not automated."
Bannon says that Vnomic's technology takes five years of best practices from SAP, Cisco, NetApps Storage, Azure and F5 and puts it into its own expert system. Enterprise customers only need to select the app they're looking for and customize options like if they want it to be in production or have high availability, then Vnomic automatically matches it with the infrastructure it needs and lets the customers add policies around security, governance, compliance and pricing and select where they want it deployed -- in CenturyLink's cloud, Azure, on premises or in converged infrastructure. Bannon says it allows enterprises to remove the human element.
"For a typical SAP system, you need to have an SAP expert, a HANA deployment expert, network expert, storage expert, a virtualization expert, compute layer expert, security expert, and a governance and stability expert," he adds. "All of those resources and knowledge are encoded into Vnomic."
As to whether this also allows enterprises to eliminate jobs -- an oft-cited concern with automation -- Bannon used the also oft-cited defense that automation "frees up resources to focus on more value-added solutions," allowing enterprises to move its employees from mundane jobs to higher-level business functions. For the enterprise CIOs, that also means relieving them of some 20,000 of the 50,000 decisions they have to make each day, he says. (See The Automation Taboo: Let's Talk About Jobs.)
While 2025 may seem far away today, Vnomic and CenturyLink want their enterprise customers to know it's looming and automation is the only way forward. It's a message that's starting to resonate, they say. For CenturyLink, it's also still a matter of raising awareness for the fact that it'll be the second-largest telco in the world behind AT&T once its Level 3 merger closes. Belics says enterprises need to understand that it can be the one-stop shop for all of their IT needs, including consulting, networking and cloud services. (See CenturyLink CTO on Transformation and What 'Agile' Looks Like at CenturyLink.)
"The further we get our name out there, the more customers come knocking on our door," he says. "We're not fishing anymore, but they're asking us about it instead of default being AWS. CenturyLink is now becoming a key player in the space. We're turning this corner now."
— Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms