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A new breed of cloud provider? Real servers, EC2 prices

Newservers is a curious new breed of cloud computing that eschews the frugal, high-efficiency, open source virtualized infrastructure used by Amazon, Rackspace and others. Instead, NewServers sells dedicated physical servers in exactly the same way Amazon sells virtual ones: By the hour, by the server, on the Web or with an application programming interface (API) -- and at comparable prices.

In 2004, CEO J.P. Gagne founded hosting company NewServers and, in 2007, was bitten by the cloud bug. Here Gagne explains why he went real rather than virtual.

What is NewServers? NewServers is the only server cloud that delivers dedicated servers instead of virtual instances...

on shared servers. We deliver dedicated servers, and we have some virtualization-like image management tools that allow you to build up environments quickly. How big an operation is NewServers? We have almost 500 servers and 290 customers now The technology itself is a whole bunch of basic systems that are managed together. So when you request a server from us, we provision that server by writing an image onto it. Either we write one of our default, basic bare images or the customer can make his own images. We call them bare-metal images. The format is somewhat specific to the hardware that we use: Dell Blade servers. Why move anyway from traditional hosting? Was this something you saw as an opportunity, something you thought was necessary? We built a server infrastructure to support the customers we had; we didn't have any intention to compete in the dedicated server business, since there are so many large players. Then we were introduced to the server cloud model, specifically Amazon EC2 [Elastic Compute Cloud]. Everybody in my organization got really excited about it because it changed the way we looked at server resources and even changed some of the ways that we developed applications.

But we had always stayed away from virtualization because it adds more complexity, it adds more application overhead on the servers and, even worse -- for instance, in the case of Amazon EC2 -- you're getting a virtual instance of a shared server. The virtualization technology's not perfect -- so it's very possible for another customer on the same server to degrade your performance even though it's supposedly able to split the server in half. Is this something your customers are telling you they want?
We have had customers who have moved away from other server clouds and complained that the performance in the virtual server cloud was unreliable. We have many customers who run hosting operations on our servers, and some even run VPS hosting on our servers. We deliver the unit to the customer as a whole unit, and he can divide it further from there. Amazon would say that they manage all of that stuff so you'll always get the performance you're paying for. Is this something dedicated servers can always do better no matter what?
Well, a dedicated resource is a very absolute quantity of computing power. And a virtual instance is much more variable. So, we thought, 'We love this whole server cloud, but we've always stayed away from virtualization for a number of reasons, so why don't we make the server cloud we want.' We offer three nines of uptime; we give credits if there's any downtime. We've located our data centers in [Terremark's] NAP of the Americas in Miami, and we have a local connection inside the building to Internap. So we're paying a lot of money to keep everything up all the time. What were some of the design challenges around using real servers as opposed to kernels you can just boot up?
One of the challenges was imaging. One of the features that made that virtualization popular was the ability to take a snapshot of a server and make multiple copies of it. So we have something similar that allows our customers to take snapshots -- basically a direct copy of a hard drive and then write it onto the hard drive of another server.

We have a catalog of base images made with all the versions of Windows and may versions of Linux. We even have VMware images. The customers take our images, customize it and then create their images that they use to scale up their environments quickly.

What's the most attractive part of the server cloud model for you and for your customers? It's the ability to pay for peak capacity only after or only when it occurs.

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