BT and Microsoft to offer secure fast lane to Azure cloud

Microsoft’s UK cloud chief hails service as critical step in supporting CEO Satya Nadella’s ambitious plans for global cloud dominance

BT has teamed up with Microsoft to give corporate customers a secure, superfast link to its Azure cloud, which bypasses the public Internet.

The Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute service will go live across Europe this summer and will later be extended to Asia and other parts of the world.

The companies hope to ease large organisations’ transition to a hybrid cloud environment by allowing them to treat the cloud as a seamless, flexible extension to their existing corporate network and datacentres, without any degradation of performance or security.

Neil Sutton, vice-president of global portfolio at BT Global Services, said the service would be priced at a similar level to existing IP VPN connections, but would offer customers far higher levels of performance and resilience. “Compared to the Internet, connections via ExpressRoute may be up to 100 times faster,” he said.

Maurice Martin, Microsoft’s director of cloud and server business in the UK, told Computer Weekly: “The internet is great for endpoint delivery, but at the back end you need something like the services BT is now bringing to Azure to enable the resilience enterprises require.”

This isn’t something we’re having to convince customers is worthwhile – there is already huge demand

Maurice Martin, Microsoft

ExpressRoute is the first such service outside the US and the companies say the market has been clamouring for a solution that eliminates the reliability and security concerns common among those operating global hybrid cloud environments.

Martin said: “This isn’t something we’re having to convince customers is worthwhile – there is already huge demand.”

The service will primarily be targeted at large multinationals, particularly those with bursty, bandwidth-intensive workloads that need to flex capacity up and down to cope with processing peaks and troughs.

Sutton said ExpressRoute would assure companies with diverse and complex workloads that they will not experience any deterioration in performance when adopting cloud services.

“Organisations are increasingly buying in several cloud services as well as operating their own and they want a consistent experience. They want to incorporate the best of those cloud services directly into their operations."

But today they often find the user experience degrades significantly because of unreliable connections,” he said. “With this offering we can ensure customers achieve a consistently good experience internationally across complex, hybrid cloud environments.”

This offering ensures customers achieve a consistently good experience internationally across complex, hybrid cloud environments

Neil Sutton, BT

Cloud market analyst William Fellows at 451 Research said being able to connect directly to the Azure cloud was an "important tool in the box" for organisations that want to take advantage of hybrid cloud. 

"Connecting directly can overcome latency, geography, size and more importantly, data protection concerns – especially in organisations where governance precludes the use of the public internet as a transit for data," said Fellows. 

However, he noted that Amazon and Rackspace already offer similar services in the form of AWS Direct Connect and Rackspace Rack Connect.

Supporting Nadella’s “cloud first” strategy

The announcement is the latest move by Microsoft to upgrade its cloud offerings to meet the challenges of operating in a multi-platform environment. Martin said Azure ExpressRoute was another key plank supporting new Microsoft CEO (and former cloud chief) Satya Nadella’s efforts to transform the company into a device-neutral, “cloud first” company.

“We see the UK market as a very fast adopter of cloud technology compared to many other countries and this latest initiative with BT, which has long been one of our strategic partners, is a very important milestone,” Martin said.

More broadly, he believes the company can win a significant slice of the growing cloud market by differentiating its offerings from commodity public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google. “The thing we really bring to the table is ability for customers to have a single ‘pane of glass’ management console that gives them an end-to-end view of their hybrid environment, all the way from their infrastructure to their applications. This makes it far simpler to optimise service levels for their business.”

More on Microsoft's cloud vision

The company also sees the task of easing cloud application development as a critical part of its strategy. 

“Fundamentally, the area Microsoft has invested in most and first from a cloud perspective is allowing developers to write software that’s independent of infrastructure," Martin said.

"When you write a bit of business logic, you simply want it to scale on demand, onto any device, whenever you want, with appropriate end-to-end security.

“Our vision is to deliver across public, private and hybrid environments. Critically, customers are able not only to manage endpoint devices centrally, but also the information on those endpoint devices.

"The capabilities in Azure let developers write software that scales with a high level of security. We think that differentiates us from both pure-play web providers and traditional datacentre-type cloud providers.”

In just two months at the helm of the Redmond giant, Nadella has impressed observers with his new vision for the company, and the speed with which he is executing the transformation. “Needless to say we are investing literally billions of dollars in our cloud platform and we have a full technology roadmap,” said Martin.

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