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The rise of the non-Amazon IaaS cloud provider

Amazon isn’t the only vendor in the IaaS universe. With other large vendors out there and niche providers cropping up, enterprises have choices.

Amazon EC2 and Elastic Block Store (EBS) are nearly synonymous with public cloud computing. Since the cloud provider market has matured, enterprises looking for an alternative to the Amazon empire have some other IaaS options.

The evolution of the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) market is following a predictable pattern. Large-scale vendors that have offered traditional IT services -- IBM, CSC, and Savvis -- also offer general-purpose cloud infrastructure services comparable to Amazon’s. Niche providers also are emerging to offer industry- or regulation-specific services. FireHost, for example, offers PCI-compliant cloud services while Carpathia Hosting targets government services as well as products for the private sector.

There also has been innovation in the way in which clouds are managed. Some vendors have dedicated development resources to improve management consoles, other vendors use virtualization platforms that support federation across multiple data centers.

The IaaS vendor environment likely will continue to develop; you may want to keep your eye on some of these Amazon alternatives.

  • BlueLock, a VMware-based virtualization platform, supports hybrid cloud computing architectures. BlueLock is a VMware-certified vCloud Data Center provider.
  • CSC, another VMware-certified vCloud Data Center provider, is a well-established IT service provider. The company integrates the Cloud Trust Protocol (CTP) into its offerings. The CTP, which was developed by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), enables consumers to query cloud services for information about security configurations and operational characteristics.
  • Dell, long known for its servers, desktops and laptops, runs a VMware-based cloud service.
  • Even though GoGrid doesn’t have the name recognition of some other IaaS providers, it offers competitive pricing and attractive service-level agreements (SLAs). Developers can use GoGrid’s REST-like application programming interface (API) to maintain control over their virtual devices.
  • IBM’s SmartCloud Enterprise product is well suited for test-and-development environments as well as batch jobs. SmartCloud Enterprise is an obvious contender for businesses with a substantial investment in IBM products prior to a cloud initiative.
  • Joyent distinguishes itself by offering a tightly integrated software stack in its SmartOS, an operating system designed to support virtualization, storage and performance analytics. SmartOS uses the ZFS storage system DTrace for performance monitoring and a Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) for virtualization.
  • Boasting nearly half of Fortune 100 companies as its current customers, Rackspace is major backer of the OpenStack open source platform for cloud computing. Rackspace was founded in 1998 with a focus on hosting services. It has since grown to include nine data centers throughout the U.S., the U.K. and Hong Kong. Rackspace is a major provider in the managed email hosting market.
  • Savvis moved into the IaaS market in 2009 with its Savis Cloud Compute service. Its offerings are strong from a security standpoint and support relational databases. The company has 31 data centers worldwide and is based on VMware, making it an attractive option to the financial services industry, businesses requiring PCI compliance as well as other organizations where compliance is an issue.
  • Hosting provider Terremark was acquired by Verizon in 2011. The company has data centers in the U. S., Europe and Asia. Cloud consumers can purchase on-demand and dedicated servers from Terremark. The vendor is also a VMware-certified vCloud Data Center provider.
  • Windows Azure straddles the line between IaaS and PaaS. Currently, Windows Azure offers VMs as a Web role for IIS-based front-end applications or Work roles that are designed for backend operations. A generic VM role that allows deployment of custom Windows Server 2008 R2 images is in beta.

Hedging your bets on a winning IaaS vendor
With such well-known names making their mark on the IaaS market, it’s clear that cloud computing is not a commodity. IaaS providers distinguish themselves with add-on services, 

With such a diverse range of products, it’s important to consider which provider best meets your requirements, especially with regard to performance, security and supporting services.

additional support for compliance and integration with existing on-premises infrastructures and application stacks. With such a diverse range of products, it’s important to consider which provider best meets your requirements, especially with regard to performance, security and supporting services.

Performance. To ensure high performance in your private cloud, pay particular attention to storage and network services. This is especially important if you’re moving an existing application with a heavy I/O load. Because you won’t have low-level access to the storage systems, some techniques your database administrator and storage admin have used in the past might not be available. Test data transfers between on-premises systems and cloud-based applications with realistic loads to understand how they will function in production.

Security. Evaluate the security features a cloud provider offers, including firewall services that may be included at no charge. Other vendors may offer these features at an additional cost. Investigate if intrusion prevention, identity management and other security services are offered and, if so, how they are billed. Some IaaS providers have limited role-based access controls and may not offer the level of granularity you need for access control.

Support. In broad terms, support services include automatic backups to customer support. But other management and maintenance terms may be included. Assess what is offered and what those services will cost.


Dan Sullivan, M.Sc., is an author, systems architect and consultant with over 20 years of IT experience with engagements in advanced analytics, systems architecture, database design, enterprise security and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail and education, among others. Dan has written extensively about topics ranging from data warehousing, cloud computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration, and text mining.

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