In Blog

Joe Zhu
Founder and CEO
Zenlayer

Zenlayer’s Founder and CEO contemplates continued and rapid global rollout to meet emerging market needs

The fact that IT is rapidly rewriting the global and commercial landscape is hardly news. But how it is reshaping organizations, remapping entire ecosystems, and reconfiguring supply chains is unprecedented. Business-to-business connectivity may be one burgeoning demand, but now added to the mix are increasingly high-performance customer needs. 

The options for everyone are “overwhelmingly complex” says Joe Zhu, Founder and CEO of Zenlayer, a fast-growing service provider set up to engage in the space internationally. Emerging options bring new terminologies: public clouds, private clouds, hybrid systems, bare metal, SD-WAN.

Not surprisingly, the Asia-Pacific has become an epicentre of this “new connectivity,” a connectivity driven in large part by China’s own economic growth, as Mr. Zhu points out. Over a decade, domestic Chinese players have found they have needed to globalize, he says, in the face of hyper-competitive markets at home. Correspondingly, foreign enterprises have tapped into Chinese supply chains bringing a need for high-quality interconnectivity resources. Zenlayer’s original start, says Mr. Zhu, was founded in this developing China dimension.

Economic shifts may be appearing, but current geopolitical security and trade tensions apart, the current shift has also been most marked in involving SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], many of which are making their reach international for the first time. “Larger companies have always found a way to establish their own networking strategies, often in-house,” he points out, “but SMEs have not had the expertise and resources to date.” SME interest, he says, is now a major business driver for the global IT system.

Edge cloud comes of age
In this shift, he says, the capability of service providers to distribute network resources anywhere matters. This has meant they need to rethink what they do, as well as where – and how – they do it. In particular, he says, the demand for raw performance has never been higher. Applications such as gaming and live streaming of content now represent a fundamental issue: customers notice service errors, outages, and lags.

The architectural shift seems, industry-wide, to the edge cloud. Alongside this distributed bandwidth, customer experience and latency issues all matter. So does, in a fundamental way, data geography. Distributed networks hammer latencies down, he says, but emerging applications including connected vehicles will necessarily force a much better performance still, to a sub-10 millisecond level, if not beyond.

In an edge cloud era, the fusion of performance, latency, and distribution could mean big opportunities for service providers. “The window of opportunities [for us] is a limited one,” he continues. “We want to get deep into these [services, applications, and networks] and we are moving very quickly.”

Infrastructural rollout is important. “You definitely need scale. You’ve got to get scale otherwise the business models [we depend on in the industry] won’t work. We won’t have enough resources to do everything,” he says, so choice of direction is important. The company says it will announce further investment to develop more infrastructure in due course.

SD-WAN comes into the mix to offer simplified and transparent management capability, but he reflects that the market is still pondering how important SD-WAN will eventually be. He argues suppliers may find it a necessary, but not particularly profitable, service to offer. For Zenlayer, he says, SD-WAN is offered as a product extension, and helps to facilitate its channel to the enterprise space.

Ultimately, Zenlayer’s target, he says, is to provide a platform that “instantly enables businesses to improve global user experience.” The spread of the company’s own customer base illustrates an increased tailoring of solutions. 

For one leading international online educational provider covering 300,000 students across 35 countries, it was providing a solution superior to public cloud architectures that had previously been used. These, however, had impacted user experience for video and audio programming because of packet loss and excessive latency concerns. Zenlayer says it provided a distributed architecture using edge PoPs and global private network facilities to improve latency and reduce congestion.

Another client in the financial services space needed a global network to support 300 sites. Here, Zenlayer implemented SD-WAN to support simple, transparent network management facilities. Automatic disaster recovery was another feature in the architecture.

Customer service gets globalized, but accessible
Mr. Zhu points out all this should mean customers should see “globalization at a touch” from Zenlayer where clouds, businesses, and users connect together. The current portfolio involves many elements. It wraps together computing, “bare metal” clouds, and hosting together with network provisioning including enterprise SD-WAN and DDoS protection. An applications portfolio still under development involves application acceleration and the intelligent edge architectures.

This is a deep dive into applications development, he says, as the biggest prospect of all. Zenlayer is promoting increasing applications-related development, including so-called application acceleration, which involves dynamic acceleration via intelligent routing on Zenlayer’s private backbone.

Fluid, data geographies are clearly going to matter in the future as the edge cloud proliferates. But, the market remains complex. He says his own objectives are to ensure that Zenlayer ultimately comes to dominate a clear niche as “a high-performance company,” and in a choice between performance and size, performance would win. In this strategy, user experience on a global scale would be emphasised as a competitive edge. This would be teamed with a global focus on emerging markets including Indonesia, India, Russia, and Brazil. China remains extremely important in spite of the current economic trade frictions across the Pacific.

In developing a business to match this, he admits, there is an intellectual challenge of vision and capability. “Sometimes, I consider myself to be the limitation on this growth,” he quips wryly. But he recognizes that corporate culture matters more than ever, particularly in how service providers approach global customer service. This, arguably, could be the distinguishing feature in the future marketplace. For the present, even in the time of the edge cloud, it remains a people business, he indicates, and he is on the lookout for people who are committed to customer service “from the bottom of their hearts.”