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January 13, 2011

‘They’re not putting everything on Google App Engine, are they?’: Q&A with Justin Fielder, Easynet

Gary Flood talks to the chief technology and planning officer at telecoms supplier Easynet, about cloud computing, Sky and the work they are doing with Transport for London

By Vinod

Justin Fielder, Easynet
I think myself and the readers need to know precisely what Easynet is or isn’t these days, as you were until recently part of Sky but I understand no longer? Can you explain?
Of course. BSkyB acquired us in 2005, taking over our extensive unbundled UK broadband access network as the basis for Sky Broadband, which was launched in 2006, but became independent again in September 2010. During this time, we were a standalone business within BSkyB, providing managed networking and IT services to business customers across Europe under the Easynet brand and also acted as the networking provider to Sky: for example, it was our technology that helped support the high-definition transmission of the Sky News version of the three political parties’ Leaders Debate for Sky News during the General Election last May.

So what was that divestiture all about and where does it leave you now?
We became independent from BSkyB in a buyout funded jointly by Lloyds Development Capital and our own management team in an MBO. Easynet has exclusive access to the Sky Broadband access network in the UK, while BSkyB remains a substantial customer for Easynet, for example.

While BSkyB keeps ownership of the UK access network, we retain the core IP and MPLS technology and management functions that’s used to intelligently route traffic around its customers’ networks. So though we are now separate entities, we continue to enjoy close ties. But we have our own clients and client relationships, and position ourselves as a global telecom provider just like a BT or a Verizon, though about 40% of our business is coming from our hosting and value-added services around that. In that area, some people say we’re a co-lo, I say we’re more of a fully managed service provider, by the way.

Can you give us a bit of detail on such relationships?
Glad to. We work with Transport for London, where it’s upgrading its analogue CCTV service to modern technology, a £28m contract… we have a deal with the online arm of Michelin, there’s Sky itself of course, and the company behind the Jamster mobile content platform – the Crazy Frog ringtone people, that is.

Thanks for all that; worth being clear about I’m sure you agree. So what about yourself?
I’ve been part of Easynet for 13, 14 years, responsible for our core technology and route to market at board level.

I understand you have some views about things like cloud as a result of such long experience?
I have to say I am beginning to get a real sense of déjà vu. We have a cyclical argument, don’t we, about whether to manage the network or outsource it, and I think we’re just going through another one of those.

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It’s that and the classic outsource arguments. Yes, it makes no sense to have thousands and thousands of servers. Yes, if your main business is to, for example, provide fun ring tones, you shouldn’t be messing with trying to be a network provider – and so on. But just like with the Internet, this stuff has to be done in stages and I think a lot of the discussion ignores that.

What’s the Internet parallel?
When the web took off you soon had to have a web site – but you didn’t get rid of your existing network and just ran on that. Similarly, all these companies saying they are moving to the cloud, sure, great. If DHL says it’s put all its email onto Gmail, fantastic. But in reality no-one deals with DHL by email so in a way, who cares? I don’t see it also moving the core systems to the Google App Engine at the same time. Microsoft and Google are really pushing all this but I wonder how much there is to it really. Isn’t Office 365 just Office Pro on your desktop and some stuff moving to [the Azure] Dublin [data centre]?

Why don’t you sum up what you are trying to say to the CBR CIO readership?
I am saying that the best and only way to look at things like cloud is with the same risk assessment disciplines as with any other outsourcing decision. That has to be a formal process, where you decide what are the Crown Jewels and what are the things that could be managed remotely. Ultimately, cloud isn’t hype, far from it, but as you push it further into the business this is the question that it’s starting to face and that’s what customers are telling us they’re starting to ask, too.

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