There is a fairly standard narrative around cloud computing that says that the bulk of workloads will end up sitting with two of three mega-vendors in the public cloud space. At the same time, those organizations that need their workload on an on-premises or private cloud will leverage either a proprietary platform (VMware, for example) or one from an open source initiative like OpenStack. That narrative doesn't leave much room for specialist hosting vendors who get squeezed out between the various players.
So it was interesting to hear from hosting solutions vendor Symmetry, a small firm that is built to support and manage production SAP and SAP HANA workloads (admittedly alongside more traditional IT workloads). The company has expanded its platform geographically into Phoenix and Northern Virginia as an augmentation from its existing Chicago and Madison, Wis., data centers. Symmetry suggests that this expansion really moves the needle on its ability to deliver product and service to these enterprise workloads.
Symmetry has actually been an SAP partner for longer than the term "cloud computing" has actually existed. Since 2005 it's been a certified SAP hosting provider. The company's shtick is that it delivers what is, in essence, an extension of its customers' own IT teams and offers the ideal combination of flexibility and robustness that enterprises need.
The company, as could be expected, is talking up just how valuable its service is:
"Symmetry is laser-focused on delivering the most flexible, secure and high-performance cloud -- both for mission-critical applications like SAP that we manage, as well as mainstream IT workloads that customers seek to deploy on our unified platform," said Pete Stevenson, chairman and CEO of Symmetry.
"Because we are hands-on, with a team of experts that provide sophisticated technical management for customers every day, Symmetry is in a truly unique position to design and deploy the next-generation cloud. Our business and culture combines deep technical expertise with the latest technology -- along with a sincere commitment to serve as a collaborative and trusted extension of our customers' IT team."
Interestingly, Symmetry's approach toward infrastructure is somewhat traditional -- it has built a composable infrastructure that uses Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and Palo Alto Networks' firewalls -- all solid kit but, arguably, kit that doesn't come close to emulating the economics that the large cloud vendors can deliver. On top of the ore, Symmetry adds the expected management, orchestration and monitoring tools to give organizations control and visibility over their workloads.
One only needs to look to Rackspace to see just how hard life is for traditional hosting companies. Rackspace's genesis was as a traditional web host; it then morphed into a cloud vendor before capitulating and moving into a service-provider model, supporting other vendors' clouds.
The economics, the scale of the competitors and the difficulty in differentiating outside of that means that a product-based offering is a hard nut to crack. of course, Symmetry is talking a far broader story than just product -- it goes to great lengths to talk up its service offering. But there’s the rub: In dedicating resource to building out its own product offering, it naturally creates a conflict and tension between the product and service sides of the business.
It strikes me that Symmetry's future probably lies in morphing into a full-service provider and ditching its hard asset ambitions. Whether it goes down this path will be interesting to watch.
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