In meeting with customers and partners over the past several months, I hear one question on a regular basis: "We like the flexibility of your Hybrid IT portfolio, but why are you building a public cloud?" As recently stated by our CTO, we are committed to a next generation cloud user experience for the delivery of our primary business: managed services across data center and network .

To understand why we are using this approach, it’s helpful to think about the writings of Nick Carr. His 2003 Harvard Business Review article "IT Doesn’t Matter," touched off a firestorm of debate throughout our industry, especially within the vendor community.

It’s easy to see what Mr. Carr got right. He correctly observed that the client-server era led to companies over-estimating the discrete value of IT device technology. He stressed the importance of strategic alignment between information technology and business stakeholders. He predicted the rise of cloud computing and utility-like pricing based on consumption.

And while there are valid criticisms afforded by a decade of hindsight, Carr’s fundamental truth holds up today. IT isn’t valuable unto itself; its value is derived from what it allows the larger organization to achieve.

The Value of Offering a Cloud Lies In How It Supports Your Strategy

Launching a cloud service provider (CSP) offering is no more valuable than deploying IT equipment unless it enables a larger strategic endeavor. An Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering unto itself becomes easily commoditized. Building a globally scalable cloud platform is already hard enough. Unless complementary revenue streams and business benefits are derived from the platform, it struggles to be cost-competitive over time. There are numerous examples of cloud strategies from giants of the tech sector that illustrate how hard this is to get right.

We believe the winners in the cloud infrastructure market are those who build a globally scalable platform that:

  1. Supports the primary business service objectives of the provider, and
  2. Is architected such that outside parties can adopt it independently for their own business objectives

We see numerous examples of this throughout the industry:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) was famously created to add scale and flexibility to the primary business of retail e-commerce.
  • Microsoft Azure has gained tremendous prominence in the market over the past few years, but did not start gaining real traction until it was consistently leveraged by the primary business of enterprise software.
  • Google’s cloud innovations include open source contributions and developer-relevant service offerings that drive Internet use and the primary business of search-engine advertising.
  • At CenturyLink, our primary business is Hybrid IT: a transformational approach to IT infrastructure that spans physical and virtual models hosted on premises, in third-party data centers, and provided as a service, all connected by secure private networks.

A Hybrid IT solution provider offers full-service solutions from network to enterprise applications, complemented by IT consulting and intellectual property, that allow customers to exploit the latest advancements in IT infrastructure services while optimizing legacy investments.

Not only do customers expect a Hybrid IT solution provider to deliver high-quality service, but also to model the behavior they seek to emulate. CenturyLink’s agile transformation to a cloud platform mirrors that of our enterprise customers. It’s easier to believe CenturyLink can help you transform when you see how we’re doing it ourselves.

CenturyLink Cloud is a Hybrid IT Platform

Our "cloud" is really a Hybrid IT service delivery platform, which supports our primary business in many important ways:

  • Interconnect automation and software-defined networking allows us to introduce programmable networking dynamics into our solutions.
  • Resource isolation gives us optionality and control over our hardware pool – we can provision virtual, physical and isolated environments.
  • Composable architectures help us innovate faster and bring new services to market, re-using component services on our platform to build higher-level services for our customers.
  • Agile infrastructure helps us design managed services that can be delivered anywhere – including customer premises and alternate clouds like AWS, Azure or GCE.

However, we also feel that it’s important to offer public access to our platform so that we can work with emerging use cases that aren’t available from other providers:

  • Partners have one of the widest range of integration options available to reach customers across diverse network locations and deployment models.
  • Customers can leverage the data gravity that exists in our colocation centers and our network-connected locations to enable cloud-powered analytics and insight.
  • Developers choose our platform for communications-based workloads where proximity and latency matter.

The purpose of CenturyLink’s DevOps transformation is to deliver a next-generation cloud user experience. Ours is a Hybrid IT service delivery platform, and we believe that is a very different thing. We fundamentally believe that the cloud user experience is the model that all Hybrid IT customers will seek, and the mission of our platform development organization is to continue scaling, automating and metering our services while enabling broad platform access for motivated users, developers and partners with innovation objectives of their own.