But Elastichosts is not in the Gartner Magic Quadrant, it wasn't born in Silicon Valley, and it doesn't run a yearly conference in Las Vegas. Is Elastichosts a true cloud company?
Richard Davies, CEO, and Chris Webb, CTO, originally met in Cambridge University in the 1990s and started a hosting company together. The pair saw what Amazon Web Services was doing when they were selling new cloud services to the US market, such as the ability to log in with a web browser and manage resources. Davies and Webb wanted to bring that Amazon cloud experience to Europe and founded Elastichosts in 2008.
Is Elastichosts on-demand, self-service, scalable and metered?
They have the hardware and the international reach. Elastichosts have built up a serious global infrastructure in the last five years. Elastichosts built services in their first data center and started a public beta in November 2008. In August 2009, the second Elastichosts DC opened, providing multi-site features. The first US DC, located in San Antonio, TX, opened in 2010, and two more North American data centers – Toronto, and Los Angeles – followed in 2011. In January 2013 four more data centers came online – Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Sydney, and San Jose.
Elastichosts have the usual cloud attributes – on-demand resources, self-service web UI and API, manual and automatic scaling, and metered usage billing.
The self-service interfaces are designed to be flexible, powerful and easy to use. For example, the web control panel provides simple sliders to adjust specifications of virtual machines.
Elastichosts provided the infrastructure powering some US election web sites in 2012. Election fever translated to traffic spikes, requiring scale-out to handle millions of requests per day.
The founders Davies and Webb wanted to bring the Amazon experience to Europe but were not happy with the Amazon technology choices. Elastichosts built their own solution, called Elasticstack.
- The base layer is simple commodity hardware. No SAN or other expensive enterprise-level components are required.
- The Elastichosts virtualization layer uses Linux KVM, rather than the Xen environment used by AWS.
- On top of this is a home-grown application layer that provides the web UI for administrators and API for developers.
The Elasticstack system has different features to other cloud providers. For instance, firewalling, disk snapshots and static IPs can be set up through the interface, while load balancing and database services are set up by the customer.
The fully scalable virtual machine is the central component. There is no menu of small, medium, and large VMs to choose from. A customer specifies the amount of machine resources, rather than picking a fixed instance size. Someone who wants to run a simulation has a need for number-crunching and can rent a machine with a huge CPU and tiny storage.
A VNC (Virtual Network Computing) client exports the console from each virtual machine to the customer. VNC gives full access to BIOS, boot-up messages and graphical desktops. If you are a nerd who has played with virt-manager and VMs on a Linux machine, you have seen VNC in action.
This console access means a customer can install his or her own OS from a remotely mounted CD, rather than sticking to a list of ready-made images.
There is no split between compute and storage, as there is with AWS EC2 and S3. All Elastichosts storage is persistent and used by attaching it to a machine, rather than via a REST interface. A customer may pay a permanent monthly subscription to retain their storage, then rent computing power by the hour as required.
An AWS VM comes with a fixed disk size. If a customer wants more space, they must either mount more storage or rent a bigger virtual machine. The amount of disk space on an Elastichosts VM can be changed by moving a slider, keying the number into the web control panel or configuring automatically via the API.
There are thousands of customers; they are spread around the globe; they are mainly SMBs and they can be broken down into three different groups – cloud customers, re-sellers, and cloud providers.
Cloud customers use VMs to run their applications, such as SaaS, e-commerce stores, and batch processing. Since there are nine data centers, customers can use a DC in their legal jurisdiction. If a customer wants to use a DC near their American customers but wants to avoid the US, they can use Toronto.
Re-sellers can re-badge Elastichosts IaaS as own-brand services. Elastichosts provide other forms of partnership in addition to this a white-label program.
Cloud providers and other hosting companies run Elasticstack in their own data centers. Elastichosts license their technology to many public cloud providers (Elasticstack is not open source). Since Elasticstack runs on commodity hardware, it is easy to install.
Try before you buy
There is one easy way to get a feel for Elastichosts. Sign up for the free trial. Spend five days with the service. See if you like the clarity of the interface, the flexibility of the VMs and the speed of the network.
More IaaS providers:
- The building blocks of Joyent's cloud technology stack
- 10 IaaS providers who provide free cloud resources
- Softlayer: The bare metal IaaS provider
- Managing the mixed cloud: Red Hat's Open Hybrid Cloud
- Getting to know GoGrid IaaS
- Rackspace: An overview of a major cloud player
- Getting to know the Amazon Web Services Console
Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the designers and developers who build the top layer that customers use.