BT is about to formally launch a virtualised infrastructure service called BT Virtual Data Centre, which will form the basis of its cloud-computing strategy.
VDC involves the virtualisation of servers, storage, networks and security delivered to customers via an online portal as cloud-based services. On Thursday, BT's Global Services division announced the customer rollout of VDC, which will initially target multinational corporate customers and the public sector.
"VDC is the basis of our cloud-computing offering," Neil Sutton, BT Global Services's product chief, told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "We've begun to deliver communications-as-a-service and hosted services for voice, unified communications and CRM, and we see a roadmap where people want to be able to provision an infrastructure end-to-end. We want to deliver those things as a service in a predictable and flexible manner."
The company has been using VDC internally since early last year to cut costs within Global Services, and has been trialling it with selected customers over recent months.
BT's UK and European portfolio of datacentres allows for "true enterprise-class services" in its cloud-computing package, the company said.
Whereas companies such as Amazon base their cloud strategy on the web, VDC is more about setting up private clouds within the enterprise, Sutton said.
"This is designed for putting a number of the types of applications you see in a typical enterprise onto an infrastructure-as-a-service environment," Sutton said. "We wouldn't deliver that over the web currently. If you had certain applications — say a hosted CRM application — and that's supporting a contact centre, then you'd want to keep the delivery of that typically within your own enterprise and own network. The web doesn't come with quality-of-service."
BT hopes to launch VDC in the UK at the end of July, followed by launches in other European countries in the months after that, Sutton said. He added that the company's biggest customers in Germany, Spain and France will be among the first to be offered the service.
In addition, BT intends to start offering VDC to its small-business customers at some point, Sutton said, but could not specify when this will happen. Pricing depends on specific customer requirements.
Scott Morrison, a research vice president in Gartner's enterprise network services division, described VDC as a "hybrid" that allows BT to take advantage of its existing physical network and datacentre infrastructure. However, he noted that it also allows the company to begin making the transition to a future service where BT does not necessarily need to own all the underlying assets.
"Today, BT has a surprisingly large number of datacentres, particularly in Europe and the UK," Morrison told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "To be closer to customers and deal with customer needs in the future, [BT's] existing footprint may not serve all [those] needs."
"It may not be in BT's interests to continue owning all those components, [especially as] other carriers are making big investments in building out large-scale datacentres," he added.
Morrison said BT's control over all the assets underpinning VDC at launch will help reassure customers as "by going with a provider with a carrier pedigree, you're going to get better service-level agreements than with a pure cloud player who is not in control of the environment".
He suggested, however, that BT's long-term strategy will involve less reliance on owning physical infrastructure.
"Today, if you buy a hosted service from BT, you're buying a BT MPLS network, connected into a BT datacentre, with servers which BT will supply and manage on your behalf," Morrison said. "In the future, BT's real interest is in the service layer on the top. So it has to create an architecture that allows it to deliver that service layer effectively, without necessarily owning all of the bits that sit underneath — and not have an architecture that is based on a BT-specific design set to make it all work."
Morrison pointed out that BT was not the first to go down the cloud infrastructure route — he highlighted analogous services from AT&T, Verizon, Savvis and Rackspace — but suggested that the decision to first mature the technology in-house would work to BT's advantage.
"Having the base and instantly deploying that capability in so many locations does give them a head start," Morrison said. "They're in a better position than many, but [cloud-based infrastructure] is a slow-burn market. BT will still need to make long-term commitments in order to retain a competitive edge, until demand begins to mature and they make scale returns on their investment in this technology."