Unisys takes Secure Cloud private

A chip off the virtual x64 block

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Server and services company Unisys launched its homegrown cloud computing service in the summer, and now it wants to sell companies a chip off the Secure Cloud block and let them install local versions of the Unisys cloud inside their own data centers.

The Secure Cloud that debuted in late June can be thought of as a test bed for the idea that Unisys has the smarts to build a secure version of a public cloud, and that the real revenue action - at least for now - is going to be on private clouds that are configured like public clouds. Hence the Secure Private Cloud that was announced on Monday at the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo in Silicon Valley.

Companies and governments may like the idea of the utility-style pricing and usage models that public compute and storage clouds offer, mainly because pay-per-use should be cheaper than buying infrastructure and having it sit idle some or most of the time. But organizations do not like the idea (at least not yet) of letting go of their own infrastructure or trusting the security of their applications and data to third parties - and with good reason, considering how many security breaches there are (and those are just the ones we hear about.)

So it stands to reason that for real production workloads, people want to use private clouds inside their own firewalls. And they want these clouds to do real work, not just noodling, experimenting, and application development that is the main thing being done on public clouds like Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud and its several storage clouds, including the S3 file-level and EBS block-level storage clouds and the just-announced Relational Database Service, which is MySQL as a service running atop EC2.

Of course, having cornered the market thus far for public cloud computing capacity, Amazon can and, as El Reg suggested in August when Amazon launched virtual private cloud services, probably should sell private versions of the Amazon Web Services clouds to corporations and just offer remote support for them. Why bother trying to create an EC2-compatible cloud using a tool like Eucalyptus and supporting VMware ESX Server or Red Hat KVM virtual machines when you can use the heavily customized Red Hat and Xen stack actually used by Amazon? Maybe Unisys could do some kind of tech support on the boxes, or act as a reseller? This far, Amazon has not commented on the possibility of private AWS setups. And for all we know, they already exist or Amazon thinks the idea is idiotic.

Unisys, having created what it says is an inherently more-secure public compute cloud aimed at enterprises, thinks that selling bits of it as internal private clouds is a great idea.

According to Rich Marcello, president of the Technology, Consulting, and Services group at Unisys, of the 5,000 employees working in this group, about 3,000 of them are geared up to sell and support clouds. "I wish I had more people to chase the opportunities," Marcello says.

The Secure Private Cloud comes in two flavors. One of them is a combination of the hardware, software, and services that are used to create the Secure Cloud, the public variant announced in June. The other variant will just sell companies the software that Unisys had glued together so they can build an internal variant of the Secure Cloud and operate it themselves.

Just like the public cloud announced in June, the private clouds are based on the entry-level ES3000 and ES5000 servers that Unisys resells with its labels (but which come from Dell and Sun Microsystems) as well as its own high-end ES7000 servers (which were co-engineered by NEC). The cloud supports VMware's ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and its vSphere tools immediately, with support for Microsoft's Hyper-V R2 and Citrix Systems' XenServer 5.5 coming in a month or two. The whole shebang is managed by the homegrown orchestration, provisioning, and compliance tools that Unisys created (called uOrchestrate, uProvision, and uGovern) for its high-end ES7000 customers. The management stack includes chargeback accounting for cloud users (created by Unisys) as well as runbook automation software from Enigmatic and server repurposing and application provisioning tools from Scalent. That management server can scale to manage hundreds or thousands of nodes, and Marcello says he is unaware of any scalability limits on the device.

Unisys is selling a block of services for $25,000 to get a private cloud installed and up and running; porting applications over, if companies don't want to do it themselves, will cost extra. And so, too, will the hardware and software infrastructure that makes up the private version of the cloud.

Over time, Unisys will add its ClearPath mainframes and their MCP and OS2200 operating systems to the Secure Cloud and the Secure Private Cloud, but Marcello did not commit to any specific schedule.

As for the Secure Cloud, Marcello says that the customers Unisys has to date are mostly doing proof of concepts and that the offering really only went live on September 1, even though it was launched on June 30. Back then, the Secure Cloud offered Infrastructure as a Service (or IaaS, meaning virtual machines for running company-specific stacks) and Platform as a Service (or PaaS, which only exposes the database and middleware layers to cloud users) based on a Java stack.

With today's announcements, the PaaS offering on the Secure Cloud supports Microsoft's .NET framework and related languages as well as IBM's WebSphere and Oracle's WebLogic middleware if customers prefer these to a generic Java stack. The Windows stack for PaaS on the Secure Cloud will be available at the end of November, and includes SQL Server for database, IIS for Web serving, and .NET for application serving.

Unisys is also adding another dimension to the Secure Cloud, with something called Secure Disaster Recovery as a Service - and as a matter of principle, no one should make an abbreviation of this. Basically, with this service, companies can designate the Secure Cloud from Unisys as the target infrastructure for a high-availability cluster with their internal systems. If the internal boxes get whacked, everything fails over to the Secure Cloud.

By the way, Unisys is not at all interested in building public or private clouds that support the Amazon Machine Image (AMI) format used by Amazon's EC2. "We're really not focusing on anything but our own cloud," says Marcello, who adds that most of the companies that are approaching Unisys have needs that are more sophisticated than what AWS offers. But, Marcello concedes, it is possible that Unisys could put together a Secure Private Cloud that is EC2-compatible at some time in the future, if there is enough demand for such a thing. ®

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