Bharti Airtel recently announced a partnership with the Digital India Corporation (DIC) to power the Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) platform of the Government of India. Airtel has won the Cloud and CDN mandate from DIC, and will be responsible for the end-to-end management of DIKSHA’s online platforms across its mobile application and website. Along the sidelines of the announcement, Ganesh Lakshminarayanan – CEO – enterprise business, and business head – Cloud, Airtel Business spoke to Dataquest about how the partnership with DIC for DIKSHA was a validation for Airtel becoming a tech lead player along with being a connectivity lead player.
“We are embarking on a transformative journey, shifting from being a connectivity leader to becoming a technology leader, and we have already taken significant steps in that direction. The fact that DIKSHA recognizes and trusts us to handle crucial tasks like digital distribution of textbooks nationwide is a major validation of the progress we have made. Our CDN proved to be a significant differentiator, allowing us to build and provide digital textbooks across the country. This played a crucial role in our selection, especially considering the tough competition. We hope you appreciate the significance of this achievement, as it serves as validation for our cloud journey.This validation reinforces our excitement and commitment to the path we have embarked upon,” said Ganesh. He also spoke about the company’s plans for the cloud market in India, and the key sectors that Airtel Business is focusing on.
DQ: The cloud market in India has been experiencing rapid growth. How do you see the future of the cloud market in India, and what role does Airtel Business play in shaping this market?
Ganesh Lakshminarayanan: The journey to the cloud has been significant. Currently, only 30% of companies have transitioned to the cloud, but the COVID pandemic has accelerated this journey. From our company’s perspective, we aim to provide the most flexible, secure, and cost-effective computing model. Startups, as major users of public cloud, have been on this journey for a while, seeking the flexibility to scale with their revenue growth. However, public cloud consumption can become expensive and unpredictable due to its variable nature. In contrast, Airtel runs 80% of its compute on-premise, utilizing public cloud selectively for specific services and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. We believe larger companies will adopt a similar approach, gradually moving towards a hybrid or multi-cloud model. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) will likely consume cloud services through cost-effective models like SaaS. Startups will focus on cost reduction while ensuring flexibility. In this evolving landscape, we see a shift towards a multi-cloud model, where non-critical workloads run on SaaS, followed by public cloud for the next set of workloads, and core cloud for the subsequent workloads. Companies may choose to manage their own core cloud infrastructure or trust a reliable partner.
In this complex demand system, we aimed to determine Airtel’s position. After careful consideration, we realized that Airtel fits perfectly. We possess robust infrastructure and excellent connectivity, which strengthens our position. Being a prominent Indian brand, we have established ourselves in the government sector, PSU bank sector, and various businesses. While we also serve a significant number of enterprise customers, our primary focus remains on these three areas. This doesn’t imply that we disregard enterprise customers; we offer services to them as well. However, our primary attention is directed towards the first three sectors.
DQ: As more organizations in India are adopting cloud technologies, what unique challenges do you see in terms of data security and privacy?
Ganesh Lakshminarayanan: When considering government institutions or private banks, there exist well-defined regulations dictating the operation of banking applications and the storage of data within and outside the country. Similarly, the government cloud is subject to special restrictions to ensure compliance, including Community Cloud compliance. Many organizations are capable of adhering to these compliance requirements. At Airtel, we believe that our brand serves as a signal of our strength as a trusted Indian brand. As an industry leader in telecommunications, we possess expertise in adhering to local laws and regulations. Our track record of serving common customers and PSU banks over an extended period has earned us a significant level of trust. This trust, coupled with our commitment to compliance, positions us as a compelling choice when it comes to selecting a cloud provider.
DQ: With the government’s push for Digital India initiatives, how is Airtel Business leveraging cloud technologies and CDN to contribute to the country’s overall development?
Ganesh Lakshminarayanan: We are very excited about this because when we look at India, the front end is already digitized. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we could buy shoes, order pizza, or purchase dresses online and track their every movement. However, when it came to essential supplies like oxygen cylinders, we lacked the same level of visibility. This indicates that the backend of India, including the supply chain and factories, is not fully digitized to match the progress on the front end.
Data storage also highlights this disparity. While background checks and access to college or health records can be done online, it is still an evolving journey. The Digiyatra initiative impressed me greatly. Just by checking in and using facial recognition, we can envision a future where the entire country is digitized. In this digital transformation, Airtel will play a crucial role because connectivity and our robust infrastructure will be in high demand. With data centers spread across the country, we can offer a secure storage environment, further enhancing trust. This is why Airtel will be a preferred choice. We are thrilled to be part of this journey, as the digitalization of India presents the telco industry with its biggest opportunity.
DQ: Airtel has a strong network infrastructure across India. How does this network strength play a role in delivering reliable and low-latency cloud services to customers across the country?
Ganesh Lakshminarayanan: If we examine our actual strength, the first notable aspect is our market share and mobility. With a growing market share of 33%, more and more customers are utilizing apps on our network, which is highly promising. Currently, the majority of these connections are on 4G, and we anticipate that a significant portion will transition to 5G very soon. This implies that users will enjoy high-bandwidth, low-latency connections, unlocking a whole new realm of possibilities.
Consider the scenario of watching a video or downloading content. As an Airtel customer, your data will be routed through the nearest tower to the closest data center, ensuring the shortest path and lowest latency. By investing in 5G towers and subsequently expanding our data center infrastructure, we aim to provide nationwide coverage. By strategically locating 15 data centers across the country, we estimate latency to be less than 20 milliseconds. In fact, with further optimization, we may achieve sub-seven millisecond latency. The impact of this cannot be understated.
Combining low latency with the density of devices and the bandwidth capabilities of 5G, a myriad of possibilities emerge. Autonomous vehicles, drones, digital delivery of textbooks, and remote medical procedures are just a few examples of the transformative potential. This revolutionizes the way we operate and presents a new landscape of opportunities.
DQ: Key focus areas as far as the cloud market in India is concerned for Airtel Business
Ganesh Lakshminarayanan: So, I’ll break it down into products and customer segments. Firstly, the government segment is our primary focus, followed by PSU banks. Additionally, there are specific industries that prioritize data localization, particularly audited industries like ours, where data must be kept within India. This will be our next area of focus. Moreover, for customers seeking cost-effective cloud options with significant video and data components, combining telecom and cloud services leads to lower total cost of ownership compared to paying separate interest costs to others.
From a product perspective, our primary focus will be on building the sovereign cloud and private cloud, providing these services to India, which will be a significant achievement. The second focus will be on content delivery networks (CDNs). Although edge computing may not see significant growth in the next couple of years, as 5G becomes more widespread, there will be a substantial increase in compute demand at the edge. As a telco, we are well-positioned to cater to this need. Additionally, hyper scalars will always be necessary, and public cloud consumption will represent a significant portion of overall cloud consumption.