Cloud-like service offers customizable servers, storage

By Jon Brodkin, Network World |  Storage

A new managed hosting offering targeted at mid-sized businesses lets customers quickly provision and reconfigure servers, storage and network capacity through a secure Web portal.

RagingWire, which spent the last eight years offering co-location to enterprise-class customers from a 200,000-square foot data center in Sacramento, Calif., has announced a new business unit called StrataScale for smaller customers that prefer to offload the burden of managing their own IT resources.

"Customers told us they wanted more services. They wanted us to take over these layers of infrastructure," says Douglas Adams, vice president of sales and marketing.

RagingWire says its high-end enterprise customers are still looking for pure co-location services, in which the customer rents space and brings in its own equipment. By contrast, the new StrataScale service, known as IronScale, offers dedicated, bare-metal servers along with storage, security and network resources. StrataScale has so far resisted using the ubiquitous "cloud computing" buzz-phrase to describe its services, although its offer of flexible computing resources outside the customer data center would seem to fit that industry segment.

"Analysts are pushing us to use [the word 'cloud'], says Yatish Mishra, CTO and founder of RagingWire. "We're a platform that enables cloud. I'm not sure we're a direct cloud player."

With IronScale, customers rent by the month or year, and can design their own server environments through an easy-to-use interface, company officials say. (Compare server products.)  

"The concept is it's completely automated," Mishra says. "You log in through a secure portal and you define what you want. You say I want a Linux box, I want 200GB of storage. I want a firewall, and you say 'go.' In three minutes the whole environment is built. We break down all the components in the physical world. We break down the server, the storage, the network, the firewall, security, VPN, and you can assemble them any way you want."

Once you've assembled a server, a cloning feature allows it to be replicated at will, significantly reducing management time, the company says. At the back end, StrataScale provides IBM x86 servers, storage-area network (SAN) storage, and Cisco network and security equipment out of the same Sacramento data center owned by parent company RagingWire. Archive and backup is provided out of a second data center in Nevada. Load balancing and backup is completely automated.

Customers have a choice of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows 2003, and will soon have access to Windows 2008. While StrataScale servers are not virtualized from the start, customers can install their own hypervisor layer on top.

Despite not being virtualized, StrataScale "has the cloud trait of elasticity -- the ability to scale up and down at will, without commitments," Gartner analyst Lydia Leong writes in her blog.  

Unlike virtualized cloud offerings such as Amazon's EC2, StrataScale says it offers service-level agreements with 100% uptime and the knowledge that servers are not being shared.

"This is a dedicated, managed bare-metal environment. It's more of a Rackspace-type offering. Your resource is yours. It's not virtualized, you're not sharing it. You have full control of security. You have root access. You can run any application you want on it," Mishra says.
IronScale announced its general availability last week, having gone through beta trials with a handful of customers including Guard ID Systems, which provides anti-identity theft services to the consumer market. http://www.guardid.com/

So far, customers are using IronScale for development stacks, and applications such as messaging, collaboration and ERP, Adams says. Prices range from US$700 to $1,200 per server, a price that includes SAN and all other features.

At launch, StrataScale had dedicated 250 servers to the IronScale service, but the company says it can scale up quickly as demand increases.

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