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6 Cloud Upstarts To Watch

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

The cloud is old enough, and Amazon Web Services mature enough at age seven, to make you wonder: Could market leader AWS be outflanked by a fresh architecture or a supplier with a more flexible method of provisioning user-designed servers?

So far, cloud vendors have defined services using their own templates, with a given amount of CPU, memory, and storage. Market leaders Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Rackspace each do it roughly the same way.

But younger companies are trying new architectures and more flexible provisioning methods. In the world of cloud computing, where names like Savvis, Terremark, CSC, and SoftLayer predominate, here's a six-pack of contenders to be the next big name in cloud computing.

DigitalOcean in New York has an architecture that could pose a challenge one day to Amazon, given its heavy reliance on solid-state disks and high-speed provisioning. But the firm has also quickly learned there is more to cloud services than a speedy architecture and new components.

Digital Ocean incorporates 1.92 TBs of solid-state storage per host server, which yields high-speed provisioning for small servers, costing 1.5 cents an hour or just $5 a month. That has appealed to programmer users, particularly members of the Ruby community. DigitalOcean grew fast between January and June 2013, adding 6,996 servers, with AWS one of the few service providers growing faster than that. In the last two months of the year, it added another 6,514 servers, compared to Amazon's 6,269, according to Netcraft, the surveyor of web-facing servers.

[Want to learn more about how DigitalOcean got started? DigitalOcean: Developer-Friendly Cloud Service On A Budget.]

DigitalOcean, Netcraft said, was the only cloud service provider that was adding more servers than Amazon: "DigitalOcean is now growing faster than Amazon Web Services… Together the two companies accounted for more than a third of the Internet-wide growth in web-facing computers."

One user, Kenneth White, was able to find 18 GBs of a previous user's data, when he was assigned unwiped SSDs as his storage. In the normal course of events, the data would have been overwritten by the new user, but White decided to look at what a new user would see if he decided to snoop before writing his own data to disk. He informed DigitalOcean that a previous user's data was "leaking" into his own server use, and DigitalOcean responded that it was dismayed at the oversight and it would write code to prevent that from happening in the future, according to Wired.

That was an exchange that took placed between March 26 and April 2. So why was VentureBeat able to report Dec. 30 that DigitalOcean was once again having a problem with data leaks?  On Dec. 29, a hacker in Berlin, Jeffrey Paul, posted on GitHub that he had discovered a previous customer's data on his just commissioned DigitalOcean virtual server, setting off a storm of negative comments.

Wiping SSDs appears to have impeded on-boarding new users, according to a blog explaining what went wrong by co-founder Moisey Uretsky. DigitalOcean was growing so fast it appears to have chosen to skip executing a wipe as its default offering and instituted a wipe only upon explicit user request in its place. Many users didn't realize the default had been replaced -- DigitalOcean made no public announcement of the change -- and users neglected to order the wipes. That left DigitalOcean able to more speedily reassign their storage, with the predictable exposure to the previous customer, whose data was still resident on the SSD.

In the interest of "transparency," Uretsky explained in a blog Dec. 30: "This is an issue that we cleared up earlier in the year with scrubbing the drive… However as utilization of our cloud went up, we saw that [default] scrubbing was starting to cause degradation in performance..." The firm decided to make scrubbing an option that had to be designated by the user. After the Dec. 29 blowup, DigitalOcean engineers again "are updating the code base right now to ensure that [scrubbing] will be the default behavior," he wrote. 

lt seems that with great growth in the cloud comes great responsibilities, as Amazon could probably testify. Data security is a paramount concern, and DigitalOcean in this initial go-round has shown itself not ready for all the responsibilities that make a large service trustworthy for the long haul. Nevertheless, a company that ranked 568 among cloud suppliers in January 2013 was number 72 by June and 15 by December, according to Netcraft. The young New York firm has speedy servers, bargain-basement prices, and a growing list of tools for developers. If it gets itself straight on disk scrubbing, it will bear watching to see what happens between now and December 2014.

CentriLogic is one of those little companies you've never heard of that remains a long shot. But it looks to be in the right position at the right time.

It's headquartered in Toronto, so it offers entrée to the Canadian market, which has its own protections in place to prevent US cloud suppliers from storing a Canadian citizen's health data, due to the threat of US government snooping.

Also, like Bluelock in Indianapolis, which has a growing disaster recovery business, it's far enough away from the swath of Hurricane Sandy's destruction to make it an attractive location as a backup and disaster recovery site for companies on the East Coast. In the hurricane's aftermath, some companies in the New York metropolitan area found Amazon's US East location in Ashburn, Va., too exposed, even though it continued operating on emergency power through the storm. 

CentriLogic has also built out multiple locations. It has a datacenter in Toronto and two in Mississaugua, Ontario;  also Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y.; Bracknell, UK; and Hongkong.  Last June it acquired Dacentec, with 23,000 square feet of datacenter space near Charlotte, N.C., only one-third of it in use, which has been added to the mix.

It offers a mix of services, in the manner of SoftLayer (acquired in 2013 by IBM), including dedicated physical servers as well as multi-tenant virtual servers and hosting services. That, along with its ability to offer cross-border availability zones, just might make it a preferred partner for those firms looking for a recovery site and a closer tie to Canadian customers.

OVH.com is not a name that trips lightly from cloud-conversant lips, but it's one of Europe's largest cloud suppliers. The privately held company is also a proficient builder of infrastructure, having taken a soup-to-nuts responsibility for the design and production of its cloud servers and infrastructure since it started as a hosting service provider in 1999. That's reminiscent of the approach Google and Amazon took as well.

OVH stands for the nickname of private owner Octave Klaba -- Oles Van Herman -- or On Vous Heberge ("We host you," in French). In Europe, it definitely has geographical reach. While headquartered in Roubaix, France, it has opened facilities in the US and Canada and is one of the largest datacenter chains in Europe. It offers facilities in Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Lithuania, and Finland.

It includes a 100 GB automated backup with its dedicated cloud servers and makes extensive use of SSDs on its dedicated servers. It has deployed IPv6, increased IP address availability for its customers, and implemented Domain Name Service Security Extensions, or DNS SEC, closing another known vulnerability. It has built out its own fiber optic net connecting its centers.

OVH.com is a frequent host to VMware-based workloads, like its European competitor, Colt. It is a proficient supplier that gained unwanted notoriety when Amazon expunged WikiLeaks servers from its facilities in December 2010 and WikiLeaks relocated to OVH.com servers in Europe. OVH.com didn't seek WikiLeaks business but announced it would honor its contract rather than give in to pressure, Klaba said.

OVH.com in the UK was also the home of two BitCoin providers, whose servers were compromised last April. The random number generation of its security algorithm wasn't as powerful as it might have been, and the passwords were broken by a brute force attack. 

Nevertheless, OVH is a leading-edge supplier with an ability to extend its services beyond Europe. With concerns mounting over NSA snooping among major web service suppliers, such as Microsoft and Google in the US, it may be positioned for a long-term expansion.

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User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 4:07:08 PM
Quite a few providers allow customizable configurations
It's a bit odd to see ProfitBricks singled out for having customizable machine configurations when Dimension Data, CenturyLink, and SoftLayer all also allow for customizable configurations.  ProfitBricks does have a nifty GUI for designing your deployment layouts, but from a technical standpoint, I don't believe it offers more customization than the others I mentioned.  (Well, it may offer more cores for a single VM than some of the above, but in terms of customization, it seems equal).

It can also be a bit frustrating to read comparisons like these, because what most customers really care about (features: block storage with quick snapshots/restores; also CPU performance, I/O performance & latency, network bandwidth & latency) is never laid out in a particularly clear way. For example, Digital Ocean, from a feature perspective, is somewhere between AWS and VPS hosting, whereas the other providers listed here (that I've tested) are closer to AWS.  (In particular, DO's support for baking and bootstrapping is much more limited, and I don't believe it offers any kind of storage beyond instance storage).  So I'm not quite sure what to watch...
IW Pick
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 3:13:39 PM
What about the little guys?
One of the biggest advantages of living in Canada is that we have very few incumbents when it comes to cloud.  That is, when you look at physically hosted services in Canada (as opposed to subsidiaries of US companies), there are few huge companies outside the Telcos that are pushing cloud.  What that means is we have a ton of great startups.  I do a lot of work with these folks and honestly, some of the services that are being created would rival that of some of the bigger players.  Ofcourse, they don't have the marketing dollars those big guys do, but in the end, with the NSA fallout, they might have the upper hand just being branded as Canadian born.  I'd like to think that due to the accessibility of cloud, these newer players could displace the old dinosaurs who are trying to revamp their old business models to keep up with the new cloud models.
User Rank: Strategist
1/7/2014 | 1:48:15 PM
Reliability, security edge shifting toward thye cloud
Cloud outages are heavily publicized; internal enteprrise data center outages are not. If the measure were uptime based on number of applicatoins running, the cloud would comfortably beat most data centers. Security remains an issue that will never be fully resolved. There are exposures. But as cited by Bankim Tejani elsewhere, some security measures can be automated in the cloud. In the long run, that's a big plus for cloud security. Tejani's analysis: http://www.informationweek.com/security/cloud-security/how-cloud-security-drives-business-agility/d/d-id/1113339?piddl_msgid=197256&piddl_msgposted=yes#msg_197256
User Rank: Ninja
1/6/2014 | 2:28:57 PM
Re: Brand Still Matters
I see that SAP has invested in Virtustream. I can see why: SAP needs to get more nimble and utilize virtualization better. That's not their core strength, and as such they need help with that technology. Other big companies could also use Virtusteam's technology to their advantage. 
User Rank: Ninja
1/4/2014 | 6:39:51 PM
Caveat Emptor, Joe
For sure the cloud will bring much tribulation, but a heck of a lot more misery as evidenced by data leaks.  Upstarts (and even established companies) looking to conduct biz on the cheap are train wrecks waiting to happen.  Consumers will have to be a lot more vigilant in deciding which services to patronize, but as usual, Joe Blow Consumer is never truly informed even if he wanted to be because of the allergic reaction certain companies have to full disclosure.
User Rank: Strategist
1/3/2014 | 5:04:36 PM
DigitalOcean "Data leak"
Re: Data Leak.  Agreed, Li Tan, there has to be a public announcement if there's a service provider-supplied best practice that's been shifted to a decision by the end user. I think DigitalOcean has a good future, but using growth as an excuse to revert to a non-best practice amounts to shooting yourself in the foot. Has it irreparably harmed its own reputation or will this blow over before 2014 is out?
User Rank: Apprentice
1/3/2014 | 1:18:47 PM
Vendor Comparisons: The Cloud Wars
I believe that vendor comparisons at this level are almost meaningless. There are differing cloud markets in play, namely, consumers, Small-Medium-Business (SMBs), and Enterprises (I could, but won't, bother to break down Enterprises into multiple sizes).  Most of the vendors mentioned play in one or more of these markets, and their success and credibility is different in each.  Some of these vendors are struggling to define where they want to concentrate their marketing efforts. Plus the vendor landscape is evolving through acquisitions, mergers and partnerships.  Verizon/Terremark, NTT/Dimension Data/OpSource and CenturyLink/Savvis are good examples of Telco's trying to expand their horizons into the Cloud world, while you have AT&T trying to do it internally.  Don't forget Deutsche Telecom and T-Systems who were focused more on the full outsourcing spectrum, but have developed a fairly powerful cloud offering with their "Twin-Core" data center concept. Some of these players are struggling to define what they want to be when they grow up. Integration of the telco and cloud businesses has proven to be elusive.


And, of course, you can't completely ignore the traditional outsourcers who are struggling to get into the cloud game (CSC, Dell/Perot, IBM, HP, XEROX/ACS, etc.).  These providers are used to long-term, fixed-price contracts.  Pay-for-usage models are counter-intuitive to them.


It will be fascinating to see the market battles in the next few years, as the core cloud players (Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, etc.)try to move up the enterprise food chain, and the above vendors try to compete.  The core players have established a powerful base that provides them with scale, and therefore, pricing advantages.  But that consistently have problems, as @accident rightly pointed to in his/her comments.  Have the biggies outgrown their ability to manage their environments? Many of the outages are actually caused by changes being made during mid-week, prime hours. The impact of such changes often start off minimal, but the entire environment then degrades into network traffic storms trying to "catch-up", which, in turn, affect many clients.  And, when they have problems, their client communications are horrific, if not, non-existent, usually, a blog site that is updated every 3-12 hours.  Enterprise-class clients will not stand for that kind of service.  The traditional outsourcers and telco's know how to deal with client communications, primarily through dedicated Account Executives and Service Delivery Executives.  I always love to see the defenders say "enterprises have outages, too".  The difference is that when an enterprise has an outage, all hands are dedicated to recovering that enterprise's most critical systems.  The cloud providers, by definition, can't dedicate their resources to one large client. There are no "dedicated" resources.  The outsourcers have a middle ground, namely, having resources working on the general problem, plus dedicated resources, focusing on the individual clients.


The cloud industry, for some time, has discussed the concepts of Public, Private, and Hybrid Cloud models. Large enterprises need (at least, they believe) all three.  Few of the above players have successfully incorporated all three into their quivers under a single management umbrella.  Some are getting very close through acquisition of "cloud management" capabilities.


I have rambled all over the place (I apologize).  I think, someday, we will look back on these coming years as the "Cloud Wars".  Who survives, how long it takes, will customers be the winners, are all unanswered questions.  My bet is, this will be analogous to the battle between mainframes and distributed systems, with the declared death of the mainframe back in 1990.  We will continue to see remnants of all models for a very long time.  Should be fun.
Li Tan
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
1/3/2014 | 3:18:46 AM
Data leak
By reading this post, the fact that DigitalOcean (maybe other vendors as well) did not wipe the storage by default really worries me. This means that there is possible data leak. From end users perspective, by default we consider that when we order a new VM from cloud service provider, it should be in a clean state. But obviously this is not the fact here. Furthermore, some bad guys may try to dig more information from the residue data, which means security breach. Could the cloud service provider at least make a public announcement if they change the default setting like this?
User Rank: Apprentice
1/2/2014 | 2:08:20 PM
Re: Inital AWS appeal was to developers
Do we use the same AWS?   I get nothing but micro outages all day long and in the last year or two have had the worst and longest outages from them.

Here is just the informationweek articles on it:




IIRC you've even had articles on how certain large customers get around these problems.   Any technique could be applied to any host and using multiple hosts. 

When it comes down to it, nobody is perfect and if you put your resources into 1 provider your just waiting for an outage.   Even if that outage is a "planned event" by them.
User Rank: Author
1/2/2014 | 2:05:22 PM
Re: Inital AWS appeal was to developers
The NSA scandal may prove to be the best marketing fuel that a few of these cloud upstarts could ever get -- for free.
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