C Spire is using virtualization as an engine to drive diversification to the cloud, branching out from its beginnings as a wireless provider.
The Ridgeland, Miss. service provider has been on a fast march to add diversified telecom and services offerings to the wireless connectivity that was its initial business. The company is working with nine communities in Mississippi on gigabit Internet, HD TV, and digital phone services in addition to its basic wireless offerings.
C Spire launched an array of business-to-business services in 2012, beginning with IP voice and dedicated Internet. Now, C Spire Business Solutions is getting into cloud services.
As part of its business services, C Spire opened a $23 million, 24,000-square foot data center in Starkville, Miss. in November, where it offers physical and virtual colocation, hosted Exchange and other services, disaster recovery, security, networking-as-a-service and mobile services, Tad Hamilton, C Spire VP IT Cloud Services, tells Light Reading.
The data center is certified Tier III by the Uptime Institute. C Spire's emphasis on uptime and resilience is valued highly in a market that still vividly remembers the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, C Spire spokesman Dave Miller tells Light Reading. The storm wiped out business infrastructure, and many businesses that didn't have adequate backup were hit hard.
The data center was built from the outset with high availability and uptime as design goals, with redundant power, generators and air conditioning. "If you're a business located in the Southeast, there aren't a lot of Uptime Institute certified data center choices you can make," Miller says."This whole facility was purpose-built with that in mind," he says.
Even the location of the data center was chosen with resilience in mind -- it's far enough from the coast to be sheltered from the worst weather, but close enough so that it's only a few hours away. "It's far enough inland that it won't be affected by a hurricane more than a little wind and rain," Chris Hutchinson, manager, Windows and VMware, says. But it's close enough for customers to easily send a team of five to ten people for disaster recovery exercises.
Physical location provides opportunities for regional service providers looking to win business from continuity-conscious businesses. Like C Spire, ITS Telecom , in Indiantown, Fla., is located inland -- far enough from the coast to offer protection for coastal businesses, and near enough for those businesses to easily send disaster recovery teams to the data center for exercises or other work. (See Commodity IT Means Business for Service Providers.)
C Spire's target customers are major corporations, particularly those in financial services and health services. "We're looking at corporations that absolutely have to have the best uptime and data security,” Hamilton says.
To provide those cloud services, C Spire uses VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) virtualization, Hutchinson says. Previously, C Spire used VMware for its internal enterprise operations, beginning in 2007. C Spire's internal enterprise operations are 99% virtual, with 500 workloads.
"When we decided to expand to cloud services, we decided VMware was king of the mountain and we had so much success internally it was the partner we would turn to to help us deliver a cloud services offering," Hutchinson says.
C Spire built an infrastructure using VMware's vSphere and vCloud Director on Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL) M-Series blade servers with EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) storage. "We used that in our enterprise, had good luck with it, and decided we could just continue with that," Hutchinson says. (Dell announced this week it plans to acquire EMC and VMware in a $67 billion transaction that could leave comms companies as low-priority customers.) (See Dell-EMC-VMware Merger Could Push Comms to Kids' Table and Dell Buys EMC for $67B in Biggest Tech Deal Ever.)
The infrastructure cost a little more than other cloud technologies, but C Spire was willing to make that investment. By using an enterprise infrastructure, C Spire's cloud infrastructure is familiar to its enterprise customers. "When you're talking about an enterprise-based client, you need enterprise hardware to make them comfortable," Hutchinson says.
In addition to VMware, Dell and EMC, C Spire is also using Cisco switching and Brocade Fibre SAN.
Although C Spire's cloud installation is new, it's already had to adapt to the marketplace. The company initially assumed its customers would be interested in public cloud services like those provided by Amazon Web Services Inc. . But instead customers were interested in using C Spire's 6,000 miles of fiber to provide hybrid cloud, Hutchinson says. "What we found is that businesses are more interested in extending their data center into our data center," he says. VMware's NSX virtual router helped C Spire provide that flexibility. "If we had to build it out with hardware, it would have been more costly," he says.