SkyTap is Making Cloud an Affordable Reality
This week I interviewed Sundar Raghavan, CMO at SkyTap. At the end of his demonstration of the SkyTap public cloud, I was highly impressed in the ease of use, affordability, and practicality of their offering. There are really an unlimited number of use cases. In this article, I’ll explain how the SkyTap cloud works, from an IT Admin/End User perspective and why I was so impressed with what SkyTap had to offer.
Who is SkyTap?
At the start of the interview with Sundar, I learned that he was previously a product manager at Google for two years where he evangelized their cloud offerings. Today, he leads product management and marketing for SkyTap in Seattle. SkyTap is a private company that is backed by well-known venture capital companies Madrona, Ignition, Washington Research, and Bezos Expeditions (yes, that is Jeff Bezos of Amazon’s VC company). At this point I was thinking “Big names with Big Experience – Google and Amazon”. Started in 2006, SkyTap has a partnership with CSC to use their datacenters in Seattle and Chicago – which is where your data would physically reside if you used the SkyTap cloud. The goal of SkyTap is to provide cloud automation solutions for businesses of all sizes. Common use cases include SMBs who need agility and simplified IT, developers who need test/demo environments, training companies that need on-demand infrastructure, and even enterprises that “move to the cloud” for all the common reasons that you would.
How much does SkyTap cost?
Much of my professional IT experience was with a family-owned medium-size enterprise that, as you can imagine, was always cost conscious (or sometimes we called it “cheap”). From that, a habit that I have gotten into is always asking how much some IT product or service costs, within the first few minutes of learning about it. Thus, I know how much of a factor price is to many companies.
With many of the potential customers for SkyTap being SMBs, independent development companies, or startups, I asked Sundar about the entry cost to use the SkyTap cloud. He directed me to the Google Marketplace where SkyTap is selling their Express Subscription for $250 per month with no contract. This includes their self-service portal, 5 users, 5 SVMs (equal to 1 CPU and 1GB of RAM), 500 SVM hours, and 200GB of storage. To me, this is offering about 5 virtual servers for $250 per month, or $50 per server – that’s affordable. In fact, SkyTap says that you should be able to reduce your current infrastructure costs by as much at 70%.
With my most important question satisfied, let’s move on.
Does SkyTap use VMware Technologies?
My second most crucial question for Sundar was whether or not they use VMware technologies in the SkyTap cloud. If the answer was no I was going to hang up the phone (just kidding). Actually, SkyTap runs the underlying cloud on VMware vSphere. You can import and export VMDK or OVF files from your current vSphere infrastructure (don’t worry, there is no “Hotel California”, Paul). They don’t use vCloud Director or the vCloud API yet but they are working on how this will fit into their existing infrastructure.
With that second most crucial question satisfied, let’s move on to how does this thing really work.
SkyTap’s Five Best Features
SkyTap is really your virtual datacenter “in the cloud”. You have virtual servers, networks, and storage that you can configure into whatever design you choose. Here are SkyTap’s five best features, in my opinion:
1. Appealing Self-Service Design – SkyTap’s feast of pre-built VM templates that you can deploy yourself makes getting up and running fast (even with more complex apps). By having these pre-built VM templates that have either OS or OS+App (like SQL Server) you are going to save a ton of time getting your VM (and app) up and running. SkyTap must work hard to give you many choices but also many them easy to configure and easy to understand. Even something like configuring multiple networks for your virtual infrastructure is straight forward to do.
2. Real Hybrid Cloud – SkyTap isn’t only public cloud. They support the hybrid cloud model such that, using SkyTap, you can create a VPN between your internal LAN and your SkyTap LAN. You can then have the servers in the SkyTap cloud and the servers on your local LAN work together. I would guess that almost all of SkyTap’s customers would be using Intenet-facing apps but Sundar said that about 70% of their customers are just using private/internal apps in the SkyTap cloud vs. about 30% that are Internet-facing – surprising news!
3. Network Automation – SkyTap’s networking configuration is easy to do and their network automation features allow you to create advanced network designs and security policies with a few clicks (here is a link with info on their new network automation features).
4. Import and Export – you can import & export VMware VMDKs as well as OVF files from vSphere or VMware Workstation – all self-service. This way, you could quickly deploy your existing VMs/apps into the SkyTap cloud or bring VMs back in house whenever you see fit.
5. Real Customer Examples – If you choose to move your infrastructure to the cloud with SkyTap, it’s not like you have to be the first to do it. There are many case studies of businesses that are already using the SkyTap cloud successfully (even small businesses too). As an example, Sundar referred me to a small IT training company that uses SkyTap to roll out virtual classroom labs as needed and then destroy them when done. He also referenced a SMB that was tired of trying to keep up with hardware refresh, backup management, and IT skills so they moved their IT infrastructure to SkyTap.
For anyone getting started in cloud computing I think that the daily administration of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is hard to envision, at first. The thought of having just one web interface to all your infrastructure located “in the cloud” could be very bad (if the UI is bad or has limited features) or very good (single interface could be nice if full featured and easy to use). Kudos to SkyTap because they are one company that is really doing IaaS right and covers all the bases (affordable, easy to use, using VMware, import/export, and nice library of template VMs to deploy fast). I hope that SMBs, developers, trainers, and enterprises alike will take SkyTap for a test drive. I am requesting a demo account now so look forward to my future articles showing how to use SkyTap.