6 Cloud Upstarts To Watch

Watch out, Amazon Web Services. These younger cloud companies bring new architectures and provisioning methods to the game.

Virtustream, from its earliest days, has attracted financial backing as a potential savvy service supplier. In 2010, Intel Capital was an investor to the tune of approximately $5 million; in September 2013, SAP invested $40 million to aid Virtustream's efforts to host SAP Hana and applications. Why does Virtustream attract the money -- $120 million in all, or about the same amount as invested in Joyent? Rodney Rogers and Keith Reid, co-founders, co-CEOs, and chairman and chief technology officer, respectively, both come out of Adjoined Consulting, which helped companies manage outsourcing and technology issues. Both have experience in application integration, one of the next hurdles that will determine which cloud vendors continue to attract workloads and which fall by the wayside.

Virtustream built up its xStream cloud management platform for its public cloud operation, then made it available as a package for private enterprise cloud operation. In December 2011, it bought Enomaly, with its Elastic Computing management platform that can farm out small units of work to different clouds and manage them. It includes the SpotCloud marketplace, where available capacity can be listed by a primary provider, partners, or even, someday, enterprise private clouds.  

Virtustream has built-in a capability to run VMware's ESX Server workloads and OpenStack's KVM workloads, giving it a stake in two of the principal, emerging public cloud architectures. It offers the same SLAs on each.

It's as if Virtustream decided when it was founded in 2009, as the market was first taking shape, to keep maximum flexibility in its approach. Now, that flexibility may serve it well as VMware customers convert datacenters to private cloud, and OpenStack gains credibility among suppliers. Virtustream operates datacenters in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and London.

ProfitBricks launched in mid-2012, and since then the Berlin-based company hasn't been heard from much. Nevertheless, it brought a new and highly desirable concept to cloud computing upon launch: End-users should be able to configure the server they want, not the one that the supplier has pre-configured for them, and pay for it by the minute, not hour.

In August, it cut prices and now charges half, or US$61.65 a month (versus $111.40), for a virtual server that is the equivalent to an AWS m1 medium server, even though the ProfitBricks server has identical CPU, memory, and storage resources. (It won't necessarily have the rich database, content distribution, and other Amazon services found alongside EC2.)

ProfitBricks allows users to build small up to large-scale, single servers, rather than offering server clusters as its high-performance compute option. That means a customer may scale-up a large database system or SAP application to as far as he is likely to want to go, as opposed to scaling out multiple servers. The largest single ProfitBricks server offered is now 62 CPUs, each equivalent to a current AMD or Intel core, with 240 GBs of memory. ProfitBricks will provide the CPU horsepower from a single host. If a host doesn't have as many CPUs as a customer wants, then the workload is moved to a new host through management software.

"Most applications and services are meant to scale vertically," not scale out horizontally, said Bob Rizika, CEO of ProfitBricks' US division, in an interview earlier this year. The firm has concentrated on a user interface that makes it simple for customers to select the server features they want.

The firm received an additional $19.5 million in venture funding in March from the German firm United Internet AG, on top of $18.8 million it previously received. Its approach to cloud services was one of 10 finalists at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium's Innovation Showcase this year.

ProfitBricks has space in the Switch Communications datacenter in Las Vegas and in Telemax datacenters in Karlsruhe, Germany.

You don't hear much about Dimension Data, partly because it's an older company founded in 1983 and headquartered in Johannesberg, South Africa, and partly because its cloud services are focused on emerging markets in its parent company's part of the world, that of the Japanese telecom giant, NTT Group. That means its largest presence is in Asia/Pacific nations, the Middle East, and Africa.

In addition, Dimension Data comes out of the world of systems integration and managed hosting, as opposed to being a cloud pure play, and it maintains a mix of businesses to this day. But it's no slouch in providing cloud services, with communications and integration services tied in. As it began to shift its attention to cloud services, it had 11,000 employees and revenues of $4.7 billion in 2010, operating in 49 countries.

It gained the cloud self-provisioning software and cloud management skills through its acquisition of OpSource in 2011. In July 2013 the Tolly Group, employed by Dimension Data, published benchmarks showing Dimension Data outperformed Amazon and other leading cloud suppliers.

It emphasizes SLAs that offer 99.99% uptime, like Amazon, plus 99.95% percent uptime for the network, a Dimension Data addition. It also guarantees a latency of less than one millisecond  in the transfer of data packets between cloud servers on the same internal cloud network. Its SLAs return more value to the business, as opposed to offering straight replacement time, as Amazon does. For example, an outage of four minutes beyond the allowable limit would trigger a 2% reduction in the monthly bill of the customer, even though four minutes doesn't represent 2% of the month.

Dimension Data is zeroed in on enterprise needs, understands the all-important relationship of network availability to cloud computing, and offers firmer SLAs. The ways that it departs from the Amazon model gives it a chance to grow in those parts of the world where Amazon is weakest.  

And PrivateCore makes one more. It's not literally a cloud supplier, but one day clouds may differentiate on the basis of whether they are or are not a PrivateCore-equipped service. PrivateCore is a 2012 startup in Palo Alto, Calif., that was founded to make public cloud suppliers able to guarantee the privacy of the customer's data under all circumstances. It is the brainchild of former security experts at Google, VMware, and IDF. 

Their timing may be good. PrivateCore claims it can guarantee your servers in the public cloud can't be snooped on by the NSA.

As a demonstration, PrivateCore put its vCage software on a Tor server run by the Tor anonymity network in IBM's SoftLayer cloud. VCage protects data in use by encrypting it in RAM to protect it from NSA-style snooping programs.

PrivateCore's vCage "uses a brilliant design created by experts who knew what they were doing" to move security in the cloud forward, claimed German security consultant Felix Lindner, head of Recurity Labs in Germany. The use of data-in-use encryption eliminates the possibility that your data will be handed over to governmental authorities by your cloud provider.

PrivateCore was founded by CEO Oded Horovitz, former senior staff engineer at VMware who led development of vShield, and Steve Weiss, a former Google senior engineer who received a Google Founder's award for designing Google's two-step verification.

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek, having joined the publication in 2003. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld, and former technology editor of Interactive Week.

Emerging standards for hybrid clouds and converged datacenters promise to break vendors' proprietary hold. Also in the Lose The Lock-In issue of InformationWeek: The future datacenter will come in a neat package. (Free registration required.)

Editor's Choice
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Terry White, Associate Chief Analyst, Omdia
John Abel, Technical Director, Google Cloud
Richard Pallardy, Freelance Writer
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer