Sharad Sanghi went to America knowing that he would always return to his native India. But that doesn’t mean for one moment that he spent his time pining for home; to the contrary. “They were some of the most formative years of my life,” the managing director and CEO of Netmagic Solutions says, recalling his 5 years stateside. A quick glance at his résumé demonstrates just how busy he was. Along with completing his masters degree in engineering from New York’s Columbia University, he worked for leading corporations including AT&T Bell Labs and the IBM Global Network, as well as consulting for Merrill Lynch and Bankers Trust.
His parents, and an ambition to start his own business, were what drew him back to India in the early 90s, but he still finds his schooling in the American way of business relevant today. “You know, these were the only 5 years I actually worked for someone else,” he laughs. “I’ve never worked for an organisation in India as an employee. In the US, I learned about openness and about how to treat your staff. I also learned to invest in things, rather than cut corners. In the US, people invest in sustainability, in the long term. I think too often in India we have a short-term vision; we put off thinking about the long term until another day,” he says.
Making IT infrastructure in India viable
It was a rapidly changing landscape that Sharad encountered on his arrival home. “I knew it was time to return to India when I heard that the government was commercialising the internet sector,” which was previously state-controlled. The year 1998 proved to be a watershed for India’s digital journey and private players were finally allowed into the market. “There were a lot of new entrants to the market, but I realised that good, well-managed infrastructure services were just not there,” he explains. “Most companies were hosting their websites overseas.” Having identified a gap in the market, the ambition of starting his own business was fulfilled with the foundation of Netmagic Solutions.
After an initial round of venture-capitalist funding in 2000, the fledgling start-up was able to establish its first data centre in Mumbai. In 2006, the year before raising the second round
of venture capital, it opened 2 new data centres, one in Bangalore and its second in Mumbai. A third round would follow in 2010. Fast-forward to today and Netmagic Solutions has 9 state-of-the-art data centres, with 2 more set to open in 2018, a global client base, and it is the leading managed hosting and cloud service provider in India.
Sharad is aware that he and the company have played a critical role in an era of immense transition. “There has been a huge shift over the past 2 decades. Not only are Indian companies hosting domestically, but international companies who target an audience
in India have started to move their infrastructure here. I think where we have played the pioneering role is towards making IT infrastructure in India viable,” he says.
A common cloud
In 2012, NTT Communications acquired a majority stake in Netmagic Solutions. The Japanese-based telecommunications powerhouse was one of a handful of suitors who showed an interest. “There were a few reasons why we chose NTT Communications,” explains Sharad.
Along with offering Netmagic Solutions a global footprint and NTT Communications an entry point into the Indian market, he admits that the cultural fit was influential in the decision. “We share similar values. I think the Japanese are very similar to Indians: they don’t hire and fire like in the US!” he laughs.
5 years on, the relationship is stronger than ever. “NTT Communications has been very good to us,” he says. “It has given us an opportunity to take our cloud technology global, when previously we were only offering it in India. We also share best practices and data centre designs. We help them in managed services, cloud technologies, and in improving data centre energy efficiency as well as earthquake-resistant design.”
As Sharad looks towards the future, he is particularly excited about creating a common cloud with NTT Communications.
“The best features from its cloud offering, Enterprise Cloud, have been integrated into our cloud offering, and vice versa,” he says. “We’ve realised that cloud is going to be multi-vendor and we are not the only players that are going to be there. Our customers have cloud interests around the world. The ability to manage them seamlessly through a common interface will go a long way towards cementing us as a cloud space leader,” he states.
“I think where we have played the pioneering role is towards making IT infrastructure in India viable.”
The customer comes first
He believes that Netmagic Solution’s agility, combined with the cover of a very large parent company, is a unique combination in India, one that sets it apart from its competitors. A senior 60-member team dedicated to research and development is another. “We are also probably the only service provider in our space to have this,” he says. Echoing his lessons from America, he acknowledges that in the short term the cost is significant, but he is thinking instead of the long-term benefits.
Trust and transparency are at the core of all its dealings, whether with employees, customers or partners, and satisfaction is what Sharad identifies as his key measurement for success. “I don’t go after numbers. There are others in the organisation who do that. I’m not saying I’m not aware of the numbers or the targets, but my focus is on ensuring that my customers and employees are happy. My belief is that once they are taken care of, the top and bottom lines will be achieved,” he says.
His claim that “we’ve never had a case where we’ve disappointed a customer” seems like a bold one, but then again, ‘The customer comes first’ is a motto the company swears by. “I know many organisations may say it, but we put it into practice, even at my level. If something happens, our aim first is to get our customer back up and running and then worry about the commercial aspects later,” he says.
The data centre networking landscape is one that has undergone dramatic transformation, according to Sharad, and he emphasises the importance of strong partnerships in maintaining a competitive edge. Netmagic Solutions can draw upon long-established relationships with leading names in the sector such as Arista Networks, which was a key partner on lighthouse projects such as its cutting-edge Mumbai data centre, DC5, that was launched in late 2015. “Our partners must understand our vision for the future and then be able to help us deploy it,” Sharad explains. “But we must also know and understand theirs. We have relationships at the CEO level and come to know each other’s strategy and roadmaps.”
Sharad can call upon such technology partners again as he plans for what he views as one of modern IT’s next rapidly changing facets of technology: software defined networking (SDN).
“We are constantly evaluating and bringing online newer services using SDN, and we rely heavily upon partners such as Arista Networks to enable richer networking services in our cloud data centres.”