A Canberra-based start-up named Cloud Central has snuck under the radar with a private beta launch of infrastructure-as-a-service, hosted from the TransACT data centre in Australia's capital.
Cloud Central is the result of 12 months research and a further 12 months of development and engineering by Kristoffer Sheather, who formerly worked as a software developer and architecture engineer for multiple Federal Government departments.
The service offers bundles of compute power, memory and storage from as low as $0.03c per hour, plus GST, network traffic fees and third party software licenses.
Some thirty small customers were signed up for Cloud Central's soft launch last week, with hopes of 100 being signed up before the service goes public next year.
Sheather told iTnews that Cloud Central offered a very different proposition to existing IaaS services from internationals Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) and local players Rejila (Ultraserve) and vCloud Express (Melbourne IT and VMware).
First, Cloud Central is based in Canberra.
"The data is located here," Sheather said. "There is no question about whether your data is sitting in somebody else's legal jurisdiction."
Local hosting also means local support. Cloud Central offers a similar service to international peers, but also offers phone support during Australian business hours (8am to 8pm) and e-mail/ticket support thereafter.
The nitty gritty
The service is built on the Xen open source enterprise cloud solution stack (version 3.3), Sun Microsystems' 128-bit XenFS file system, HP server hardware and Sun storage arrays.
Cloud Central's services are sold as seven different varieties of pre-packaged computing environments or 'instance types' - and priced under a metric called the CCU (Cloud Computing Unit).
In Cloud Central's schema, one CCU is the compute equivalent of a circa-2007 Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron class CPU. It mimics the Amazon model of an Elastic Compute Unit (ECU).
"We thought customers would appreciate having the ECU as a reference point to compare our pricing, so we defined our services in much the same terms," Sheather said.
The entry-level Nano plan features 256 MB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a guaranteed 1/16 of a CCU. (If no other user is demanding that system, the user can burst up and use the whole CPU).
The highest-grade of plan currently available includes 15,872 MB of RAM, 1024 GB of storage and 4 CCUs, priced at $1.92 per hour.
Sheather said the company is playing with some innovative new techniques around load-balancing and a 'hybrid storage pool' - a pool of both traditional disk and solid state storage (SSD).
For now, Cloud Central is based on HP server hardware. But Sheather said he is "probably going to change that once we have a bigger roll-out" to a custom hardware platform optimised for use in cloud computing.
"We are looking for the best performance matched with the lowest energy usage," he said.
Despite having nowhere near the scale of his US competitors, Sheather said he expects to compete with the likes of Amazon's EC3, at least on compute prices.
"It's on bandwidth costs that we can't compete," he said. "Amazon's buying power is simply too large, and there is a lower cost of bandwidth in the United States."
Network bandwidth on Cloud Central is charged at $1.00 per GB inbound (ie data sent from a client, to the service) and $1.50 per GB outbound (ie data sent from the service, to a client).
The same on Amazon's EC2 would cost between US$0.10 and US$0.17.
Cloud Central customers with very high network bandwidth requirements also have the option of ordering a private network link via NextGen Networks.
Sheather said Cloud Central expects the TransACT data centre to handle the requirements of the project. A new expansion room in the data centre, which offers an additional 1000 square metres of space, will "provide enough capacity for at least a year or two of growth," he said.
Sheather said Canberra was a suitable launch pad for deploying services through the Eastern seaboard.
"Obviously the closer to Canberra you are, the better performance you'll get," he said. "We will get a lot of interest from local and Federal Government. But it makes just as much sense in Sydney, where the response times are 7-9 milliseconds, or Melbourne, where its 10-12 milliseconds."
Cloud Central Is also investigating a build-out to a data centre in Queensland by mid-to-late 2010.
"But even now, the latency at [connecting to Cloud Central from] Brisbane is over twenty times better than consuming a cloud service from the U.S. or Europe," he said.
While today his customers are small software start-ups, web and graphic designers and other SMEs, Sheather eventually aims to win public sector business as the Federal Government formulates a whole-of-Government data centre strategy.
"This is a public cloud, a shared model," he said. "In the future, we'd like to offer a private hosted cloud to Government departments in which they get dedicated infrastructure and a higher level of security as a solution for those customers prepared to pay for it."