Amazon funds Elastra's enterprise cloud push

If Elastra wanted to become a neutral broker of cloud computing, why did it accept lead funding from Amazon in its $12 million B round today? The answer lies with enterprise IT.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

When Elastra launched in March, my ZDNet blogging colleague Dana Gardner wrote that the company "aims to become a de facto standard for accessing cloud resources." But if it wanted to become a neutral broker of cloud computing, why did it accept lead funding from Amazon in its $12 million B round, as Dana reports today?

"Amazon is the leader in this area," Elastra's CEO Kirill Sheynkman told me when I put this question to him yesterday. "They agreed with us on our vision and believed in our technology. The plusses [of Amazon funding] far outweigh the minuses."

Potential minuses include the likely reluctance of Amazon's cloud competitors to work too closely with a company that might be seen as in its pocket. But Elastra is betting that won't matter if it wins broad acceptance in the enterprise market. Most of the cloud build-outs happening at the moment are private clouds, either within corporate data centers or at hosting centers operated by the likes of IBM, HP and — announced today — AT&T. If Elastra can become the de facto standard for managing deployments to those private enterprise clouds, then everyone else will have to fall in line.

The upside for Amazon is that enterprises using Elastra will find it easy to migrate deployments between their private clouds and Amazon's EC2 platform. Maybe today few IT managers are comfortable with trusting Amazon's compute resources, but if Amazon can win their confidence, having a simple migration path in place will make it easy to win their business. "I think Amazon looks to us as an enterprise play for their platform," said Sheynkman.

Elastra is one of an emerging class of vendors that automate the process of managing cloud deployments — earlier this year, I wrote about CohesiveFT, which also sees clouds proliferating, especially within enterprises. Such tools are needed because although compute clouds offer virtualized server infrastructure, each virtual server has to be individually managed, creating a massive management workload. Without these cloud automation tools, the flexibility of cloud computing can rapidly collapse into uncontrolled anarchy.

Elastra provides its automation tool either as a service or as a server, which will no doubt endear it to IT functions that have their heart set on building and operating their own cloud stacks wholly in-house. It has developed two markup languages — Elastic Computing Markup Language and Elastic Computing Deployment Language — which it uses to specify hardware and software stacks for automation. Those languages may form the basis for future standards but that's something Elastra will leave to the market to decide. In the meantime, it will use its new funding mostly to expand the range of configurations and platforms it supports. Market development seems to be taking care of itself — since I last spoke to the company in early March, the number of paying customers has gone from four to forty, a healthy growth rate.

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