Australian clouds compared

Cloud has matured in Australia. We take a look at some of the providers available, putting them head to head.

In ZDNet Australia's second take on local cloud-computing services, we take a fresh look at Australia's cloud services to see whether they stack up against big overseas operators.

(The sky image by Lunaaldent, royalty free; ZDNet)

The cloud has certainly come of age over the last 12 months, with many large technology vendors announcing and launching a major service. From the consumer (Apple's iCloud) to the enterprise (HP's recent cloud announcements, which concentrated on infrastructure, hardware, and services), the cloud is now firmly mainstream.

The other big change coming in the Australian cloud industry is, of course, the National Broadband Network (NBN), which will provide the low latency of a fixed, high-speed network that will likely help Australian providers compete with their US counterparts.

In looking over the opportunities, challenges, threats, and companies that are changing the cloud-service landscape, we realised that it was time to update our previous story comparing Australian cloud services.

In this feature, we take a look at a number of cloud services that are hosted in Australia, and compare aspects of those services to Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a benchmark.

Criteria

The information sought from each provider we looked at, with an explanation, follows.

1. Organisation

The name under which the company is trading.

2. Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offering name

The name that the provider is giving its IaaS product.

3. Online sign-up

Can businesses sign up for the cloud service online in a self-service fashion?

The ability to sign up and transact, without interacting with a salesperson or an account manager, is viewed by many as a critical element of cloud computing. Technical people have generally researched what they want, so they just want to get on with the job. They prefer less manual interactions, and more means to automate activities. This can be in stark contrast, though, with less-technical management or management of enterprise, which may want to engage in a more traditional sales process.

4. Location of datacentre

In some circumstances, even though you have a contract with an Australian entity, that entity could be using an offshore facility. Some customers have mandatory requirements to keep data in Australia. Communication latency for certain types of application scenarios can also be too high with offshore cloud providers. Using Secure Shell to access an Amazon EC2 instance, for example, can be very frustrating when latency is poor. However, this is not true in other circumstances or application scenarios.

5. Contract jurisdiction

In the event of a legal dispute, which laws apply to the data? Which courts will rule or arbitrate?

Having a contract with an Australian organisation hosting data in a datacentre located in Australia makes it likely that Australian law would be applied to the data. Scott Stewart, Longhaus' cloud-computing analyst, said that Australian organisations can still be subjected to the US Patriot Act if they have operations in the United States, due to treaties signed between the US and Australia. It would have to be exceptional circumstances, however, for such powers to be invoked.

(wallet 3 image by lusi, royalty free)

6. Pay by credit card

Can you pay for the service with a credit card? Doing so provides a confirmed identity to the provider, and also shortens the time to bring a new customer on board.

7. API for external automation

Cloud computing is about on-demand access, with minimal management effort or service-provider interaction. Without an API, manual intervention is always required. A good API allows for tasks to be automated, and for metrics about usage to be retrieved. It also opens the door for innovative uses of the cloud provider's services. An example would be retrieving spot prices for virtual machine instances. Based on the pricing and availability, a determination could be made to start a job with that cloud provider.

8. Minimum commitment

What is the shortest amount of time that you can use the service for? A short commitment provides customers with flexibility. It is not uncommon to see it as 1 hour for compute if you have already set up an account with the cloud provider. If you only use an hour at a time, then that is all that you will be charged for on the next billing run. However, if you're asking the cloud provider for dedicated infrastructure in a private cloud configuration, the minimum commitment will be longer. Some providers will use the enterprise tag to bump up the minimum commitment.

9. Compute cost (CPU per hour)

How much will a CPU cost per hour? Depending on your transactional needs, different CPU configuration and memory combinations are normally available. If you have a low-usage website, you can ask for an instance type that is appropriate. The cost will increase with more compute capacity, with the higher costs for more cores or CPUs and memory.

10. Storage cost (GB per month)

How much does it cost to store 1 gigabyte per month? Rates for storage will vary, with some cloud providers having an initial allocation that can be extended. The more you store, the cheaper per GB it can be.

11. Data transfer (cost per GB)

Many providers don't charge you for internet traffic coming in, but will charge for internet traffic going out. There may be a rate table applicable for the provider. Internal traffic within a datacentre is normally not charged. However, if a cloud provider has multiple regions, then a charge to transfer between the regions may apply.

If there is a significant amount of data, it may not be viable or cost effective to transfer it over the internet. In that case, a service may be available where the data from posted hard drives can be loaded into the cloud provider's storage.

12. Load balancing

If a new server is provisioned, it also needs to be added into the load balancer, and, if de-provisioned, removed from the load balancer. The load balancer's job is to distribute the workload between available resources.

13. Customers

How many customers does the provider have, and how big are they? This can be a marker for reliability, but it may also affect bandwidth and latency.

14. Security

When you're relying on someone else to keep your data safe for you, security is paramount. Unfortunately, it's very hard to compare security in a table, but we've taken a look at what security measures are possible for cloud providers and what customers should look for.

Products

We are using Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a baseline US provider to compare our Australian clouds against. The Australian clouds we have looked at are listed below.

(data center image by jodax, royalty free)

Area9

Area9 has helped over 500 businesses across regional and urban northern Australia to obtain the advantage of cloud services following the 2011 launch of its Northern Territory-based cloud-computing centre, letting the traditionally rural industry region compete effectively in local, national, and global markets.

Recognised by both IT research firm Longhaus and Telstra with several awards, Area9's approach is to promote the benefits of a local cloud, successfully merging global IT practices and solutions with the needs of northern Australian business.

CloudCentral

Established in 2009, CloudCentral was designed to allow the storage of data and applications on a pay-as-you-grow basis, with no upfront commitments necessary. CloudCentral's cloud products are highly scalable and hosted in geographically dispersed datacentre facilities in an open cloud infrastructure, but the company guarantees that your data will remain in Australia.

Suitable for internet services, prototyping, databases, and software as a service (SaaS), CloudCentral provides a scalable service that suits startups to multinationals — you can increase the size of existing servers or delete redundant servers and see the effect immediately.

The company's products also include free load balancers for optimum performance and a graphical remote console that gives you full visibility of your servers.

CSC Australia

CSC offers a range of cloud services, including CloudCompute (IaaS), private cloud service BizCloud, CloudDesktop, and CloudLab, which meet the need for temporary cloud compute and storage resources and Cloud IU for SAP.

The company believes that cloud management will be a core requirement for CIOs in the future, and that they're going to demand data security, IaaS service transparency, and value beyond just cost savings. Now 18 months old, CSC's cloud portfolio is part of a global network of 13 datacentres.

Dimension Data

Dimension Data's Managed Cloud Platform is aimed at making things easy. Customers can manage everything through a CloudControl portal, automating provisioning, orchestration, administration, and billing. The company is both a cloud provider and a systems integrator, which facilitates simple planning, design, deployment, and management of private, public, and hybrid clouds.

All products are delivered and managed through the same platform, so whether you're a startup or you have an established IaaS deployment need, it's cost effective and easy to migrate between models as your business evolves.

Dimension Data offers guarantees on availability, performance, and service experience, and a full suite of technical support options for specialist areas like patch management, device configuration, and backup. The common architecture across its cloud environments lets customers interconnect projects or data to support bursting or easy switches between private or public models.

Fujitsu

Fujitsu's cloud service includes IaaS, platform as a service (PaaS), and SaaS. The company claims that its Australian-based and environmentally friendly datacentres offer the most comprehensive range of configuration options in Australia, and let customers match technology systems and costs to changing business needs.

Fujitsu's self-service portal gives users access to a service that's online with "99.999 percent availability" and covers everything from backup and disaster recovery to packaged applications. There's also an industry-standard assessment service that analyses customers' current data environment and advises the best cloud product for their needs and budget. The company would not provide pricing, however, so it has not been included in the table.

Ninefold

Ninefold offers locally stored and secure data, free local support, self-service flexibility, and low latency. Backed by Macquarie Telecom, the company has the resources to offer enterprise-grade cloud infrastructure.

There's online sign-up, and customers can enter their details and provision virtual servers and cloud storage within minutes, scaling up and down when needed. Ninefold also offers an AU$50 discount on their service for testing.

Ninefold's customers include developers, incubators, entrepreneurs, startups, and partners, and the company has a strong commitment to communication through initiatives that range from mentoring and hackathon VMs to sponsorship programs.

Optus PowerOn

Formerly Optus Elevate, Optus PowerOn offers a self-service portal and stores data in the company's Australian ISO 27001-certified data facilities. An on-premise private cloud-service solution is forthcoming. In the second half of 2012, Optus will be making improvements across its cloud services.

It has pay-as-you-consume and "burstable" pricing models, in addition to the current fixed price. A new enterprise cloud storage service is on the way, as is a regional solution, which lets customers with regional operations access virtual capacity across multiple clouds, but manage resources from a single portal.

An interesting value-add is Optus' Cloud Readiness Assessment to help customers assess whether they're ready to move applications into the cloud. It will include guiding strategy, assessing the most suitable applications, and looking at the security and governance policies.

OrionVM

Formed in a university dorm in 2010, OrionVM launched the latest version of its IaaS product — CloudDC — in April 2011, and was immediately benchmarked as the world's fastest public cloud by CloudHarmony.com

OrionVM has said that CloudDC — built predominantly for ISVs, development and test environments, websites, internal applications, and web or mobile apps, particularly SaaS products — offers reliability and ease of use for developers and IT managers.

It's both Windows and Linux friendly, has comprehensive documentation to support the API, and 24-7 Australia-based phone support. Physical and virtual security is imposed by a tier-4 federal government-approved datacentre, and the service counts the NSW Government among its users.

Rackspace

Rackspace recently announced that it will be opening an Australian datacentre. However, it hasn't made the pricing for the Australian-based service available yet, so we have not included it in the table. Last year, it's inclusion was as a US-based comparison service.

Telstra

Telstra is continuing its AU$800 million investment into cloud computing with a revamp of the Telstra Cloud Services portal, which allows the online purchase and management of its virtual server range. The company said that it has also introduced sharper subscription pricing and significantly increased internet traffic in subscription packages that are purchased before December 31, 2012.

There are two pricing plans: subscription and pay as you go. Plans start from AU$200 (excluding GST) per month, and provide fixed monthly costs for a mostly static configuration. The pay-as-you-go option starts from AU$0.05 per hour (excluding GST), and can be used for burst-type workloads. Dedicated server packages are also available, starting from AU$2,500 (excluding GST) per month.

Telstra has recently launched a backup-as-a-service (BaaS) offering, which allows any customer connected to Telstra's Next IP network to back up their server data in the cloud using a simple software client installed on their server.

UltraServe

The biggest advantage to the locally stored data that UltraServe focuses on is low latency.

Customers can sign up online with a credit card for immediate access to the platform, or can work with a technical sales engineer to determine the most cost-effective plan for each customer's requirements.

Customers have access to the MyUltraServe portal, which lets you control and auto-provision your Cloud Machines and Virtual Data Centres. An API is then available to manage your Cloud Machine infrastructure for configurations such as auto-scaling of services.

There's also an enterprise-grade virtual private datacentre option, offering additional managed servers such as managed patching, backup, and monitoring.

ZettaGrid

Perth-based ZettaGrid prides itself on its automation. The very simple web browser access system gives absolute control of scale and provision to the user in real time. With four datacentres in Sydney and Perth and two coming online in Melbourne in a matter of weeks, the company has three separate environments, and can isolate issues that are present in one datacentre so that they don't affect the others.

The provider grew out of an 18-year-old ISP company that's still in business, and it gives existing ZettaGrid-connected customers a competitive advantage in free traffic to cloud services.

The service has been scored highly by CloudHarmony.com. When it comes to architecture speed, ZettaGrid claims its cloud is four times faster than AWS.

The comparison

 
Provider Product Online sign-up Datacentre locations Contract jurisdiction Credit card payment API Minimum term CPU ($/hr) Storage (GB/hr) Data transfer ($/GB) Load balancing Number of customers
Amazon Web Services Amazon EC2 Yes Various US locations, Ireland, Singapore, Tokyo US Yes Yes None From US$0.02 From US$0.10 From US$0 to US$0.12 US$0.01/GB Not disclosed
Area9 Cloud Computing Coming soon Darwin, NT Australia Coming soon Coming soon 12 months AU$0.105 AU$0.045 Priced per requirements Included 500+
CloudCentral CloudServers Existing customers only Sydney, Canberra Australia Yes On request None AU$0.025 Included AU$0.25 (inbound); AU$0.50 (outbound) Free 500 to 1000
CSC Australia CloudComputer, BizCloud Yes Melbourne, Sydney Australia No Available CloudCompute: 3 months; BizCloud: 12 months AU$0.015 AU$0.034 to AU$0.104 POA Included Not disclosed
Dimension Data Managed Cloud Platform Yes Sydney Australia Yes Yes None AU$0.044 AU$0.0004 Unlimited (inbound); AU$0.045 to AU$0.27 (outbound) Included 350
Fujitsu Managed/Local Cloud Platform Yes Sydney Australia No Yes None POA POA POA Yes 2,000+
Ninefold Cloud Computing and Storage Yes Sydney Australia Yes Yes None From AU$0.002 AU$0.092 AU$0 (inbound); AU$0.90 (outbound) Yes: AU$0.037/hr; AU$0.011/GB (data processing) Not disclosed
Optus PowerOn Compute No Sydney Australia No Yes 12 months AU$125/month AU$0.30 (standard); AU$0.60 (performance) Depends on bandwidth needs Yes Not disclosed
OrionVM CloudDC Yes Sydney Australia Yes Yes None AU$0.09 AU$0.30 AU$0.80 Yes Not disclosed
Telstra Cloud Services Yes Sydney Australia Coming soon Coming soon 1 hour (PAYG) From AU$0.05 From AU$0.003 AU$1 Free 500 to 1000
Ultraserve Cloud Machines Yes Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne soon Australia Yes Yes 1 hour AU$0.074; AU$0.59 (enterprise) AU$0.00053; AU$0.00042 (enterprise) AU$0.775; AU$0.617 (enterprise) Yes Not disclosed
Zettagrid Zettagrid Fully automated Sydney, Perth, Melbourne soon Australia Yes Yes 30 days AU$0.013 AU$0.0007; AU$0.001 (premium) AU$0.25; free for ISP customers Yes Not disclosed

Security

Since we published our last cloud article, there have been multiple high-profile data breaches, including a recent breach of hosting provider Melbourne IT. So we decided to ask the companies about their security technology and approach.

Carlo Minassian, CEO and founder of security vendor Earthwave, said that there are a number of security challenges that providers haven't yet addressed. Firstly, all data is treated equally without classification, which leaves customers vulnerable to a breach that they might not know about for months or years. Secondly, the staff members at the providers most likely haven't undergone police checks. Lastly, the focus is generally on data protection, rather than threat detection and response.

It's difficult to compare the security aspect of clouds, because there are so many features that you could call out as affecting security. The only generalisation you can make about security among the cloud providers we approached is that it's a very moveable feast. Some called attention to the physical security of their premises and facilities. Some were keen to push their network security, with protocols and policies that extend right through to the user. Many talked about the virtual security on their servers.

A common theme was dedicated Virtual Large Area Networks (VLANs). Even though you might share bandwidth with your providers' other customers, a VLAN puts you on a separate "channel" or broadcast domain from everyone else. As well as addressing network-management and scalability issues, it's good security practice (think of building a long, watertight dam down the middle of a river, keeping the flow separate from the source until it reaches you).

If you ask your cloud provider about their onboard security solutions in both hardware and software, you'll hear an array of product names, all as dizzying as those that exist in the consumer sector, like VG, BitDefender, Norton, and so on. You can try to investigate the merits of vCloud Director, vShield, Juniper EX switches, and SRX firewalls, but perhaps even more important when it comes to cloud security is response.

The practices that you and the provider can employ to stay secure are varied. You can have them close data ports (80 for the web, 24 for FTP, etc) by default that only you can enable depending on the data that you will be working with. You can also define lists of security level access for you, your staff, and those at the cloud provider itself. At the most basic level, it might just mean a security watch that notifies you 24-7 if there's a problem on your server.

The security features might all be a blur when choosing a provider, but here's a trick: learn about just one or two that your cloud provider has, and quiz your contact about them relentlessly. It'll soon separate those that take security seriously from those that just wanted the tick of approval because it looks good in the marketing documents.

Security's also about more than protection. A targeted attack can and will get around firewalls and other "blanket" solutions if the bad guys are persistent, clever, or resourced enough. In the new world of threats, where it's about profit rather than bragging rights, they won't want you to know they're in your data, because they want time to do the largest amount of damage possible. If they get around your cloud server's protective measures, ask them how soon you'll find out before there's irreparable damage to your reputation or bottom line.

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