Startup Bracket Computing, which officially launched last week, aims to help enterprises harness the resources of multiple IaaS providers through an abstraction layer that creates a logical wrapper around cloud-based applications and data.
Using this wrapper, or "computing cell" in Bracket's parlance, the startup promises to give customers performance guarantees, persistent data encryption, and the ability to run applications across multiple cloud providers.
A computing cell is built from what Bracket calls a metavisor, which sits between a guest OS and the underlying hardware in an IaaS deployment. The metavisor intercepts IO calls between the OS and the hardware, creating the abstraction layer.
"We capture all the important IO calls and virtualize services underneath that," said CEO Tom Gillis in an interview. "Since we are in the data path, we can marshal resources to manage services levels."
Gillis said customers can tune parameters such as storage capacity or IOPs dynamically, and the computing cell will spin up the resources necessary to meet those requirements. "Enterprise applications require deterministic infrastructure," said Gillis. "We provide predictable performance, and it's managed by a service level."
[Hyper-convergence is coming. Is your data center ready? Read Virtualization, Meet Hyper-Converged Infrastructure.]
By way of illustration, Gillis compared his service and IaaS to EMC and Seagate. Seagate provides capacity drives, and EMC bundles them in an array, then adds CPU, memory, and data management features. Gillis says Bracket does essentially the same thing, but with IaaS. "We take virtual disks from providers, and put software on top. The customer holds the root of control."
Bracket also touts its security capabilities, including persistent encryption at rest. According to the company, a Security Plane runs alongside the compute cell and acts as the control point for security management. Computing cells use site-to-site VPNs to connect to the customer's own data center.
Bracket encrypts data at rest using AES-256 symmetric encryption. Keys are protected via hardware security modules (HSMs). The company says it can integrate with customer-owned HSMs, allowing customers to control their own encryption keys.
Because the computing cell isolates the application and data from the underlying cloud infrastructure, Bracket says this allows customers to run an application that could tap resources from multiple clouds at the same time, enhancing availability and performance.
At present, however, Bracket is available only on Amazon's AWS. The company says it has Google Compute Engine in beta, but didn't provide timing on full availability.
View from an early adopter
DirecTV is experimenting with Bracket for a premises application that it would like to move into the cloud. The application "needs to be highly scalable," said Frank A. Palase, senior VP, strategy and innovation, at DirecTV.
"In our experiments we found from a performance and management standpoint, it looked like it behaved the same [in Bracket] as in running on premises." He noted that he was able to get the application into Bracket without the need for significant changes.
When asked why he didn't just run the application on IaaS, he cited Bracket's service guarantees. "If I was trying to get predictability and performance, I'd have to write some of that software myself." He also noted the appeal of Bracket's built-in security features.
Palase said the next step, perhaps in 2015, will be to run a hybrid version of the application, with an instance on-premises and an instance in Bracket. The objective is to see if the Bracket instance can be used for cloud-bursting to handle spikes in demand.
"We'll look at doing it as a load-balanced burst for about six months. Then we'll determine whether to move off-premises and use Bracket long-term," said Palase. "The goal for us is to get to the cloud, but we want to do it with the same scale, availability, and security" as on-premises.
As you'd expect with a cloud offering, Bracket prices its service based on usage. Given that Bracket runs on top of other providers' IaaS offerings, the infrastructure cost is built into Bracket's own pricing, with additional charges based on services that the customer selects.
However, the company declined to offer specifics on pricing. DirecTV's Palase said he carefully monitors the cost of his own Bracket deployment.
"As our engagement with them grows, we'll aggressively negotiate our costs to make sure they're in line with what we expect."
He noted that DirecTV might have had to develop in-house the capabilities that Bracket offers, but because it's available as a service, DirecTV doesn't have to take on the development cost. "Right now, Bracket can do it cheaper, but we'll have to pay attention to it as we scale."
And of course, there's always risk involved when working with a fledgling company. Palase acknowledged that risk, but also cited the upsides.
"What we've found is that startups allow us to get competitive advantage," he said. "We are willing to accept calculated risks to drive us forward...
"You gotta take risks. We are in a competitive marketplace that makes IT relevant, so our ability to help drive the business forward is exciting. If you take no risks, that's risky. Staying still in a highly competitive market -- there's no advantage to that."
Bracket was founded in 2011 by Tom Gillis and Jason Lango. Both founders come from Cisco via IronPort, a maker of hardware email and web security appliances that was acquired by Cisco in 2007. Bracket currently has $85 million in venture capital. Investors include Andreessen Horowitz, GE Ventures, and Qualcomm Ventures.
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