Martin Blackburn- MD - EMEA - Rackspace Technology - techxmedia

Navigating the cloud slipstream during COVID-19

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From your on-premises data centers and private clouds to hyperscale clouds, cloud-based SaaS applications, and colocation environments, the pandemic has only accelerated the Middle East’s embrace of cloud computing. Martin Blackburn, MD for EMEA at Rackspace Technology, talks to TECHx about the company’s own journey in helping local businesses to benefit from the plethora of multi-cloud solutions available today.

TECHx: Rackspace has been at the forefront of hosting solutions for some time, but how has the company transitioned to a true multi-cloud solutions provider?

Martin: The company was in the midst of a pivot when I joined in 2020. At its inception, it was known as a hosting provider, but we have recently undergone a major transition to become a true multi-cloud technology partner. It is something we have been doing for some time but we needed to communicate it to our existing customers and the wider market.

For the last few years, we have been working extremely closely with the hyperscalers, Google Cloud, AWS and Microsoft Azure. This means we can support our customers throughout their entire migration journeys, both with private and public environments. Very few companies are able to do anything like this, but it is crucial. In my previous role at IBM, there was still a very static way of serving customers. It was a square box and we had to make the customer fit. But this approach isn’t elastic enough for the business needs of today, which is why the flexibility of public cloud and multicloud is so important.

We also have our professional services offering, which enables us to be a true technology partner to the companies we work with. This is particularly important given the fast pace at which the cloud world moves. The hyperscalers we work with are putting thousands of changes into the way their cloud offerings work every quarter, which is impossible for customers to keep up with. So we at Rackspace Technology provide a sort of bubble wrap, protecting them from this complexity while ensuring they have all the information they need for a successful migration and cloud strategy that meets all of their requirements through our expertise.

TECHx: There’s a lot of competition in the multi-cloud space. Does Rackspace’s history help in terms of having long-term customers from over the years?

Martin: Yes, I think our legacy has definitely helped us carve our path into the multi-cloud market. We have over 15,000 customers across Europe and they stay with us because we’re good at what we do, and every month we do better than the last in terms of growth rates.

Despite this, I don’t think there is anything quite like Rackspace Technology on the market, we just haven’t been communicating that well enough until now. We actually started our public cloud services very early on and have been serving some customers for around six years. As a result, we are now one of the largest partners of Google Cloud, AWS and Azure in the world.

This also means we have deep in-house skills and expertise to assist our customers on their public cloud migrations. Our competition, on the other hand, is still having to sell into legacy and has largely focused on investing in skills to look after this, rather than preparing for the new public future.

Although Rackspace Technology of course never expected or prepared for the huge industry shift that has been sparked by the current pandemic, we are lucky in that we were very well placed to ride the wave. We are highly skilled at moving businesses between environments safely – and at pace –  and that’s ultimately what businesses are looking for now.

TECHx: How has Rackspace responded to and dealt with the pandemic, and what impact has it had on business growth in the region?

Martin: I joined the company in February 2020, and the true impacts of the pandemic on the business struck only a month later. So for almost the entire time I have been working with the company, we have been working virtually, which we have done very easily across the business.

We talk about a tectonic shift in technology and I think that has really happened. This is especially true for cloud, and as a business, Rackspace Technology has been pulled along in the slip stream. More businesses have been forced to transform, and fast, and we have been the ones helping them to do so. With this in mind, although it has been a balancing act when it comes to customers that have struggled or thrived in the past year, we have certainly seen an uptick in demand for our services.

TECHx: Given you have customers across such a broad range of sectors, some will have struggled throughout the pandemic. Has Rackspace been able to provide any support to these businesses?

Martin: Indeed, we have a whole raft of customers who have found the past few months much more difficult than others, particularly across the travel, transport and hospitality sectors. As such, we have worked closely and carefully with these businesses both from a financial and operational perspective, to do what we can to keep them going during these turbulent times.

Right at the beginning of the pandemic, we also made $10m of Open Stack cloud available to existing customers participating in the COVID-19 response efforts.

Alongside this, the advantages of our model have really come into their own in light of the pandemic. For example, the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust’s ICT Director revealed it may have not been able to function without its migration to the cloud, as most of what the trust does is in-person healthcare. However, the team has now been able to adapt to provide many of their services remotely, for example with the use of online tests and video calls.

The traditional outsourcing model would have been on a pay-monthly basis, but we offer elastic workloads, so all of our customers have the ability to reduce or increase them depending on their capacity and requirements, in real-time.

TECHx: Once customers have made the move to multi-cloud, will there be a period of stagnation, or do you see a future of businesses continuing to seek Rackspace’s support?

Martin: The multicloud market is massive. According to IDC, cloud adoption and opportunities will continue to expand leading to a $1 trillion market by 2024. Ultimately, everyone will end up in the cloud.

But once migrations are complete, the need for service provides like Rackspace Technology doesn’t simply end. I have already seen evidence of the fact that once customers get into the cloud, their ability, and realization of their ability, to innovate massively accelerates their propensity to use technology. For example, I have worked closely with banks that have experienced increased consumer demand as they put more into the cloud, because they have the ability to innovate faster. So, what do they do? They keep going, to meet those new demands. It’s a never-ending cycle and we will always be there to help our customers along the way and navigate the future.

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