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Floating IT lab mimics multi-tiered networks

Is it real? Or is it Skytap?

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Skytap - the Jeff Bezos-backed startup that lets you mimic internal IT infrastructure in the so-called cloud - has introduced a new set of automation tools designed to facilitate the creation of complex network topologies on its floating interwebs service.

With the new tools, the company says, Skytap users can automate the creation and deployment of virtual data center templates that include multi-tiered network topologies. You can create virtual servers with multiple virtual network cards that attach to multiple virtual networks, adding virtual routers, virtual firewalls and virtual gateways, and you can assign all the necessary routing, security and access policies.

Last August, the company added an IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) VPN tunnel to its cloud, letting you run the same application stack across Skytap and your (real) internal infrastructure. You're given a secure connection to the service and when moving your stack to the heavens and you can specify your own domains, subnets, host names and IP addresses.

Skytap was originally pitched as a kind of floating IT lab. But according to director of product management Ian Knox, some customers are now using the service for production applications as well.

Policy Studies Inc - a Colorado-based company that develops health care, child support and other programs for various public and private agencies - uses Skytap for testing and development as well as employee training.

"We were looking for a way to extend our local network when we run out of local resources," Nate Nelson, the company's manager of database and middleware engineering, tells The Reg. "Some projects have a very short timeline and we don't have the time to go out and buy hardware. Or it might not make sense to go out and buy new hardware when we won't need it three months later."

Nelson opted for Skytap in part because the startup promised it network-automation tools. Policy Studies already has multiple virtual networks running on Skytap, but they can't talk directly to each other. "We have to go route everything back through our own [physical] switches in our own data centers," he says. "Now, we can have [those virtual networks] connect directly in the cloud."

This will improve performance, says Nelson, but it also means that if there are outages in his own data center, they won't affect what he's got running up in the Sky.

Skytap offers a web interface as well as a representational state transfer (REST) API for managing its virtual networks. Coding directly to the API with Python, Policy Studies uses it to, say, automatically start up or shut down virtual servers at certain times of the day or in certain situations. "You don't have to have people manually turning things off and on," Nelson says.

SkyTap is funded in part by Bezos Expeditions, the personal investment arm of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. ®

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