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Twin Cities firm joins ranks of providers of public cloud computing

Though the likes of cloud industry leaders Amazon Web Services and Rackpace may not yet have noticed, a Minnesota company has been quietly trying to do them one better. VISI, Minnesota’s largest data center services and managed hosting provider, formally announced on Dec. 17 a public beta test of its ReliaCloud cloud computing service, whereby any business can now apply to try it out — whether it’s located here in Minnesota or anywhere.

The first offering, dubbed “Cloud Servers,” allows business users to establish an account online. They can then quickly and easily set up one or more computer servers that run in one of VISI’s data centers and are accessible to them and their users “in the cloud” — meaning via any Internet browser anywhere in the world. Customers of the service thereby avoid the expense and work of having to purchase and maintain their own computers servers at their own sites. “It’s a pay-as-you-go model,” said Gary Elfert, director of marketing at VISI, which is headquartered in Eden Prairie and has its original data center in downtown St. Paul. The pricing model for these Cloud Servers is by the hour, starting at 5 cents.

Why would anyone be crazy enough to enter a market that is already dominated by notable heavyweights like Amazon? “Though there are some large players already in the public cloud computing marketplace, it’s still a nascent business, and a rapidly growing one,” said Antonio Piraino, research director at Tier 1 Research, in VISI’s press announcement. “There’s certainly room for a competitive offering such as ReliaCloud.” His firm has projected that cloud computing services will be a $1billion market in 2011.

A local observer sees another reason a public cloud offering from VISI has a place. “It’s no secret IT directors and CEOs like knowing where their company data actually is located, which can be almost impossible with the big players’ globally dispersed data center operations,” said Graeme Thickins, a Bloomington-based technology startup adviser, who has been a consultant to VISI and is a colleague here at Minnov8. “And beyond just peace of mind, firms in many industries have compliance requirements whereby they must prove in which state or country their data resides.” With both its data centers being in Minnesota, that is not an issue for VISI’s cloud customers. And many firms in the region will also prefer working with a firm they know, he said, with people they know, and a long history of stability here in Minnesota.

What’s more, Jason Baker, CTO of VISI, added another differentiator in the company’s press announcement: “We specifically designed the new cloud service to be more reliable than the commodity providers in the market.” He also noted that “we didn’t want customers to have to re-architect their solutions just to work reliably in the cloud.” Other goals in designing the service, said Baker, were elasticity and affordability. “We wanted customers to be able to scale from 10 servers to 100 servers, and back down again.” Regarding affordability, he said, “We made our pricing transparent and competitive — with a slick web management portal, high availability, load balancing, 24x7x365 support, and a complete API.”

VISI said the service is targeted both to IT managers in established, small to midsize firms and to startup firms that want to take advantage of the significant economic benefits provided by running their servers and applications in the cloud. Business users apply to be beta testers for the ReliaCloud service by filling out a one-page form at Over time, the ReliaCloud brand will encompass a suite of cloud computing services, with “Cloud Storage” expected to be introduced in 2010. In the meantime, ReliaCloud “Cloud Servers” are complete computing environments available 24 hours a day, with full administrator access.

Founded in 1994, VISI is the Upper Midwest’s largest locally owned data center services and managed hosting provider, offering cloud computing, co-location, and managed hosting services. VISI serves 10,000 customers with products and services provided through its two world-class SAS 70 Type II data centers. The company provides a full range of robust web and application hosting services, first-rate Internet services and support, and personal, expert advice.

In another press release last week, VISI announced a cloud storage offering unrelated to its new ReliaCloud brand. This service, part of its main hosting service offerings, is a pay-as-you-go cloud offering geared for business customers whose need for storage is increasing but can’t justify the capital necessary to expand their storage pool. With VISI Cloud Storage, there’s no need to buy new storage hardware. The new cloud storage service is “an elastic, pay-as-you go service, meaning businesses pay only for the storage and data transfer actually used,” said the announcement. Pricing starts out at $0.25 per gigabyte per month, with no minimums or monthly contracts, “making it ideal for temporary storage requirements as well as off-site storage, backup, disaster recovery, and Web 2.0 storage.”

VISI’s Elfert said, “This initial cloud storage product is not an entirely pure ‘cloud’ service, by the strictest definition. However, it does have many benefits for companies such as per-hour pricing, no term commitments, and the ability to scale on-demand.” He added that the company expects to launch a 100 percent pure cloud storage offering under the ReliaCloud name soon, perhaps before the end of first quarter 2010.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Sam Glover on 12/22/2009 - 12:13 pm.

    The main problem with all the cloud hosting services out there is that you need your own accountant to figure out how much it will cost.

    That is fine for large-scale businesses, but what about a small business without a dedicated IT staff that just wants a VPS or two?

    Why is it so difficult to price it something like $20/month for x, $50/month for x+y, and $100/month for x+y+z?

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