Australian clouds compared

Summary:Despite large-scale cloud computing datacentres being established offshore, there is a growing base of Australian cloud providers offering cloud via infrastructure as a service (IaaS), with services based in this country. We have a look at some of these providers in this ZDNet Australia's cloud comparison.

Despite large-scale cloud computing datacentres being established offshore, there is a growing base of Australian cloud providers offering cloud via infrastructure as a service (IaaS), with services based in this country. We have a look at some of these providers in this ZDNet Australia's cloud comparison.

The actual term "cloud" borrows from telephony, in that telecommunications companies, who until the 1990s offered primarily dedicated point-to-point data circuits, began offering virtual private network (VPN) services with comparable quality of service, but at a much lower cost. By switching traffic to balance utilisation as they saw fit, they were able to utilise their overall network bandwidth more effectively. The cloud symbol was used to denote the demarcation point between that which was the responsibility of the provider, and that which was the responsibility of the user. Cloud computing extends this boundary to cover servers as well as the network infrastructure. Wikipedia

In some cases, the Australian offerings have different options than their offshore counterparts, but they're certainly playing ball — and not just on price. These cloud providers are Australian businesses that are hosting in datacentres owned and operated in Australia, and are subject to Australian law, which can and does give comfort to Australian CIOs if they are dealing with sensitive business and government workloads, as it removes the question of data sovereignty and other legal issues, such as data access under the US Patriot Act.

We wanted to have a look at a cross section of the Australian market, choosing an IaaS reference architecture with which we could compare six Australian organisations that provide IaaS capabilities in Australia, and let the facts do the talking. For reference, the same information was collated from Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, the bellwethers of cloud computing in the US.

IaaS was chosen, as it's the lower level of most "as a service" models. It's typically associated with the equipment outsourced to support operations, including storage, hardware, servers and networking components.

The IaaS reference architecture given to the six Australian organisations was:

A LAMP stack running Redhat Enterprise Linux Server, Apache HTTP Server, MySQL with Perl/PHP/Python to run a general-purpose, customer-facing website for the launch of a new marketing campaign. It will be somewhat bursty in usage to cover the initial campaign launch. Site may be closed after six months, with two weeks of peak burst usage.

The Australian organisations selected were Brennan IT, Cloud Central, Ninefold, Optus, Telstra and UltraServe. Others were approached, and either were not in a position to respond, or declined to, after reviewing the IaaS reference architecture.

The information sought from each, with an explanation, follows:

  1. Organisation

    The name under which the company is trading.

  2. 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 be able to sign up and transact, without interactions 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, and 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, to less-technical management or management of enterprise that 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. For example, Telstra has a little disclaimer on its Connected Clouds website stating that "For Microsoft products, data may be stored overseas".

    This is interesting for some, because of 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 through treaties signed between the US and Australia. It would have to be exceptional circumstances, however, for such powers to be invoked.

  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 scenario could 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 one hour for compute if you have already set up an account with the cloud provider. Then, if you only use an hour at a time, 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 being for more cores or CPUs and memory.

  10. Storage cost (GB per month)

    How much does it cost to store one 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. We'll look at each company's products briefly, then summarise the answers to the questions in a summary table.

Topics: Cloud, Mobility, Telcos

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