Microsoft Office 365 via Azure ExpressRoute added to BT's Cloud of Clouds

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BT has breathed new life into its Cloud of Clouds offering by announcing its customers will be able to connect directly to Microsoft Office 365 via Microsoft Azure Express Route

The comms giant unveiled its plans to become a cloud integrator - with the aim of offering enterprises a layed offering spanning private, public and hybrid cloud, with greater choice, security and interoperability when it comes to the apps and services they use - back in April 2015.

This latest news means its customers in the UK, US and Asia will be among the first to benefit from lower latency, enhanced and more predictable performance and beefed up security when working with Microsoft's cloud-based office applications.

"Our vision of Cloud of Clouds is all about giving customers more choice, more security and a better user experience as they orchestrate their increasingly diverse cloud environments. Our global network infrastructure helps them bring it all together by connecting them directly with enhanced security to a whole ecosystem of cloud providers," said Keith Langridge, vice president of BT's Connect portfolio.

"Our customers are looking forward to accessing Office 365 in the cloud as if it was hosted in their own data centers. Being among the first providers able to deliver this connectivity is an important milestone in our journey to be one of the world’s leading cloud services integrators."

Global marine and offshore design and engineering firm Houlder is one of BT's first users of the Azure ExpressRoute connectivity.

"Adding Office 365 to the existing Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute connectivity provided by BT is a logical extension of the service for us. In our own testing of ExpressRoute for Office 365, the service delivered consistently high performance, security and reliability," said Andy Matthews, IT Manager at Houlder.

"The new service also simplifies management so customers can operate both Microsoft cloud environments through one resilient connection. This supports Houlder’s goal of reducing our in-house infrastructure, freeing up resources to focus on our innovative engineering output instead.”

Cloud of Clouds is underpinned by robust security, BT’s global network and its 20-strong cloud-enabled datacentres around the world.

This network-centric vision has been a while in the making – with existing components generated through years of investment and focus – being plugged together and added to through industry partnerships.

"It’s a set of tools and solutions that integrate the whole portfolio that makes something that gives choice to our customers," Luis Alvarez, CEO of BT Global Services, told Cloud Pro in an exclusive interview pre launch.

"In a world where people say ‘you should go for private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud…’ customers want something that can [span] them all."

He added: “We are trying to eliminate the complexity. We think you can’t have an understanding of cloud without understanding the network. The reason we’re launching this now is because there’s been acceleration in the market.

"Recently, we’ve seen IBM acquire SoftLayer, HP launching Helion, Cisco launched Intercloud, more and more customers need SAP HANA, Microsoft Azure is growing… Clearly there’s been an increase in demand in the industry. We have been investing in this for some time with the vision of creating this for the future.”

Launch partners included AWS, Cisco, Equinix, HP, Microsoft and Salesforce, meaning businesses can select from a wide range of cloud offerings without having to integrate them separately themselves. Everything is easily managed using BT’s new Cloud Management System.

“Cloud suppliers will say to customers ‘Come with me – I will be everything for you.’ But if I’m the CIO of a company, I know I’m going to have AWS and SAP and Salesforce etcetera - how can I ensure all these things are in one environment?” Alvarez added.

“[With this] they have the flexibility and choice. In reality, the only alternative to this is to do it yourself, connecting to the different providers, create your own security… We are removing that complexity for the CIOs and making the decisions they need to make easier.”

This agnostic approach is likely to prove popular with IT and business decision makers who are currently stuck with the dilemma of either locking everything down or running the risk of shadow IT implementations.

“The more digital businesses become, the more important the role of the CIO. We tend to work with CIO rather than trying to jump over them, which is a temptation others in the market are having," said Alvarez.

"For us the custodian of the IT strategy, including the new opportunities of cloud, is the CIO. The Cloud of Clouds enables CIOs to respond faster to these [business and user] requirements.

“[This offering] could allow shadow IT to be officialised or recognised because it’s now in a protected environment. If you want to buy or pilot things, we won’t constrain you because this is a protected environment.”

An initial batch of general and industry specific apps and solutions are available from launch today, while more will be added as BT’s Cloud of Clouds vision evolves and gathers momentum.

“This is probably the biggest announcement we have made, in terms of a technology vision, in the last five years,” Alvarez added.

“The only limit to this is going to be the imagination of customers.”

Experts have welcomed the fresh approach BT appears to be taking here. It’s not acceptable to offer one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to cloud, according to Melanie Posey, research vice president at IDC.

“Enterprises will be operating in diversified IT environments and consuming more and more cloud-based services from a range of providers," said Posey.

"Therefore, enterprise customers need heterogeneous cloud frameworks that support a range of solutions tailored to different business requirements. They will want a provider that can serve as a trusted broker - a partner capable of integrating and managing ‘multi-cloud’ IT estates in a secure fashion,” she added.

“Global network infrastructure and broad ecosystems of third-party solutions are key components of diversified IT environments. As such, BT with its ‘cloud of clouds’ vision is well positioned to guide enterprises into the next-generation of federated cloud IT.”

This article was originally published on 21/04/15 and was updated on 30/09/15

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.