Vancouver-based Cirius provides a safe and secure, cloud-based messaging platform. Its flagship product, Cirius Secure Messaging, features email encryption that enables business professionals to send, receive and track confidential email and attachments on any device with confidence about data protection and adherence to compliance requirements.
With roots in both the content management and cloud security/compliance fields, Cirius’ founding mission was to take the complexity out of security, and deliver this into the workflow of all businesses, including those outside of the regulated industries. As security challenges have become reality for all organizations, the company’s value proposition has resonated with growing numbers of organizations across the spectrum: since launch of its secure messaging platform in 2011, the company has on-boarded 6,000 new customers and added UK facilities to those in Canada and the US, and in each of the past three years, it has achieved 250 percent revenue growth. Based largely on the embedding of security into a platform that businesses already use (email), Cirius’ success has also been built on added productivity features: “we made it a product that people wanted to use, not had to use,” Cameron Burke, former Cirius SVP business development, explained.
Opting for cloud
A product with potential is half the battle. A key question for the Cirius startup was how to scale. In the first years after launch, Cirius operated comfortably as a regional provider, managing early growth through select partners and facilities in Canada and the US. But with expansion to the UK, the company recognized the need for a new strategy that would support the widest possible distribution to service emerging demand in countries across the EU. With a solution that Burke described as “built for the channel” – a white label model for the Messenger service, in which Cirius essentially hosts channel solutions on behalf of its distributor partners, this could be enabled. But in order that a small Vancouver company begin to think about scaling globally, Burke explained, “we needed the technology to do that and we needed a [hosting] partner to facilitate that.”
As its cloud provider, Cirius opted to build the Secure Messaging solution on Microsoft’s Azure platform. A key driver in this decision was scale enablement from a regulatory perspective. Data jurisdiction – or how data is subject to different regulation in different regions is an increasingly critical topic for cloud service providers as privacy and other requirements become increasingly stringent across the globe. “Companies need to comply with tightening domestic national security laws and requirements; in Canada, we keep our data in Canada and that is being rolled out in jurisdiction after jurisdiction,” Burke explained. As a provider, “you have to be capable of making customers comfortable with your hosting their data.”
Currently, Cirius solutions are sold by partners into 53 different countries, and the company has had to be prepared to engage in high level discussions on the unique regulatory frameworks for finance, healthcare, etc. in these areas. “We need to be up to speed on those compliance topics, which trickle down to buying decisions for any company,” Burke added. When it evaluated different cloud hosting partners, Cirius recognized that Microsoft “was way ahead in terms of understanding the certifications, global standards and the regulatory requirements that need to be addressed in order to provide an enterprise grade solution that will enable you to speak credibly to people all over the world.”
Cirius’ move to Azure cloud was also a function of the need for geographic scale. Beyond established data centres in three countries (US, UK and Canada), the company was looking to deliver cloud services in new locations, but as a smaller company experiencing rapid growth did not have the time or resources to build out additional facilities in all the countries where demand was intensifying. Through partnership with Microsoft, Cirius would be able to access hosted cloud services in 22 different global locations that would also enable customers to store their data locally, meeting the regulatory requirements of a particular region. In addition, ongoing Azure expansions would provide Cirius with a roadmap for establishing additional delivering locations. Summing up, Burke described the partnership with Azure as “both a reaction and an enabler of growth.”
“It was pretty clear at examination,” Burke concluded. “We looked at Amazon and various other platforms. Azure was a no brainer. Many of our partners were already hosted, or selling Microsoft solutions, and we were impressed by the thought leadership in compliance, certifications and global standards. It was natural fit for us.”
In migration to the Azure, Cirius worked with Microsoft resources to define what is possible – and what is not – with the platform, learning as they went along. To build and deliver its solution, the company took advantage of PaaS and IaaS resources within Azure. Comparing this process to the UK expansion, Burke noted that while the UK installation consumed three months and large financial outlays, deployment with Azure took two weeks, including hardening of the system. The cloud advantage lies in deployment ease. As Burke explained, it was not necessary to ship servers in order to set up a new facility; since it takes only weeks to set up a new jurisdiction, rollout of multiple locations is possible. Once the initial instance of the Cirius solution was in place on Azure, this served as a standard across Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure for very easy virtual deployment in other locations.
For Cirius technical staff and developers, deployment on the Azure platform has enabled a number of productivity benefits. Featuring high levels of scalability, security and availability and support for the Microsoft stack, Azure means reduced maintenance efforts. The ability to manage one, rather than multiple co-located data centres or many cloud data centre provider relationships produced additional time/cost savings.
Having a scalable cloud infrastructure that Cirius could work with was table stakes in the company’s decision to build on Azure, but Microsoft’s ability to deliver services in different jurisdictions was a key benefit that was in alignment with Cirius’ strategic goals. In terms of the CAPEX and OPEX business case, migration to hosted cloud infrastructure offered a certain amount of business logic, but as Burke explained, “it really came down to the auditing, certifications, and the costs of proving to a hospital in the Netherlands, for example, how you do what you do in their facility.” For Cirius, the costs of building out certifications and ensuring compliance in all facilities that would be required if the company maintained its own infrastructure unsustainable. “We were not able to provide this at scale,” Burke noted; on the other hand, “Microsoft was already ahead of the curve in term of certifications.”
Access to multiple Azure locations, combined with Microsoft knowledge of local requirements offered substantial benefit as this could be used as a selling point. For the Cirius partners, the pass through of this knowledge enabled a developing partner network of SIs and MSPs to operate in what can be very complex regulatory environments. In addition, Burke argued that platform automation and ease of use offers additional appeal: “when we go live with a partner, we need to deploy this into their cloud marketplace and we need to have automated on-boarding – a pull down menu with three steps to enable. This takes a lot of work behind the scenes, and addressing certification needs has to happen behind the scenes in real time to ensure that the content remains in the right jurisdiction.” According to Burke, Azure was the only provider that demonstrated it was able to help Cirius enable multi-tier distributors to instantly instantiate services in multiple jurisdictions in a way that was auditable and proven.
The relationship also proved beneficial to Cirius from a strategic perspective as many customers and partners were already part of the Microsoft ecosystem – building solutions on top of Microsoft and also in the cloud. At a business level, it created more opportunities to say to partners, not only is this a Microsoft solution that helps you sell more Microsoft solutions, but it’s hosted within an Azure environment as well. Integration of the Cirius technology with the Microsoft productivity suite has already begun to drive additional channel relationships. “We’re already integrated with Office 365 and Outlook, with Microsoft solutions in the way that we are architected, and so we already had a natural complimentary fit with Microsoft,” Burke noted. This spring, for example, Cirius launched with Ingram Micro on a global basis as an extension of Office 365 and will add services out of Holland, China, Australia, Frankfurt and Northern Ireland as part the new joint offering.
Currently, 65 percent of Cirius business is in regulated sectors, the traditional buyers of encryption solutions. But through channels relationships with companies like AppRiver and Ingram Micro is looking to reach beyond the regulated segment to customers of all sizes and in all industries. As Burke described it, this push is possible with Cirius technology, which provides security as a feature in the product, rather than the product itself. Buyers want to track and control email and know who has read it so mail that is incorrectly sent can be retrieved – capabilities that extend past encryption. So while Cirius is happy to work with partners that support regulated industries, Burke noted “what we are really excited about with partners like Ingram Micro is that they are pitching our solution as productivity, and as a natural extension of Office 365. This takes us into a much larger market, and the opportunity is not just 20 percent, but really anyone who understands that controlling their information is an important reality.”
Going forward, Cirius expects to leverage this added functionality and ease of platform use to develop further partnerships through integrations with other vertical-specific solutions, to compliment what has up to now been product that served as a natural value add for email and hosting providers. Cloud enablement is viewed as a critical part of this forward momentum: Burke observed “I don’t think we would be able to talk to some the partners we are now having discussions with without our ability through cloud to manage scale.”