Australian clouds compared

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.
Written by Nick Hortovanyi, Contributor

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.

    The offerings

    Brennan IT — Brennan IT IaaS

    "Get the cloud without the fluff," says Dave Stevens, founder and CEO of Brennan IT. With Brennan IT, you are engaging with an Australian-based ICT service provider that survived the first dotcom boom, and has been awarded multiple times, including being named in the BRW Fast100 list for seven consecutive years.

    Brennan provides a personalised service that has seen it gain a significant customer base of 150 mid-sized Australian companies. In 2012, Brennan expects that growth from Cloud Computing will make up 30 per cent of its revenue.

    Where Brennan IT gives warmth to the mid market is through the use of datacentres in different Australian states, and having the ability to ensure that data is backed up across them. There is flexibility with negotiating on the terms of the contract. Clients are also able to increase capacity as required without contract variation, and they can decrease by 50 per cent of the contracted amount. This is done through an online portal.

    Cloud Central — Cloud Servers

    Cloud Central is an award-winning, Australian-based cloud service provider. The company was conceived and built from the ground up to provide cloud computing services for Australian customers. A strong emphasis is placed on ensuring that data sovereignty remains in Australia for any storage used. In addition, there are multiple availability zones to facilitate geo-dispersed operations.

    It not only targets traditional government and enterprise accounts, but also entrepreneurs, developers and online service providers that are building innovative new services. The founder himself, Kristoffer Sheather, participates in the wider Australian entrepreneurial and start-up community.

    There is support for open standards and open-source software, such as OpenStack, which gives confidence to the Australian techie community.

    Sign-up is online, and a portal is provided to control your environment. A knowledge base, tutorials, a Wiki and a blog are all available online with additional live support being available via telephone or through email.

    Ninefold — Ninefold Cloud Computing and Storage

    Ninefold is an Australian cloud computing provider that is backed by Macquarie Telecom, built from the ground up to be a cloud computing service provider.

    Unlike some providers that see their primary audience as the enterprise, Ninefold is using online media to target the more technical ICT firms and Australian tech start-ups. You can sign up quickly online, and start using the offering within minutes. If you want to trial the service, you are given $50 credit, so you can use it initially to test if it meets your requirements or expectations.

    Its Sneakernet facility allows you to post a hard drive containing your data. Ninefold will upload that data within three to five days of receipt, and then return the hard drive to you. This facility allows you to save cost and time when loading gigabytes or terabytes of data into cloud storage.

    Ninefold also offers an API that has publicly available documentation. There is information there for using various programming languages, such as Java, Clojure, .NET, Ruby, Python, PHP and NodeJS, to leverage the API for compute and storage.

    Optus — Optus Elevate

    Rob Parcell, acting managing director Optus Business, states that he believes the future is in the cloud; so embrace it now, or be left behind.

    Optus has an enterprise-style offering, using an enterprise-style sales engagement model to target enterprise customers and expectations. Marketed as reliable and secure, there are also likely interesting developments to come, as the company alludes to an Asia extension by mentioning its relationship with its Singtel parent.

    Its cloud product is a private cloud for enterprise; Optus creates a virtual private datacentre that is hosted off premise in Optus' Australian datacentres. It leverages VMware's technology, so you should be able to readily migrate your existing enterprise environment with ease if it's also based on VMware. One of the strengths of the Optus offering is in security, through the use of dedicated networks to ensure trusted and superb response times for your applications.

    Optus has a number of successful partnerships in the enterprise space, such as Curtin University in Western Australia and the Royal District Nursing Service in South Australia.

    Telstra — Cloud Services, Virtual Servers

    Telstra is starting to come good with its $800 million investment into cloud computing, with a range of new offerings. In a move away from merely supporting the Australian Enterprise ICT market, it has opened its doors to SMB businesses, as well.

    Its new Cloud Services offering leverages its datacentres and expertise in networks; if required, you can access the service via a dedicated private network. This would be ideal if looking to move your ERP or CRM system onto a virtual server, as you can guarantee a minimal latency from your office to ensure responsive performance.

    Another nice feature is that when you're importing your data to the cloud, Telstra can send a secure storage device to you. You can load your data onto it, return it to Telstra and the telco will load it onto the virtual server for you. If you've got gigabytes or terabytes of data, this will save you not only time, but also help to keep the initial migration costs down. Shifting terabytes of data over the internet can be very costly, not to mention disruptive to those using the internet for business in your organisation.

    There are two pricing plan options available: subscription, and pay as you go. Subscription is used if you want fixed monthly costs for a particular configuration that will not change often. The pay-as-you-go option starts from $0.05 per hour (excluding GST), and can be used for burst-type workloads. Load balancing is included as a no-charge option to help with elasticity.

    Initial sign up is manual at this stage, unless you have an existing business account with Telstra. Once established, an online portal with a shopping cart is available to review plans, configuration and pricing before purchasing.

    UltraServe — Cloud Machines

    UltraServe focuses on lower latency as the major advantage for having a datacentre in Australia. It's very open with the information you need to make a decision, and was the only organisation to give us a proposal with an expected budget for the reference architecture that we presented. It based the budget on previous experience, with scenarios presented that were similar to the reference architecture presented.

    Its offering has been built from the company's success with a managed server offering, so you still need to initially engage with a consultant, but, in UltraServe's case, this person will be a technical sales engineer. Once signed up, you have access to the UltraServe console, so you can control your own cloud.

    An API is in beta at the moment to manage your Cloud Machine infrastructure for situations where use of the self-service management portal is insufficient.

    There's also an enterprise-grade virtual private datacentre option, with higher availability.

    The comparison

    Here's the part where we let the offerings speak for themselves. Have you trialled these services? Tell us your experiences in the comments below.

    Mouse over to expand table
      Amazon Web Services Rackspace Brennan IT Cloud Central Ninefold Optus Telstra Ultra Serve (Rejila)
    Amazon EC2 Cloud Hosting IaaS Cloud Servers Cloud Computing and Storage Optus Elevate Cloud Services Cloud Machines
    Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
    Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes
    For existing customers
    Various US locations, Ireland, Singapore, Tokyo Hong Kong, China, two UK locations, multiple US locations Sydney, Brisbane Sydney, Canberra Sydney Sydney Sydney, Melbourne Sydney
    US US Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia Australia
    Credit card
    Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
    Coming soon
    API Yes Yes No
    Coming soon
    Planned for December
    Yes Yes No
    Coming soon
    None None 3 months None None 12 months 1 hour 1 hour
    Cost CPU
    per hour
    From US$0.08 From US$0.015 N/A From $0.025 From $0.002 From $0.175* From $0.05 From $0.10
    Cost GB
    per hour
    From US$0.11Storage allowance included with compute From $0.25 Storage allowance included with compute From $0.092 From $0.3 From $0.21* Storage allowance included with compute
    Cost data
    per GB
    From US$0 to US$1.20 out US$0.18 out $0.5 to $1 in and out $0.25 in, $0.5 out $0.9 out Variable $1 in and out $1.5 in and out
    US$0.025/hour, $0.008 per GB processed
    US$0.015/hr, with each 100 concurrent connections US$0.015/hr. Bandwidth out at US$0.18GB
    $0.037 per hour, data processing $0.011 per GB
    No Yes

    *These figures have been calculated from per-hour and per-month values.

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