Our Cloud, Your Way
Writer Matt Bone
Project Manager Dan Hester
Founded in 1998, Iomart has grown to become one of the leading providers of cloud and managed hosting services in Europe, delivering the compute, storage, connectivity and security needed by businesses of all sizes to operate in the digital age we live in.
Through its direct ownership of every layer of the cloud, iomart provides industry-leading 100% uptime Service Level Agreements to customers who include Pernod Ricard, Skyscanner, Stagecoach, Truck-Lite, and Liverpool FC.
iomart owns and operates data centres across the United Kingdom, connected via an 1860km fast, high capacity fibre network, and has a series of international Points of Presence. It offers the full range of cloud services from bare metal through to private and hybrid cloud; cloud storage, backup and disaster recovery; Hosted Exchange; hosted desktop; business mail; connectivity and network security.
From its headquarters in Scotland, iomart employs over 320 staff of whom over 100 provide 24/7/365 technical support to customers. Last year was iomart's most successful yet with revenues reaching £55.6m.
Cloud Provider of Choice
Angus MacSween, Iomart CEO
Q: What does business want from the cloud?
The companies who use iomart's services are primarily looking for peace of mind, a secure and stable service and a provider they can trust. Regardless of business size or budget, our clients want a service that is always on 24/7/365 days a year and can be adapted to their needs. One big focus is predictable pricing. In the same way you know what you pay for your smartphone, businesses want their cloud services to be the same price month-on-month. Our goal therefore is to turn a customer's IT CapEx into OpEx by shouldering the burden of large outlays for IT infrastructure and maintenance. This lets more companies with tighter budgets better access to a high level of IT services which are maintained by us, while keeping a limit on their monthly spend.
Businesses using the cloud also want a meaningful service agreement with their provider. Inside every one of our data and network centres we have dedicated employees who work for iomart ensuring that every aspect of the service is under our name. We are fully accountable and to further highlight our service agreement and our confidence in the services we offer, we have fixed financial penalties in the event of any disruption. We pay a premium if the service goes down and stand by this as proof of how much we value our relationship with our customers.
Finally, businesses using cloud services want a trusted relationship with a provider who they can talk to and get support from. Most big public cloud providers like AW S have a ticket system where you fill in your details and someone will get back to you within 24 hours. While this is ok if the issue is low priority, we pride ourselves on offering the personal touch of an experienced technician on the end of the phone all day, every day, to help regardless of size or priority. Maintaining a strong relationship with our existing customers is just as important as bringing new ones in because repeat and continuing business is the cornerstone of any successful company.
Q: How has iomart evolved to meet those requirements?
iomart is continually evolving by investing in the latest technologies to deliver the agile and reliable cloud services that our customers need to run their businesses. Flexible hybrid cloud solutions are just one of the ways we have developed to meet the needs of a new generation of companies looking to use our services. Hybrid cloud gives companies the chance to pick and mix the services they want from us, such as email, data storage, hosting and backup while keeping others in-house. This way they retain the flexibility to keep some of their IT infrastructure under their direct control - in-house or in a private cloud - but can outsource elements to the public cloud which can be very cost effective.
Over the next five years you will see the number of companies keeping their entire service offering in-house drop, with the majority looking to adapt to a hybrid cloud format in an 80/20 spilt. Some industries such as banking that use legacy systems from the '70s, will never move all their services into the cloud but iomart can offer both types of customer a package and service to suit their individual needs.
We see ourselves as an agnostic cloud company so we work with a business to create a hosting package and service platform that integrates with their existing systems. If it is necessary to move your data from another provider or an in-house system, we have fully connected and linked migration systems to ensure minimum interruption of service. We are a cloud computing company that can offer and manage any type of cloud-based requirement to suit any need.
Q: Where is the market for cloud services headed and how will iomart feature in that?
The cloud market is progressing and evolving all the time. Businesses want to know how cloud can benefit them and senior managers, including CEO 's, are taking a serious look at the cloud as an alternative to in-house IT. Despite this momentum, there are still a lot of companies with very little knowledge and understanding of the cloud. Our aim is to become a leading light in showing what it offers and help them make informed choices to move their IT systems forward.
There are three things defining the future and they are: mobile; faster and more reliable connectivity; and the ability to manage and store data. These three trends are interconnected to each other and to our data centres and the increasingly sophisticated technology they contain. As we learn more about our customers' requirements and how they are planning to use the cloud within their businesses we will continue to develop our products and services to give them what they need, on-demand, to cope with those changing needs.
Paul K Jeffrey, Iomart Technical Account Director
Q: What are the key factors for using the cloud?
The cloud gives us the opportunity to access our work and data anywhere in the world, meaning flexibility when a company is operating internationally. Customers predominantly fall into two categories: the first is companies who need web and cloud services to streamline and enhance existing capabilities and online services including email and accounting. The second is companies looking for cloud storage and hosting capabilities because they haven't got the time or expertise to store their data on self-maintained servers. What they both want is the same - services that help them ensure their businesses run smoothly.
Data speed is a key factor for customers operating across multiple locations. A prime example is that of architects who handle huge CAD files for clients. Being able to send a file to a client or colleague in another location instantaneously is something that is of huge benefit when you work across different time zones.
Security is key for any company using the cloud. With recent breaches of cloud software in the news, many companies look at cloud as being vulnerable to hacking and data theft. It is not that simple though. Most breaches come from username and password combinations that have been leaked or stolen for services that are often free or low-cost. Providers like iomart spend a lot of time and investment ensuring that our security is not only of the highest order but also monitored continually for the slightest disturbance.
Q: How should businesses approach the cloud?
The most common approach is the hybrid cloud approach where a company sets up an IT environment where they operate and maintain some IT services in-house, for example storage and accounting, but will have others provided by a third party , for example email and web hosting. For instance, a business that has data and files that are considered non-essential can store them on internal servers quite happily. That same business will then use a service provider like us to house its sensitive data – maybe financial, personnel or customer information - in a much more secure way. It offers the perfect and most cost-effective balance of IT services. We often see peaks and troughs throughout the year from companies whose business is seasonal. Christmas related industries might have a three month window of business so they rent the IT services needed for that period on a pay-as-you-use agreement. This keeps costs lower as there is no need to buy hardware and set up the systems, meaning the business can concentrate on its customers while leaving the IT services required in specialist hands. This ensures it remains fully connected and streamlined through the high volume periods. When the season is over, there are no overheads left to pay for or hardware left gathering dust.
Q: What products and services are you providing to help businesses embrace the cloud?
iomart offers a full range of services and packages, including managed cloud hosting, cloud applications, data storage and security and cloud services, which can be individually tailored to a company's specific needs.
With businesses relying more and more on technology we have responded to the need for faster and bigger data capacity. We recently opened our first software defined data centre – our tenth facility in the UK – which allows us to set up services automatically. The facility carries Tier 3+ accreditation which means it has multiple independent distribution paths serving our IT equipment, although only one distribution path normally serves the equipment at any given time. All our equipment is dual powered so, in the rare event of a power outage, our customers' services remain unaffected. With a dark fibre network connecting all our data centres, we can store and transmit large amounts of data securely and in the fastest way possible as well as spin up new services quickly.
Bill Strain, Iomart Chief Technical Officer
Q: Which technology partners do you work with and why?
We work with a number of globally recognised partners including Microsoft, EMC , Cisco, VMware, Dell and Asigra. When you offer a service to companies who deal in millions of pounds worth of revenue you have to be sure that your services are reliable and you have done your due diligence on what your partners can offer. That is why working with partners who have proven reputations in the market is so important.
Organisations are far less tolerant of failure and disruption in IT services nowadays so by working with globally recognised partners who put customer service at the top of their agenda, as we do, is vital.
Q: Some businesses are wary of the cloud because of security. How does iomart deal with this?
Security for cloud services is very complex and has many different layers to it. Many companies rely on iomart for their full data packages, so to be extra cautious they hire another company to perform a series of test attacks in order to see if there are any weak spots in our security. We welcome this as not only does it give our customers a chance to see our services in action, but it also enables us to see in real time where we can strengthen our services and monitor any potential vulnerabilities.
Many organisations also wait until they've been taken offline to get serious about protection. We have invested in network level DDoS protection as a proactive move to secure our own infrastructure and offer our customers availability protection as part of their core services.
Business and Enterprise should understand that cloud services when coupled with the right provider can be intrinsically more secure than those hosted in-house. A cloud provider can create build and deploy a service for any given company then relinquish access – in some cases PCI even demands that the hosting provider is demoted to limited access and elevated access is only granted on demand.
Our investment in a private dark fibre network also gives us total control over our own network, increasing security as well as speeds for our customers. With the internet getting more and more crowded and the current multiple network providers getting swamped, this gives our cloud service customers an edge over their competitors and allows us to guarantee the bandwidth between our data centres and their offices.
Q: How does business cope with the rise of Big Data?
It's often underestimated just how mission critical storage can be. Poorly managed cloud storage can put your entire business at risk so it's important you make the right choices when it comes to the physical equipment running it, or the provider you've chosen to run it for you. Robust storage requires a highly reliable cloud provider and considerable technology and business planning. We work with leading cloud storage company EMC and cloud backup software developer Asigra to offer different solutions for different requirements.
Our customers are looking for backup, disaster recovery and business continuity support. The floods in the UK last winter were a prime example of why backing up your data off-site is so important. We protect data for some of the biggest football clubs in the English Premier League and wellknown brands in Europe. For instance, we helped Pernod Ricard centralise its backup and disaster recovery across the 42 markets it operates in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and now protect over 350TBs of data for the wines and spirits giant.
The simple fact is that we work closely with our customers' in-house IT departments to ensure that we create secure solutions to manage and protect their data, and we work with them in an honest and transparent manner.
Phil Worms, Iomart Chief Marketing Officer
Q: What are the key things that customers want from their cloud providers?
It depends on the size and nature of their business. A small start-up company might want 90 percent of its IT run through the cloud on a per usage basis whilst at the other end a high value corporation will look at having only select services in the cloud and might use a combination of providers to achieve this. One question that is often asked of cloud service providers is 'where is my data being stored?' Although cloud is available worldwide, the physical drives storing that data must be housed somewhere, whether it is in a small server room in a building or in a state of the art data centre. This is why the issue of data sovereignty is so important both for us and our customers.
Q: How do you choose the right cloud provider?
We recently surveyed 700 senior business managers and asked this question. Their three imperatives were: guaranteed service levels, 24/7 service and proven expertise.
What we offer are referrals and case studies from respected global brands, iomart backed by technology partners such as Microsoft, Dell and EMC, showcasing how we can offer proven services and specific cloud expertise across the board. On a customer service front, the teams in our data and network operations centres work round the clock, so if you do have a problem, you can speak to an advisor and help find a solution instead of submitting an email and waiting for a reply. Human interaction during a time of crisis is a big part of all our customers' requirements and something we value.
Guaranteed service levels in cloud and data services are something that can make or break a company. For some of our customers who operate in the financial sector milliseconds can make the difference in multimillion pound deals and when your data service provider is having issues with their connectivity, your business will suffer. It is something iomart is dedicated to ensuring our customers' services are always on.
Q: What makes iomart stand out from other cloud providers?
Our biggest USP is that we own and operate our entire infrastructure, from the cables connecting the servers, to the data centres themselves. If anything does go wrong, we are able to gain instant access to the relevant area and work on it, meaning shorter downtime for the customer and full accountability on our part.
We are also technology agnostic so we can work with customers' existing IT providers, for instance Amazon or Azure, and remain flexible to their needs. If a customer is using several different providers for its IT capabilities, we can engage and work with all parties to ensure the smooth running and application of the services – a bespoke service if you like.
And our third stand out is our technicians, who are specialists and multi-skilled across the entire range of cloud service platforms. Where a company may have a general IT department who understands the fundamentals and rudimentary basics of cloud and the services around it, we have individuals who are trained to the highest international standards in multiple aspects of cloud services. This gives our customers peace of mind knowing that the technicians dealing with their storage and data services are highly trained and will be able to handle any situation that might arise.