Lightstorm runs fresh fiber for AWS, Google data centers in India

Network startup Lightstorm is working double time to overhaul India’s digital infrastructure, aiming to make it easier for cloud and content players like Amazon, Google and Microsoft to offer higher quality services in of one of the world’s fastest growing markets. In addition to broadening its optical transport footprint across the country, co-founder and CEO Amajit Gupta told Fierce it’s eyeing an expansion into other countries across Southeast Asia with similar connectivity needs.

According to Gupta, the idea for Lightstorm solidified around three years ago, with the company officially getting off the ground in August 2020 when it received a license to operate in India and financial backing from private equity group I Squared Capital. The firm also owns EXA Infrastructure, which is focused primarily on providing connectivity for data centers in Europe.

Looking at the India market, Gupta said the company saw a massive opportunity to upgrade outdated digital infrastructure which wasn’t designed to support cloud and data connectivity needs around bandwidth, reliability and latency.

“One of the things we discovered was the data centers weren’t connected through a very robust pipe in a way that most users of data centers wanted it to be connected,” he explained, noting such users included the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft. “They were adjusting their software to the lighter version…in these markets just for the lack of infrastructure.”

So, Lightstorm set out to connect all cloud points in India with top-of-the-line optical transport on par with what Zayo and Verizon use in the U.S. Gupta said it partnered with state-owned utilities to string its fiber along high-voltage transmission lines and gas pipelines, a move which provided protected, linear routes that helped cut down on latency and improved network reliability.

“It was not breaking down 40 times a month, which was really the cut rate in a city like Bombay,” he noted.

Beyond its work on the physical infrastructure, it teamed with Cisco, Ciena and Nokia to address the network and application layers and Salesforce and Oracle on assurance, customer management and billing. Its OSS and BSS is entirely cloud-based, Gupta added.

Since its launch less than two years ago, Lightstorm has deployed around 12,500 kilometers (over 7,700 miles) of fiber to connect 45 data centers across the seven major cities in India. It offers wavelengths up to 400-gig.

Growth plan

In terms of what comes next, Gupta said it is looking at expanding its footprint to tier-2 cities and edge locations to reach a total of between 25 and 30 cities in India. He added it’s also building connections into the neighboring countries of Nepal and Bangladesh, and believes there are additional opportunities in places like Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Additionally, Lightstorm is also planning to add new cable landing stations in India and other countries in the region to alleviate congestion at existing internet entry points. And on the product front, it’s working toward the rollout of a new self-service option which will allow smaller cloud and content players buy smaller amounts of bandwidth on its network.

These “local unicorns” are born in the cloud and while “they’re not a Google or Amazon yet” they want to be, Gupta explained.

Analyst firm IDC recently forecast India’s public cloud services market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 24.1% to reach $10.8 billion by 2025. For itself, Lightstorm is aiming to double its revenue and customer base every year for the next three years, Gupta said.

The thing that keeps Gupta up at night, though, is not a lack of demand but a lack of supplies. Just like everyone else in the industry, he noted the company is working to manage supply chain issues.

Thus far, it’s been a mixed bag. While Lightstorm has a higher profile than some smaller companies, its purchase volumes are low. “We’re not constrained on the attention with respect to technology, technical discussions and all of those things. In fact, we feel very good on par with anybody else,” he explained. “But on the supply side, yes, simply because we don’t drive up as much scale as the very large telcos.”