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French infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider OVH is marking its 20th year in business with a corporate rebrand, as it pursues greater enterprise market traction outside of its home country, while capitalising on its position as one of the world’s top 10 cloud providers.
Over its 20-year history, the OVH brand has come to mean different things to different people, as the focus of its business has shifted from providing telephony, internet service provider, and web hosting services.
In more recent years, its portfolio of services has evolved and expanded further to include private and public cloud services aimed at a mix of enterprises, startups, scaleups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
But with the firm claiming that 70% of its revenue is now generated by its IaaS, private hosted cloud and other off-premise endeavours, the organisation has changed its name to OVHcloud in recognition of how big this part of its business now is.
“The name change is a way to demonstrate to the market, especially the markets where we are not well known, that we are a cloud provider… and we should not be perceived as a small web hosting company,” said OVHcloud CEO Michel Paulin during a media briefing ahead of the 2019 OVHcloud Summit in Paris, France.
“That doesn’t mean we do not want to do web hosting – not at all, but… especially when we are in the enterprise market, perception is important. And that’s the reason we decided to adapt our branding to the reality of what OVH is already.”
Europe’s global cloud provider
The company is also doubling down on its efforts to market itself as a European alternative to the big three US-based public cloud giants, as well as their Chinese challengers, and rid itself of the “best-kept secret” tag the analyst community has assigned it, said Paulin.
According to figures issued by the company during the summit, OVHcloud now has 1.5 million customers signed up to use its cloud and web hosting services around the world.
To capitalise on these adoption figures, and build awareness of the refreshed brand, the company is committed to investing over the coming year into all the markets in which it already has a presence – including the UK, Italy, Spain, Poland, Germany, Canada and the Asia-Pacific region.
“It’s true our branding is not at the level of our expertise or even our size,” said Paulin. “Outside of Europe, our visibility is lower than our market share sometimes.
“And we have decided to invest much more in our clusters outside of France, to recruit people and make investments throughout the supply chain – marketing, sales, pre-sales, support and research and development – because we do believe today that our solutions are at the top of the game and that we are the top player.”
From a UK perspective, Paulin was quick to add that, regardless of how the UK’s efforts to exit from the European Union pan out, its investment plans will stand, and are being concentrated on driving up adoption of its cloud technologies within two distinct customer groups.
These include firms operating within the enterprise market, and downstream organisations within the startup and scaleup space, he said.
One way the company will be looking to win these groups over is through competitive pricing, with Paulin acknowledging elsewhere during the summit that OVHcloud is sometimes accused of being “aggressive” on this front.
It is able to be so because of the economies of scale it gains from the fact that the infrastructure underpinning its cloud is all self-owned and made, he said.
“We have a presence in four continents, we own our networks, we own our datacentres, and we build our own datacentres and servers. We are a fully integrated, worldwide cloud provider, providing services based on our own infrastructure that we design,” he added.
Expanding into UK enterprises
As far as the company’s enterprise business is concerned in the UK, many of its existing customers are those it inherited through its 2017 acquisition of VMware’s vCloud Air hybrid cloud business.
The setup was originally pitched by the virtualisation giant as a means of giving organisations access to IaaS services based on VMware’s vSphere technology, while enabling them to run their applications and workloads in the cloud or on-premise.
Since the acquisition closed, OVH has taken steps to become more hands-on with the management of the vCloud Air user base, and has invested in building out more localised support for its enterprise users, having previously run much of that out of France, Adnan Patka, the firm’s head of UK sales, told Computer Weekly during the OVHcloud Summit.
The organisation will also be leaning on its revamped channel partner programme to lure in more enterprises through the work of members such as Deloitte and Capgemini, which will be on hand to help them get to grips with the wider contents of OVHcloud’s service portfolio, said Patka.
The firm’s efforts to court the startup community through its accelerator programme are with one eye on the enterprise market too, he said.
After all, today’s startups could well become the enterprises of tomorrow, and as they scale, it may follow that their use of OVHcloud technologies will ramp up accordingly, said Patka.
At the same time, the people working at these startups might move on one day, and end up championing the use of the services they have used in previous jobs, he added.
“What happens is that a lot of developers might start their careers at a startup, get exposed to our technologies and then move on to work somewhere else, and that can lead to grassroots support for newer, emerging and less well-known technologies within enterprises.
“That is why we don’t neglect the startup community, because it can be very useful for OVH from a brand awareness-building point of view.”
But expanding its presence within the US is less of priority, said Paulin, because the company’s focus is really on setting itself apart in a market that is largely dominated by US and Chinese technology giants.
According to analyst house Canalys’s 2018 full-year cloud infrastructure market tracker report, OVH occupies a spot within the world’s top 10 providers, but the fact that it is the only one from Europe to do so is an important point of differentiation for the firm, said Paulin.
“We do believe this is something that is critical on the promises that we provide to the customers, because we position ourselves as the European alternative cloud provider with a worldwide presence,” he said.
The firm’s positioning as an “alternative provider” relates back to its championing of open source technologies, and the edge it claims that being a European provider gives it from a data protection point of view.
“The protection of data has become a societal commitment,” said Paulin. “Europe, with the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], has created powerful, ethical rules around the protection of private data,” said Paulin.
“Unfortunately, the position of Europe is not universal throughout the entire world. Certain nation states want to access and control data.”
On this point, Paulin went on to remind the firm’s customers, both existing and prospective, that – unlike Amazon, Microsoft and Google’s cloud platforms – its infrastructure is largely exempt from having to comply with the US government’s Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (aka the Cloud Act).
That act grants law enforcement agencies the right to demand access to data stored on servers hosted by US-based tech firms, including those located overseas.
“Obviously, I can’t stop myself from citing the famous Cloud Act, and I think it is legitimate to question whether its aims are ultimately to favour and promote the interests of national actors – and their national interests,” said Paulin.
From a data privacy perspective, OVHcloud is keen to ensure that its customers’ data is closed off from overseas interference, but from a data portability point of view, it is an avid champion of keeping the cloud open, said Paulin.
As proof of this, he cited OVHcloud’s contributions to the European Commission’s Data Portability Code of Conduct, and the support it has given to previous efforts to secure the free flow of non-personal data within the European Union.
While the championing of open technologies, data portability and Europe as a safe place to store data are all important in terms off furthering OVHcloud’s business interests, there are also bigger, societally important themes that its work feeds into.
Read more about public cloud providers
- The public sector cloud business takes time and resources to build, but the rewards can be meaningful, as the founder of Amazon Web Service’s public sector division has found.
- 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.
Cédric O, secretary of state for the digital economy of France, used his time during the OVHcloud Summit keynote to set out the economic and data sovereignty implications of Europe’s growing reliance on US-based and Chinese tech providers.
“We are in a global competition for technologies that is quite ferocious, and with a great deal of inequality with two major ensembles, the US And China,” he said.
“One of the imperatives for Europe and France, in particular, is to be up to speed on this digital technology and from a competition standpoint.”
This is for a number of reasons, not just the potential for accelerated job creation across the continent if France and other European players are able to wrest market share away from US and Chinese providers, said O.
“We can feel today, in the applications we use and the companies that are taking up more of our daily lives, quite often these are American or Chinese companies. We are in a universe that is American or Chinese,” he added.
“Each time we abandon our own values because these are terms or conditions of use that are based on American and Chinese values. Our values, I don’t know if ours are better or less good, but they are not the same.
“So when we are working in a world where we have players who are not European and they’re taking all our space, we abandon what makes our value and culture so important.”