Using software to store data on cloud
Hyderabad-based Pi DATACENTERS wants to be the first destination of choice for enterprises in data and cloud services, reports B Dasarath Reddy, Chief Of Bureau, Business Standard, Hyderabad
When working for Intel Corporation for over 15 years, Kalyan Muppaneni, founder and chief executive of Pi DATACENTERS (Pi), was always close to the hardware, digitization and server market. That was how he developed a passion for back-end infrastructure, an area not many techies would think of for entrepreneurial pursuit, given the complexities involved.
The cloud server market has gone to a new level in the past five years. Many enterprises in the US and elsewhere have not only moved to cloud as a first choice but started using commercial data center services, owing to the complexity involved in data management sand its applications. Muppaneni saw a clear opportunity in these when has decided to return to India from the US for a new journey.
According to Gartner, the research and advisory entity in information technology, the value of Indian data center infrastructure and services market was $2billion in 2016 and is the fastest growing segment. It will anywhere from $3.5 billion to $5 billion by 2018, said Muppaneni.
When he shared plans about going back to India to establish a data center entity, four of his friends there instantly backed his decision, with funding commitment. “It was only a discussion over a cup of coffee and we closed the initial angel round with overwhelming subscription, almost triple of what I really needed, “he told Business Standard.
Having worked for the intel corporation in California and Arizona on design architecture among other core tasks, Muppaneni, who has master’s degree in computing from Griffith university, Queensland, indeed, comes with a large vision that makes Pi’s upcoming enterprise-class data center in Andhra Pradesh’s new capital Amaravati, look like a hurried step on a course to a big journey.
Data storage is one of many applications and functions a data center can deliver: “ A data center is like your heart pumping transactions, acting as a hub, gathering data from different locations and churning out and giving decisions to other centers instantly. So, It is very important to design a solution that is scalable, that is high performance. It cannot be slow; otherwise, it will crash, “Muppaneni explains.
On December 15, Pi Datacenters announced it had got a first private equity funding round of Rs154 crore, led by Epsilon Venture Partners, barely three months ahead of the scheduled commissioning of the data center.The facility would be a modular, 500,000 Sq ft infrastructure with 5,000-rack capacity. When fully commissioned, spread across 10 acres, a tier four certified facility.
The investment required is Rs 600 crore, which the promoters plan to spend in five years as they seek to scale up the infrastructure to the targeted capacity in a gradual manner, based on demand.
India has been seeing a surge in data center investments. In 2016, the who’s who of the global IT world, including Microsoft and amazon, have started investing hundreds of millions of dollars to establish these in India, to offer a variety of services in data management. A sizable data center infrastructure was already created in the country by a number of players such as Tata Telecommunications Ctrls, Netmagic, Tulip, Sify and GPX Global, among others, as big and small Indian companies switch to digital data storage practices.
Can this challenging, highly capital-intensive and increasingly crowded space, led by big global players, still qualify to be a start-up play? Does it have scope to bring potential “disruptions” in the data center architecture or in data storage and management services, so that a new entrant will enjoy a distinct advantage? Muppaneni says it has all this and more.
“The fact that every data center company is doing well in India is a big positive. As the industry itself is a positive zone, we will obviously get our piece of pie from the market” the Pi founder says.
However, Pi seeks to build its business on a strong set of differentiators, not simply by going with the flow. It says it is taking a very different approach to the design of the product, doing it in a completely software-defined approach for the cloud.
While Muppaneni bets on the potential differentiators that he believes would make Pi the first destination of choice for an enterprise looking to host data with-in India, he points to fast progress in the implementation of this facility as early proof of execution capability.
In the best case scenario, even for a large enterprise, it would take three or four years to implement such a project in India, according to him. “In a year and half, we have not only visualised and conceptualised this but done almost 90 percent of one of the largest DCs in India, while getting the initial wave of customers on board.”
Mahesh Vaidya, general partner and head of India at Epsilon Venture Partners, believes the team at Pi was the right mix of hard-core technologists and managers with decades of cumulative experience, drawn from companies across the world. ” Kalyan and his team at Pi have attained traction in a year that would easily have taken other teams two or more years,” he told Business Standard.
Some of the differentiators Pi’s data center comes with include own software stack to complement the services on hardware stack, use of the latest technologies in Silicon Valley, lower cost of ownership that would help in offering services at competitive rates, a quick breakeven in two-three years compared to the sector average of five years and good technology partnerships.
Some of the key offerings would be different types of cloud services – based on a completely software defined cloud, co-location, hosting, disaster recovery and various other backup services, manager services, NOC (Network operating center) as a service, private cloud and public cloud.
According to Muppaneni, there are customers in every segment he’s serving, from day one of the data center launch in Amaravati. After telecom companies and e-commerce smart cities, the internet of things and big data are expected to create larger demand for cloud services. “Health care in India also has a huge untapped potential, with not even five percent of patient records digitized, “he says.
Pi is developing its own cloud solutions. What Pi delivers today is next -generation cloud services, powered by an absolute open-stack platform. Cloud service providers today offer much faster response time and greater flexibility to customers. In that sense, the services offered by Pi are at par as those offered by companies like Amazon. The latter, too, built its cloud services around open source technology, one reason for it being very successful in this space.
Customers or enterprises in India are looking for greater services from data center players. Initially, it was about picking rack space and then people started taking infrastructure. Now, they are taking a platform and are looking for Software-as-a-Service from the data center.
Pi has made some wise choices. They have decided to build cloud on a platform which is very open and continuously evolving. That automatically makes Pi competitive. The choice of technology is good. Pi is also moving towards software defined cloud services, which are infinitely scalable. Through an open-stack platform, it can also seamlessly bridge the public and the private cloud.
– Rajarshi Bhattacharya, country head, Suse India, a pioneer in Linux and open source solutions
According to Mahesh Vaidya, it is advantageous for a local player with expansive physical presence and efficient teams positioned locally to address the needs of and cater to local businesses. Local players have lower overhead costs and execute data center services with a quicker time-to-market, he says.
“In the long term, there would be a need for global players to partner with local players to deliver data center and cloud services to local customers. We would see the interest and presence of major players as a validation of the data center opportunity in India.” He told this newspaper. Epsilon expects a return that is comparable in quantum and time frames to any of the other sectors it had invested in.
Just as scalability is inbuilt for cloud services, Pi has created a design architecture which helps in scaling up the capacity in a smooth manner. Adding more DCs is part of this strategy, besides allowing customers a backup storage as well.
Muppaneni Says they will be moving to at least two other locations in the next two financial years, which means Pi would be building three DCs in three years. “The next time we raise (funds), that would be a very big round for this reason,” he said.
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