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Summary:

OnApp’s big federated cloud play will soon be here in the shape of Cloud.net, a user-facing marketplace for memory, storage, CPU and bandwidth that’s leaning heavily on transparency as a selling point.

Ditlev Bredahl OnApp Tony Lucas Flexiant Structure:Europe 2013
photo: Anna Gordon/GigaOM

Can a global federation of smaller cloud providers successfully rival the mighty Amazon EC2 in the cloud compute market? Let’s find out — OnApp has finally unveiled its federated compute marketplace, drawing on the spare capacity of many telcos and other providers that use OnApp’s cloud orchestration toolkit.

OnApp’s software powers over 2,000 public cloud providers, and the British firm’s federation has around 1,000 potential points of presence. That federation already allowed for the creation of distributed, global content delivery network (CDN) and cloud storage products, but these days the company is also setting up its own brands. In the vein of the company’s 15-month-old CDN.net, the new Cloud.net — coming out of public beta in 6 weeks’ time – will give end-users a portal into all those pooled resources.

Cloud.net is basically a price comparison portal for memory, storage, CPU and bandwidth, with one bill and one interface. Users can piece together their virtual machines across continents if necessary, and move them around at will. Some locations offer better quality or more certifications than others, and this is generally reflected in their pricing – cheaper, less stable locations might be just fine for something like image-crunching, for example.

OnApp CEO Ditlev Bredahl (pictured above in the center) described this “Amazon on speed” development to me thus:

“Before, our clients were able to compete with Akamai — now they can compete with Amazon and Azure.”

Diversity plans

This marketplace is open source, so other brands can also tap into OnApp’s federation. However, while OnApp’s CDN “business in a box” was largely taken up by virtual service providers that lacked their own infrastructure, in this case the cloud marketplace is more likely to be adapted and adopted by hosters who want to expand geographically, Bredahl said: “Before, they needed to go out and sign reseller agreements without having transparency, and secondly they didn’t have one UI, one set of APIs and so on.”

Users and providers can refer to each location’s historical performance, to see how well they really met their own service level agreements (SLAs). “Obviously we have SLAs, but SLAs in principle aren’t that interesting,” Bredahl said. “Amazon and Rackspace’s SLAs are just bullshit – they don’t represent the business losses you’ll have from downtime. Generally SLAs only really give you back the money you paid to Amazon or Rackspace. As a buyer, what you really need is insight; you need to make an informed decision.”

And, according to Bredahl, the idea is to “open this up – there will be access to OpenStack in there, CloudStack, AWS – with one set of APIs.” OpenStack and AWS will come in the fourth quarter of 2014; VMware is also “possibly good”.

“Everyone’s building marketplaces but essentially they’re just phone books – there’s no interactivity,” Bredahl said. “We’ve tied the whole thing together, with one single access and full [key performance indicators] of the infrastructure.”

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. Cloud.net is where OnApp has been going for a few years now and, let’s face it, the name could make for a pretty good brand. The question now is how profitable it will prove for the service providers making up the federation, who are also being courted by the likes of VMware and HP/OpenStack (be sure to catch HP’s Bill Veghte speak about this stuff on Wednesday at Structure). And the infrastructure providers’ happiness largely depends on how successfully Cloud.net can woo the customers of Amazon and Microsoft Azure.

This article was updated on 17 June to reflect the fact that Cloud.net will hit production in 6 weeks rather than this week, as originally stated. It is the underlying system that became available — at this stage just to federation members — on Monday.