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Sun snuggles with cloud virtual data centre company

Gets into Q-layer

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Sun has bought Q-layer, a Belgium-originated data centre-as-a-service company, to bolster its cloud computing offering. The purchase price was not revealed.

Q-layer was founded in 2005 by Niko Nelissen, now business development VP, and Kristof De Spiegeleer, now CTO. The CEO is Matthew Powell, appointed in July, 2008, and the company is a venture capital-funded startup which has undergone two funding rounds: €1.4m in May, 2006, and €7m in February, 2007, bringing total funding to €8.4m ($11.4m at current conversion rates). Its first office is in Lochristi, near Ghent in Belgium, and there is a second office, now its headquarters, in Mountain View, Ca.

The founders' idea was to provide a virtual data centre for cloud-based computing services offered by both external and internal (inside an enterprise) data centre service suppliers. The server, storage and network facilities of a commodity-based physical data centre would be abstracted into a DAL, a database abstraction layer, and a language invented to instantiate and operate a virtual private data centre (VPDC) in a cloud. Q-layer's NephOS software operates through existing virtualisation hypervisor technologies such as those from MIcrosoft, Sun, VMware and Xen.

Users provision their own virtual data centres through a web interface, specifying virtualised server, storage, network bandwidth and application components. The intent is that the delivered services can be scaled up and down very quickly and quite simply. Owners of data centres would provide and manage the physical, commodity hardware-based infrastructure, while service users would instantiate and manage their own virtual data centres layered on this.

Q-layer will sit inside Sun's cloud computing business. Sun's SVP for cloud computing business, David Douglas, reckons that Sun's server and storage products provide building blocks for a physical data centre infrastructure whilst the Q-layer software will represent this to users: "Q-layer's technology and expertise will enhance Sun’s offerings, simplifying cloud management and speeding application deployment.”

Q-layer became an OEM of Sun in August last year, when it said it would use Sun's VirtualBox in its virtual data centre product. VirtualBox lets users create and run virtual PCs with an operating system and application stack of their choice.

It has a team of ten developers in a development and test centre in Cairo, Egypt. Development of v2.0 of its software is ongoing, and a job ad for Q-layer states: "The storage layer consists of multiple components including the ultra high performance Infiniband Q-SAN that runs on top of a storage grid."

"An important part of Q-layer’s intellectual property is in the storage layer where we develop our own block-based and file-based storage solutions. We are currently starting the development of version 2.0, which will turn the storage world up side down! Version 2.0 will provide unprecedented I/O performance which is not possible today with any SAN solution in the market, while [being] fully implemented in software."

By providing a virtual data centre in the cloud Sun is positioning itself to compete with EMC's VMware unit and also for its customers to compete with Amazon,Google, Microsoft and other cloud data centre service providers. This acquisition is part of Sun's bet that utility computing, what Nicholas Carr calls The Big Switch, will take off. The cloud is now the computer.

As Q-layer's total funding is $11.4m and if we assume a 25 per cent profit for the venture capitalist backers, we're talking about a purchase price in the $14m area, not that anyone is revealing anything about the price, whether it is all-cash, all-shares or a mix of cash and shares. Venture capitalists prefer cash, of course.

Nothing has been said about the fate of the Q-layer offices and up to 30 staff. The chances are that product development will be taken over by Sun and that the CEO and possibly other senior executives will depart. Q-layer in Belgium was unable to respond to questions about these matters. ®

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