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Interview: OVH CEO on offering a European alternative to the US public cloud giants

Six months into his tenure as OVH’s CEO, Michel Paulin sets out the work the firm is doing to stand out from the public cloud crowd through its local knowledge of the European data protection landscape and its open source credentials

While Amazon, Microsoft and Google may appear to have the public cloud market all sewn up, there are a number of other (admittedly smaller) providers in this space that are also vying for the C-suite’s attention.

Chief among them is Paris-based infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) player OVH, which has spent the past few years building a presence beyond the borders of its homeland by opening datacentres in London, Singapore, Sydney and the US.

It has also been raising its profile through acquisitions, such as VMware’s vCloud Air IaaS business back in 2017, which have also helped to increase its global datacentre footprint.

The company is now in the midst of a market repositioning exercise for its public cloud proposition, focused on emphasising its enterprise, open source and data privacy credentials, as well as its growing its worldwide presence.

This work is being overseen by CEO Michel Paulin, who joined OVH about six months ago with the (highly) specific aim of establishing the firm as a European alternative to the big three US cloud providers, which, like them, has a worldwide presence.

“Most of our customers find that a good way to challenge these big players is by having alternative, innovative solutions based on open source that are well positioned and have predictable pricing,” Paulin tells Computer Weekly.

“So today we believe we are a way to give people another choice against the major players, such as Amazon and Google, but also because we are European.”

The European provider hook is an increasingly important selling point for OVH’s services, given some of the recent US-centric shifts in the data protection legislative landscape, which are prompting organisations to rethink their cloud data hosting strategies, says Paulin.

“We believe we are a way to give people another choice against the major players, such as Amazon and Google”

Michel Paulin, OVH

Expanding on this theme, he points to the US government’s enactment of the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (aka the Cloud Act) in March 2018, which allows law enforcement agencies to demand access to data stored on servers hosted by US-based tech firms, including servers located overseas.

As a European provider, OVH is exempt from having to comply with such requests, which is not insignificant, says Paulin.

“As we have seen in Europe, there is a lot of concern about data privacy and data protection and the fact that we are today complaint with the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], and the fact we are not covered by the Cloud Act or the Patriot Act, means we can offer customers an alternative approach to data protection [in the cloud],” he says.

“It is a differentiator, but it is not the only differentiator. Price, openness, reversibility and transparency are other strong differentiators for us.”

A European alternative

The “alternative provider” marketing is not exclusively about OVH usurping Google, Amazon or Microsoft in the affections of the C-suite, although, Paulin admits, it is nice when that happens.

Instead, it is more to do with helping support enterprises that want to pursue a multi-cloud strategy.

“We have customers that are mainly on OVH or sometimes only on OVH, and we have customers who have AWS [Amazon Web Services] for some of their applications, but OVH for other things,” he says.

“We do not try to have a monopoly approach and try to always give our customers a choice, which is why we position ourselves as the alternative.

“Of course, when a customer decides to take more services on OVH, we are very proud of it, but if customers are not happy with our services, they are reversible [so they can leave], but we are confident they are good enough to make people want to stay.”

This “reversibility” characteristic of OVH’s cloud is underpinned by the firm’s commitment to using open source technologies, such as the OpenStack operating system, which is a feature of its public cloud platform.

Public cloud providers hailing their support for open source as a point of competitive difference is nothing new. It has emerged as a recurring theme of industry discussion over the past 18 months or so – fuelled , in no small part, by enterprise appetites for multi- and hybrid-cloud deployments.

After all, for enterprises wanting to mix and match cloud services and products from competing providers, the interoperability afforded by open source is a big plus for enterprises.

OVH’s championing of open source is also significant because it helps level the playing field when the firm competes against larger rivals, says Paulin.

“With open source, we have an ecosystem of where we are compliant with any kind of open code and open source solution,” he adds. “We are, of course, smaller than the major providers, but we can draw on the open source community’s very comprehensive and large ecosystem of solutions.”

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This is important, says Paulin, because it is OVH’s mission to have a “full set of cloud solutions” that cater to the sector-specific requirements of its customers, which include startups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and bigger enterprises.

The company’s product and services portfolio is organised into four separate groups or, as OVH calls them, “universes”.

Its IaaS offerings are in the OVHSpirit group, while OVHStack is its OpenStack-based platform-as-a-service proposition. OVHenterprise is where customers can access service and support for their cloud migration projects and hybrid cloud deployments, and OVHmarket is focused on helping SMEs and startups access web hosting, Microsoft online productivity tools and domain names.

“On top of that, we have also developed programmes to help our customers access other solutions from partnerships when they need assistance or system integrations,” says Paulin.

Some of these are go-to-market channel partnerships, but the firm also has 50 or so technology tie-ups in place, including VMware, Intel, IBM and Cisco, to name but a few.

“Our positioning is to try to give all the tools to customers by ourselves or by our partners and not to trap them in a ‘golden jail’ they cannot escape from or move their data out of,” he says.

It will be interesting to see how, on Paulin’s watch, OVH’s efforts to stand out from the public cloud crowd pan out in the years to come, but he has high hopes for how its efforts will be received by the C-suite.

“We would really like to be perceived as one of the leaders of the community of cloud and IT players because of our innovation, but also through accessibility and the openness of the cloud,” he says.

“We know our customers do not want to be trapped long-term with one solution and want to have the choice to migrate or change, if they wish. So we would like to be perceived as innovative, and the promoter of the openness of the cloud.”

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