Skytap Receives $10 Million in Funding

Skytap, a cloud provider that offers virtual data centers for application testing and deployment, this week said it has received a $10 million infusion.

The Series C round of funding came from Open View Venture Partners, putting the total venture investment in Skytap at $23.5 million. Skytap's existing investors include Madrona Venture Group, Ignition Partners, Bezos Expeditions and Washington Research Foundation.

I spoke with Skytap CEO Scott Roza this week who was naturally quite excited about the latest round of funding. "They don’t do B seed rounds or A rounds, they really are looking for companies that have built a product and they're beyond the technology risk stage of growth," Roza said.

While Skytap hasn't disclosed its revenues, Roza said they have doubled in the past year, as has the number of paying customers, which is up to 150. Among them are Ellie Mae, Nuance Communications, Apptio, Hargis Engineers, Sefas Innovation and Binary Tree.

Roza's goal is to double the number of customers over the next year. To achieve that, he said 70 percent of its new funding will be applied to expanding sales and marketing, while 30 percent will go toward adding new features to its cloud automation software, its key asset.

Skytap doesn't run its own datacenters; rather it has partnered with Savvis to offer virtual datacenters to customers through VMware-based virtual machines. Skytap has also licensed its software to Computer Sciences Corp., which offers its own service to large enterprise and government agencies. Roza said he is looking to do another such licensing deal this year.

As for its own service, Skytap started out in 2007 as a cloud-based service for developers and testers who required on-demand infrastructure to test their apps. Last year, Skytap added to its network automation capabilities to allow customers to migrate their business apps to the cloud.

The release supports full clustering and failover. Customers can create their own servers or clusters, failover configurations and shared services to enable applications to run in the cloud. Skytap accommodates both Microsoft .NET applications and open source LAMP-stack apps.

Skytap also lets customers create virtual private clouds by connecting the company's multi-network virtual datacenter configurations with existing premises-based enterprise networks.

Asked if an IPO is in the works, Roza said that's a few years out.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/06/2011 at 1:14 PM0 comments


Amazon Achieves PCI Compliance

Amazon Web Services (AWS) seems to be getting its house in order when it comes to compliance certifications. The company said last week it has achieved Level 1 compliance with the Payment Card Industry, or PCI, Data Security Standard.

PCI is the standard for storing, processing and transmitting credit card data. AWS lack of PCI compliance was a key barrier to those companies looking to use the cloud provider's service to handle transactions.

"Merchants and services providers with a need to certify against PCI DSS and to maintain their own certification can now leverage the benefits of the AWS cloud and even simplify their own PCI compliance efforts by relying on AWS's status as a validated service provider," said AWS lead Web services evangelist Jeff Barr, in a blog post.

The PCI validation covers its core cloud offerings used by merchants, notably Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon Elastic Block Storage (EBS) and the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), Barr noted.

"This is big news, especially for small businesses that want to use EC2 and haven't because Amazon has not gone through PCI," said Douglas Barbin, director of assurance and compliance services at SAS 70 Solutions, a consultancy that specializes in auditing and compliance.

Large hosting providers such as Savvis, Rackspace and AT&T are already PCI-compliant as is Google's payment gateway, Barbin added.

The news comes just weeks after Amazon announced it has achieved ISO 27001 compliance, a standard based in 133 security process controls such as physical plant security, operational policies and how malicious code is handled, to name a few.

Earlier in the year, Amazon received its SAS 70 certification but was criticized for lacking ISO 27001 certification, Barbin said. That's because SAS 70 allows the provider to determine their own controls, while ISO 27001 is based on standard controls. "They got a lot of flack because they wouldn't disclose what those controls were," Barbin said. "This is an important milestone for Amazon."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/14/2010 at 1:14 PM0 comments


Salesforce.com's Ambitious Cloud Push

Salesforce.com put its partners, customers and competitors on notice that it doesn't want to just be known as a cloud-based CRM provider. Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff wants his company to play in the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) space and he made a number of interesting moves to help achieve that goal.

Benioff gave two consecutive keynote addresses this week at Salesforce.com's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco where more than 23,000 stakeholders were in attendance to hear an avalanche of announcements.

Among the highlights: On day one, Benioff announced Database.com, a hosted online database service that the company said will be a language independent repository, and Chatter Free, the company's Facebook-like social network interface that it is offering free of charge to all employees of customers.

On day two, Benioff announced the acquisition of Ruby cloud provider Heroku for $212 million in cash, a roadmap to expand its Force.com platform and a new IT service platform called RemedyForce (with help from Remedy supplier BMC Software).

All of these announcements and others were aimed at moving to what Benioff and company describe as Cloud Two. "As the world moves from cloud one to cloud two, how do we evolve, how do we help all of our customers get there faster," was the call to action by Benioff.

"What's obvious is they are going headlong into the platform space," said IDC analyst Al Hilwa, in an interview. "It's not enough for them to be an application-as-a-service they want to be a platform-as-a-service."

 

Database Entrée

Of all the announcements, the plan to offer Database.com at some point next year is aimed squarely at two companies Benioff likes least: Microsoft and his onetime employer Oracle. Database.com will compete with Microsoft's SQL Azure, while potentially throwing a wrench into Oracle's core database business.

"Now we can start using Database.com to provide a new level of information management of managing and sharing our information in the cloud," Benioff told attendees.

"The difficulty Database.com will run into is it doesn't natively speak SQL," said Jonathan Bruce, senior product manager for Progress Software. The ISV is offering a fix for that. The company released the beta of JDBC drivers that will enable developers to build connectivity to Database.com, he said, adding that ODBC drivers will come in the second quarter of next year.

"The standalone Database.com capabilities are being offered to respond to the changing way in which applications and databases are being architected in a more pluralistic fashion in the cloud," noted Thinkstrategies analyst Jeff Kaplan, in a blog post. "The goal of Database.com is to democratize database development, and give Salesforce.com's customers and partners another reason to expand their use of its applications and PaaS."

Extending Force.com

Force.com is Salesorce.com's site for developer-built applications. Though Database.com is an outgrowth of that, Force.com adds more services and applications. In a key move, Salesforce.com is opening Force.com to Ruby developers with the acquisition of Heroku, a leading cloud service for Ruby-based apps.

Founded in 2007, Heroku is among the most prevalent Ruby-based cloud providers, Hilwa said. "Heroku is a multi-tenant architecture," Hilwa said. "It's very much in line architecturally with the way Salesforce thinks." Benioff pointed out there are more than 105,000 Ruby apps running on Heroku, with 200 million Web requests per day and 3,000 new apps per week. Heroku customers include Best Buy, General Mills and ESPN.

"You can build apps faster and quicker and easier for the Web than ever before," Benioff said. "What Heroku and Salesforce.com give when they come together, they're going to give Ruby developers a path to the enterprise, which is something that's been badly needed."

Kaplan pointed out that the addition of Heroku and Database.com, are focused on the new world of social and mobile apps. "They are also intended to offset Microsoft's aggressive efforts to gain customer and partner acceptance of its Azure PaaS, and undercut Oracle's 'false cloud' offerings which it calls 'Cloud-in-a-Box,'" Kaplan noted.

While Salesforce.com has put a stake in the ground in supporting Ruby-based cloud apps, it also has a major play for Java developers, though that appears to be moving a bit sluggishly, Hilwa pointed out. Salesforce.com announced the private beta of VMforce. The product of its partnership with VMware, VMforce uses that company's Spring Framework. VMforce will let Java developers run their apps natively on Force.com.

Among other extensions to Force.com:

  • Appforce: designed to let users build forms, custom reports and visually create business processes. It supports workgroup collaboration via the company's Chatter service.
  • Siteforce: A hosted content management system designed to let business users create and update sites.
  • ISVforce: An application platform for ISVs that enables trials, provisioning and automatic updates with a console that allows for monitoring of usage. It includes the company's AppExchange Marketplace, which now hosts 1,000 apps, the company said, adding that venture capital firms have invested more than $1 billion in companies on the marketplace.

A Remedy for Salesforce

Benioff, a big fan of BMC Software's Remedy IT services management platform, wanted to bring that to the cloud. The two companies inked a partnership and delivered ServiceDesk for Force.com earlier this year. But Benioff wanted more than just the IT helpdesk component of BMC's Remedy suite, which led to this week's launch of RemedyForce.

With RemedyForce, customers get a cloud version of BMC's Remedy, which includes core service desk capabilities that offer change management, knowledge management and problem resolution; service management including a configuration management database, support for Chatter and support for mobile devices.

BMC chairman and CEO Bob Beauchamp joined Benioff on stage where he said IT services management is conservatively a $15 billion market. "Traditionally the issue with it is that it's been something that all very large enterprises understand, they get it, they have to have it, but it's been expensive for other enterprises to implement," Beauchamp said. "We've taken our knowledge of how customers use the service management environment and we've ported that onto [Force.com] with new technology."

Bottom line

Salesforce.com, backed by Benioff's strong personality, made a strong statement that it wants to be a key player in the cloud. And the company wants a piece of Microsoft and Oracle's business beyond just CRM. Salesforce.com has put a lot out there but it still has a lot to prove.

"I think the question is their credibility with developers, they've historically been known as lightweight," Hilwa said. "The application platform had a lot of controls and governance and limits because of this multi-tenancy. They were afraid certain applications might take too much resources and compromise the level of service for the others, but it looks like they are taking some of those limits away, driving them down, trying to really build credibility with developers."

Kaplan agrees: "Salesforce.com has also been working hard to fend off competitive claims and developer concerns that its Force.com PaaS is too proprietary," he said, pointing to Salesforce.com's teaming with VMware to create VMforce and the Heroku acquisition.

"The buzz and activity at Dreamforce 2010 is not only a clear indication of Salesforce.com's growing success, but also an impressive illustration of the widening movement to the cloud."

What's your take on Salesforce.com's moves? Do you see it as too lightweight compared to Microsoft and Oracle or is it a legitimate threat to the establishment? Post your comments or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/09/2010 at 1:14 PM3 comments


Red Hat's PaaS Play

Red Hat's acquisition of Makara is aimed at helping the open-source software vendor extend its foray into platform-as-a-service (PaaS) cloud offerings.

The plan, announced this week, is to enable partners to build their own cloud services using its Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution and JBoss middleware tuned with Makara's Cloud Application Platform.

Red Hat intends to deliver a PaaS Automation Engine that will provide automatic scaling, monitoring and high availability, according to Scott Crenshaw, vice president and general manager of Red Hat's cloud business unit.

"This strategy is designed to provide the most scalable, portable and open clouds, clouds that are consistent between the cloud environment and the enterprise environment," Crenshaw said on a conference call announcing the deal.

But that led to the question: How will portability work? Issac Roth a co-founder and CEO Markara explained that apps can be migrated unmodified to the cloud. "As long as the application is written to Red Hat Linux, and supported middleware such as JBoss or LAMP," Roth said.

Cloud operators can use Makara's PaaS to deploy, manage and scale JBoss and LAMP applications with a variety of middleware components including caching different pieces of application middleware and messaging, Roth added. "This is the technology that will be incorporated into [Red Hat's] Cloud Foundations to enable platform-as-a-service for enterprises," he said.

That said, Crenshaw said Red Hat will take the best of Makara's platform and integrate it into JBoss. In other words, Makara's Cloud Application Platform will not continue to be offered as a standalone product. However Crenshaw said the technology will be open-sourced.

What's your take on Red Hat's acquisition of Makara and the company's PaaS efforts? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/02/2010 at 1:14 PM0 comments


Google Nabs Federal Cloud Deal

The General Services Administration yesterday said it will move to Google Apps, a huge win for the company because it's the first federal agency to use Google Apps. The GSA's five-year, $6.7 million deal will save the GSA 50 percent in IT costs over the span of the contract, the agency said.

The GSA will move 17,000 employees and contractors in 17 locations to Google Apps including Gmail during the coming year. Apparently helping Google and its lead contractor Unisys bag this deal was the fact that Google Apps is FISMA certified.

"Earlier this year, Google Apps became the first suite of cloud computing e-mail and collaboration applications to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification, enabling agencies to compare the security features of Google Apps to that of existing systems," wrote Mike Bradshaw, director of Google's federal enterprise team, in a blog post announcing the deal.

It just so happened that Microsoft today announced that its cloud infrastructure has received FISMA approval. "Meeting the requirements of FISMA is an important security requirement for U.S. Federal agencies," wrote Mark Estberg, senior director of risk and compliance of Microsoft's Global Foundation Services unit, in a blog post.

Nevertheless Google's win comes after Microsoft charted some big wins, most recently the City of New York and the state contracts in California and Minnesota.

Microsoft officials have been aggressively questioning Google's ability to compete in the enterprise. Case in point was a recent blog post after winning the State of California deal. "Google can't meet the needs of the state," was the subhead in a TechNet blog posting announcing the California win.

I chatted with Tom Rizzo, Microsoft's senior director of online services yesterday and he ripped into Google's enterprise aspirations. "They're trying to shoehorn consumer products into the enterprise space," he said. "That's like us trying to take things like [Microsoft's] Hotmail and Skydrive and say "it is enterprise ready."

Google sees it differently. "Modern e-mail and collaboration tools will help make [GSA] employees more efficient and effective," Bradshaw noted. "Google Apps will bring GSA a continual stream of new and innovative features, helping the agency keep pace with advances in technology in the years ahead."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/02/2010 at 1:14 PM0 comments


Amazon Kicks WikiLeaks Off Its Cloud

Amazon Web Services is on longer hosting WikiLeaks -- the 250,000-plus classified State Department documents and cables that include disclosures about the nuclear ambitions of Iran, candid comments from world leaders and numerous other revelations of confidential matters. The United States government has condemned the Wikileaks release saying it is putting lives at risk and compromising national security.

There's a lot of debate in the blogsphere as to whether Amazon yielded to political pressure and engaged in censorship by deciding yesterday to remove the documents from its site. Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., while praising Amazon for removing the documents, slammed the company for hosting them in the first place. Perhaps he's unaware that anyone with a credit card can host content or applications to Amazon and other cloud services.

"This morning Amazon informed my staff that it has ceased to host the WikiLeaks Web site," Lieberman wrote in a statement issued Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

"I wish that Amazon had taken this action earlier based on WikiLeaks' previous publication of classified material," Lieberman added. "The company's decision to cut off Wikileaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies Wikileaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material."

Lieberman went on to call on other cloud providers to immediately cut WikiLeaks off (WikiLeaks has since found cloud providers in Europe to host the material).

"WikiLeaks' illegal, outrageous and reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world," he added. "No responsible company -- whether American or foreign -- should assist WikiLeaks in its efforts to disseminate these stolen materials. I will be asking Amazon about the extent of its relationship with WikiLeaks and what it and other Web service providers will do in the future to ensure that their services are not used to distribute stolen, classified information."

The stakes are high for all cloud providers but especially for Amazon. Some free speech proponents argue that cloud providers shouldn't be deciding what content to host and what to pull.

Should cloud providers become gatekeepers in determining what type of content is appropriate and what is not? While Amazon's cloud service represents a small piece of the company's core online retail business, it is not insulated from issues like this. In a blog post by Network World's Paul McNamara, he noted calls for boycotts of Amazon. He recalled the recent issue pertaining to a book for pedophiles. While Amazon decided to pull the book, it is a judgment call "which we are all free to free to agree or disagree," McNamara wrote.

Whether you think Lieberman was heavy-handed or not, cloud providers are now in an arduous position. To what degree will they have to be gatekeepers of content, code and applications?

Update (12/3/10): Amazon broke its silence late yesterday saying it did not cave to political pressure nor did DDOS attacks impact its decision to remove the WikiLeaks content from its service. Rather, WikiLeaks violated Amazon's terms of service. See Amazon Responds to WikiLeaks Reports.

What's your take on Amazon's decision and the repercussions of its actions? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/02/2010 at 1:14 PM0 comments


10 Noteworthy New Features Coming to Microsoft's Azure Cloud Platform

Late last month Microsoft fleshed out its Windows Azure Platform with a roadmap of new capabilities and features that the company will roll out over the coming year.

Microsoft late last month fleshed out its Windows Azure Platform with a roadmap of new capabilities and features that the company will roll out over the coming year.

The improvements to Microsoft's cloud computing platform, revealed at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) held in Redmond and streamed online, are substantial and underscore the company's ambitions to ensure the Windows Azure Platform ultimately achieves a wider footprint in enterprise IT.

"They are making Windows Azure more consumable and more broadly applicable for customers and developers," said IDC analyst Al Gillen.

The Windows Azure Platform, which today primarily consists of Windows Azure and SQL Azure, went live back in February. Microsoft boasts its cloud service is now being used for over 20,000 applications. In his keynote address at the PDC, Microsoft Server and Tools president Bob Muglia, played up the platform as a service (PaaS) cloud infrastructure that the company is building with Windows Azure.

"I think it is very clear, that that is where the future of applications will go," Muglia told attendees at PDC in his speech. "Platform as a service will redefine the landscape and Microsoft is very focused on this. This is where we are putting the majority of our focus in terms of delivering a new platform."

Muglia recalled Microsoft's second PDC in July of 1992 when the company introduced Windows NT, a platform that would play a key role in client-server computing. "We see a new age beginning, one that will go beyond what we saw 18 years ago," he said. "Windows Azure was designed to run as the next generation platform as a service. It is an operating system that was designed for this environment."

Still Gillen pointed out that Windows Azure represents the future of how applications will be built and data will be managed but it will not replace traditional Windows anytime soon. "At the end of the day, there will be customers running perpetual license copies [of traditional software] 10 or 15 years from now," Gillen noted.

While PDC was targeted at developers, the company's new offerings are bound to resonate with IT pros and partners. Some of the new services coming to Windows Azure and SQL Azure are aimed at bringing more enterprise features found in Microsoft's core platforms to the cloud. Among the new cloud services announced last month at PDC:

  1. Windows Azure Virtual Machine Roles: Will allow organizations to move entire virtual machine images from Windows Server 2008R2 to Windows Azure. "You can take a Windows Server 2008R2 image that you've built with Hyper-V in your environment and move that into the Windows Azure environment and run it as is with no changes," Muglia explained. Microsoft will release a public beta by year's end. The company also plans to support Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 SP2 sometime next year. "That's a compatibility play and an evolutionary play so the customers can have an opportunity to bring certain applications into Windows Azure, run them in a traditional Windows Server environment," Gillen said. "Over time, they will have the ability to evolve those applications to become native Azure or potentially just leave them there [on the VM Role running on top of Azure] forever and encapsulate them in some way and access the business value that those applications contain."
  2. Server Application Virtualization: Will let IT take existing applications and deploy them without going through the installation process, into a Windows Azure worker role, according to Muglia. "We think it's a very exciting way to help you get compatibility with existing Windows Server applications in the cloud environment," Muglia said. Added Gillen: "It has the potential to give customers a pretty comfortable path to bring existing applications over to Windows Azure. That can be really huge because if Microsoft can do that and they can bring Windows Server applications over to Windows Azure, and let them run without dragging along a whole operating system with them, that creates an opportunity that Microsoft can exploit that no one else in the industry can match." The company will release a community technology preview (CTP) by year's end with commercial availability slated for the second half of 2011.
  3. Remote Desktop: Set for release later this year, IT pros will be able to connect to a running instance of an app or service to monitor activities or troubleshoot problems.
  4. Windows Server 2008R2 Roles: Also due out later this year, Windows Azure will support Windows Server 2008R2 in Web, worker and VM roles, Microsoft said. That will let customers and partners use features such as IIS 7.5, AppLocker and command-line management using PowerShell Version 2.0, Microsoft said. 
  5. Full IIS support: The Web role in Windows Azure will provide full IIS functionality, Microsoft said. This will be available later this year.
  6. Windows Azure Connect: The technology previously known as Project Sydney, Windows Azure Connect will provide IP-based connectivity between enterprise premises-based and Windows Azure-based services. "That will connect your existing corporate datacenters and databases and information and apps on your existing corporate datacenter virtually into the Windows Azure applications that you have," Muglia said. "In part that enables hybrid cloud," Gillen said. "Hybrid cloud is going to be so important simply because customers are not going to go directly to a full native cloud. If they can have an opportunity to have a hybrid scenario it's actually very attractive for a lot of customers. The company plans a CTP by year's end with release slated for the first half of 2011.
  7. Windows Azure Marketplace: Much like an app store, the Windows Azure Marketplace is aimed at letting devs and IT pros share buy and sell apps, services and various other components, including training offerings. A component of the marketplace is Microsoft's DataMarket, formerly code-named Dallas, which consists of premium apps with more than 40 data providers now on board. The Windows Azure Marketplace beta will be released by year's end.
  8. Multiple Admins: In a move aimed at letting various team members manage a Windows Azure account, the service will by year's end allow multiple Windows Live IDs to have administrator privileges, Microsoft said.
  9. Windows Azure AppFabric: The company announced the release of Windows AppFabric Access control, which helps build federated authorization to apps and services without requiring programming, Microsoft said. Also released was Windows Azure AppFabric Connect, aimed at bridging existing line-of-business apps to Windows Azure via the AppFabric Service Bus. It extends BizTalk Server 2010 to support hybrid cloud scenarios –those that use both on and off premises resources.
  10. Database Manager for SQL Azure: This Web-based database querying and management tool, formerly known as "Project Houston," will be available by year's end. Also, for those who like SQL Server Reporting Services, SQL Azure Reporting will be a welcome addition to SQL Azure, allowing users to analyze business data stored in SQL Azure databases.

Perhaps more mundane but bound to be noticed by all Windows Azure users, is an overall facelift to the portal, with what the company describes as an improved user interface. The new portal will provide diagnostic data, a streamlined account setup and new support databases and forums.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/15/2010 at 1:14 PM1 comments


Amazon Slashes S3 Storage Pricing

Amazon Web Services recently cut the price of its cloud storage service by as much as 19 percent.

The cuts affect users of the company's S3 storage service utilizing 500 Terabytes of capacity or less. The announcement was made by Jeff Barr, Amazon's Web services evangelist in a blog post.

AWS established a new pricing tier at the 1 TByte level and removed the 50 to 100 TByte level, according to Barr, "thereby extending our volume discounts to more Amazon S3 customers," he noted. The new pricing is as follows:

 

Old

New

First 1 TB

$0.150

$0.140 per GB

Next 49 TB

$0.150

$0.125 per GB

Next 50 TB

$0.140

$0.110 per GB

Next 400 TB

$0.130

$0.110 per GB

Next 500 TB

$0.105

$0.095 per GB

While it is arguable these price cuts are relatively modest, any movement in the right direction should be welcome news. Is cloud storage pricing still too high for widespread use or are providers offering services in a suitable range? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/09/2010 at 1:14 PM1 comments


'All In' The Cloud

When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in March announced that the company was "all-in" the cloud, it was a defining moment not just for Microsoft but for the entire IT industry.

That the software giant said the cloud will embody everything the company does was the clearest sign yet that there is no stopping the transformation in the way software is bought and sold.

Others such as Dell (which just announced it is buying Boomi), Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle and VMware are also steering their ships in the direction of cloud computing initiatives. Of course for the likes of Amazon, Google, Rackspace and Salesforce.com, among others, the cloud already is the basis of their existence.

Whether the cloud is the basis of your existence or you're in the camp that believes it is still a lot of hype, I hope to hear from you and will look to share your thoughts with the community. Look to this blog for insights, observations and tidbits about issues related to the cloud. Feel free to drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/01/2010 at 1:14 PM0 comments


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