How Swiss Import CloudSigma Plans to Compete in IaaS

Zurich-based cloud provider CloudSigma opened an office in Palo Alto, Calif. this week, the first step in what could be a successful attempt to bring its unique brand of cloud computing to the United States. Unlike other new IaaS providers, some of which don’t appear to have done enough to distinguish themselves from the established pack, CloudSigma’s “freedom through technology” approach stands out in its resemblance to traditional co-location services. Its first U.S. data center (in either Palo Alto or Las Vegas) is still 8 to 12 weeks out, so it’s far too early to make any meaningful predictions, but it’s hard to believe CloudSigma won’t turn a few heads.

To hear CTO Robert Jenkins tell it, CloudSigma is a perfect blend of co-location flexibility and cloud billing. On the flexibility front, users get root-level access to virtual servers, meaning they can run whatever version of whatever operating system they want, and can create full racks full of virtualized servers, load balancers, file servers or whatever else they please. Also, components are unbundled, so users can select exactly the levels of CPU, memory, storage and bandwidth they need instead of choosing preconfigured images with set CPU and memory levels. What’s more, Jenkins added, servers and disk drives are completely separate, meaning one can be deleted while the other remains, and disk drives are portable via FTP, so there’s no concern over data lock-in.

And CloudSigma’s billing model is about as utility-style as it gets. Compared with many other cloud providers that charge for a full hour no matter how long a machine is actually running, CloudSigma bills in 5-minute increments. Furthermore, customers can pay solely based on their resource usage and split those resources as they please among a pool of VMs, rather than paying per VM. Its SLA is impressive, too, at a 100-percent uptime guarantee with 50x compensation for downtime in certain situations. If all that isn’t good enough, Jenkins claims CloudSigma is also a carbon-neutral company: 93 percent of energy for its Swiss operations comes from nuclear and renewables, and the company tracks and offsets its overall carbon footprint right down to food consumption.

Jenkins said CloudSigma plans to host its cloud in Tier III or IV data centers in networks hubs to ensure high performance and low latency to the WAN. Although it has just the one location now — a 600-to-700-server node in Zurich — with a U.S. west coast location on the way, Jenkins told me that a New York-area location also is on the near-term agenda. Overall, the company plans to expand to about 10 global locations in the next two years. The expansion actually is happening faster than planned, he explained, because the company has been growing fast since coming out of beta in July, and European customers that do business in the U.S. are asking for a low-latency point of presence in this country.

Based on my admittedly harsh prediction about IaaS newcomer NephoScale’s chances when it launched last month, one might think I’m ready to write off CloudSigma, too, but that’s not the case. As with any new IaaS provider, it will face an uphill fight to get heard above the Amazon Web Services (s amzn) and Rackspaces (s rax), but its core approach of blending co-location and cloud computing (something GoGrid offers as a an option) has promise, as does its model of locating its nodes in high-performance data centers in network hubs. Jenkins wisely noted that although cloud computing is a drop in the IT bucket right now, co-location is a huge market, so catering to the colo crowd with cloud pricing makes a lot of sense. And, as I have pointed out before, there appears to be a trend emerging of cloud providers touting network and infrastructure performance as a means of attracting big customers. CloudSigma is saying all the right things, we’ll see in a few months if the U.S. market is listening.

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