Singapore cloud helps Orange to global business services

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Orange Business Services has set up a global public cloud service as part of its planned expansion into such services as smart cities. Trust and confidence are essential elements, OBS head Thierry Bonhomme tells Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Thierry Bonhomme: Head of Orange Business Services
Orange Business Services has set up a global public cloud service, operating out of a data centre in Singapore in association with vendor Huawei.

The two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding on the project, which will have a revenue-sharing investment model.

According to Thierry Bonhomme, head of Orange Business Services (OBS) and a deputy CEO of Orange group, the venture will start working in Singapore “in coming weeks”.

Bonhomme says that OBS will operate the service on behalf of customers, from the company’s local office and with a Singapore data centre. “We have a strong presence in Asia, with our headquarters in Singapore,” he adds.

The new cloud services will roll out across western Europe as well as south-east Asia in April, followed by the US in October. The Middle East and Africa are scheduled for 2018, says Bonhomme. 

The global public cloud offering will include advice, auditing, integration and managed services for cloud infrastructure and applications. They complement the existing Orange private cloud portfolio and will help enterprises in their digital transformation initiatives.

The main aim of the cloud strategy is to help multinational corporations migrate their old legacy enterprise applications to the cloud, and ensure that their infrastructure and applications are available in all geographic regions in which they still need to be hosted.

The public cloud service is based on OpenStack technology, an open-source software platform for cloud computing. 

Cloud is one of the three pillars in OBS’s strategy, he says, the others being cyber security and, of course, connectivity: “This is the core business,” says Bonhomme. On the security side, OBS has Orange Cyberdefense as a division that can help guarantee maximum levels of security for customers’ infrastructure. 

“There is no digital transformation without trust and confidence,” says Bonhomme, who took over as head of OBS in May 2013. He’s worked for the French incumbent for most of his career since 1981, mostly in technology and innovation, except for a short spell running Idate, the research institute based in the south of France at Montpelier. 

On his return he ran the company’s operations in Grenoble and then Marseille before heading distribution to business customers. Before OBS he was director of research and development, and then head of the Orange Labs networks and carriers division.

OBS’s security business divides into four areas, he notes, including consulting as well as the physical activities of perimeter security, proactive protection and a predictive service, all working closely with the unit’s R&D centre.

Overall, OBS is growing fast, at around 20% a year, Bonhomme notes. “The main challenge is competencies.” In other words, the company is finding it hard to recruit enough people with the right skills. “We are running out of competent staff.”

It’s investing in a couple of academies to address the problem, to help the company develop skills and competencies, he says. Both are in northern France: one is in Rennes, in Brittany, and the other is in Lille, close to the Belgian border. The units are attached to university engineering schools, with Orange investment and involvement 

OBS addresses a global market: hence the cloud project in Singapore. “We work with multinational companies – 3,000 top players,” he says. “Our main position is international business, because we have optimised our international service factory. This is the core part of the business.”

Smart cities in your pocket

But the public sector is a vital part of the customer mix, and OBS is active in the world of smart cities. If you’re planning a visit to the north-western French city of Nantes, you can download an app called Nantes dans ma poche – Nantes in my pocket – that is an interactive guide to the place. “It’s based on a big data platform,” says Bonhomme. “There’s even a mobile application for garbage.” Citizens can get their bins emptied. “Any citizen can use it, and all services are available on the app,” he adds. “It’s very convenient, and Nantes can offer new services on the app.”

Now Orange has taken its smart city skills to the Gulf. OBS has signed a multimillion dollar consulting deal with Meeza, a Qatari managed services provider, to deliver the majority of smart services and applications in Qatar’s smart city development in the planned city of Msheireb Downtown Doha. 

This is a regeneration project that will include a mix of residential, commercial offices, retail outlets and hotels covering 800,000 square metres. 

OBS is overseeing the design of the district’s smart city central command centre, which controls the operation of buildings and services, including security cameras, building access control, fire alarms, street lighting, automated waste collection, car parks and public announcements. OBS is doing this through its smart cities division, and the company is working with Qatar’s National Vision for 2030. 

In addition, OBS has designed and operates a range of smart applications for both PCs and mobiles for the general public, as well as for residents. These include apps for community services, wayfinding and online payments. 

The other services developed and run by OBS to help regenerate the district include smart energy management, such as smart metering, business intelligence and data analytics – a central service desk management solution – and indoor geolocation infrastructure. The full scope of the project also covers the ICT infrastructure for the district, which is managed by Meeza, an end-to-end managed IT services and solutions provider which is a joint venture of the Qatar Foundation. 

This infrastructure includes the network, management of two data centres, provision of IP telephony and management of desktops in the smart ecosystem.

Bonhomme’s colleague Béatrice Felder, who is senior vice president of Orange Applications for Business, says: “Orange has the advantage of being both an operator and a specialised digital services company that supports the digital transformation of societies, enterprises and government bodies. 

“We are already working on large and prominent projects in the Middle East, and Msheireb is another very strong smart cities reference for Orange in Qatar and the wider region.”

A key challenge for cities is to provide citizens with digital services to simplify their day-to-day lives and enhance their economic and tourism attractiveness. At the heart of this challenge lie networks, IoT, data and digital applications. 

So how does OBS address these multiple challenges across the world? “For employees it’s about productivity,” says Bonhomme. “It’s about their personal life and more. We speak about a flat organisation. It requires digital help, with customer relationship management, business intelligence and the internet of things.”

Smart cities in your pocket

But it’s important that the infrastructure is there to deliver the services – not just OBS’s global infrastructure, but customers’ own infrastructure. “Customers must realise they have to re-invest in their internal infrastructure,” says Bonhomme. 

“We were smart enough to anticipate this move. In terms of connectivity, we realised three years ago that we needed to invest in a hybrid MPLS network to guaranteed quality and to ensure we have bandwidth-on-demand availability.”

He continues: “What we say is that those different elements are based on the availability of the infrastructure to deliver services.” The weakest part of the infrastructure – whether it’s security, cloud or the network – limits the availability of the whole system.