New Aussie cloud player targets SMBs

Businesses with between up to 500 users are the target of a new Australian cloud service.

The often-overlooked mall-to-medium (SMB) market is the target for suite of cloud services launched by Sydney-based company Bucan Holdings, owner and operator of ISP Connect Infobahn Australia, the Host1 server hosting business, the Enetica domain registrar business and the WebCity hosting service.

To be offered under the BitCloud brand, the cloud services will include IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings designed to suit small-medium businesses both in terms of the services offered and the price of those services.

While there are many aspects to the launch that will be of interest, price is likely to grab the greatest attention: a basic Linux server starts at $15 per month, running up to a Windows virtual server on the XEN environment just over $90 per month, with a host of different offerings in between. A similarly low-cost approach to entry-level applications is taken, with the service providing mail services at $10 per mailbox per month. The idea is to make cloud services attractive all the way down to the smallest of businesses.

Briefing SearchCIO ANZ for the launch, Bucan Holdings CEO Bennett Oprysa said the company had begun deploying suitable technologies more than two years ago, including virtualized servers and a centralized SAN, but had held back from preparing a cloud offering for two reasons.

The service, he said, had to be “safe, secure and reliable” – and there had to be a business case to back the launch. The first requirement, Oprysa said, has been made easier by better offerings from vendors, while the second has become evident in the trends among existing customers.

“An increasing number of our shared hosting customers have been outgrowing their environments,” Oprysa said, “so we had to look at how best to support them.

“We didn’t believe a VPS offering was suitable. Any business owner, if they don’t have the IT skills they need, will need support within hours.

“No matter how the benefits of a fully-managed service are put to the customer, someone will take the cheapest option. Then, after they’ve been compromised or something goes wrong, they’ll try to upgrade, only to find the only real option is to start again from scratch.”

This led him to the conclusion that the company’s customer base would increasingly need cloud-style services, which would “give them the flexibility, but let us add features from the technology and service point of view.”

Getting SMBs into the cloud

BitCloud’s head of strategy and sales, Darren Covington, said the service is designed to let small customers start with the most basic question of all: “Do you need to own this?”

“Most SMBs have very limited requirements – they have the devices they use, they need access to e-mail, file storage, office applications, and perhaps a limited set of business apps.”

While this all looks within the scope of the SMB, Covington said, that confidence quickly evaporates “when they find themselves paying $500 to get an IT consultant to defrag a server hard drive and provide a report saying the kit’s obsolete.

“So we’re offering them the chance to give their IT infrastructure to someone who knows how it works for a simply monthly fee, so they can concentrating on transacting their business.”

The other two key selling points are security (many SMBs have little or none), and backups (a chore carried out too rarely and with little regard to reliability).

If connectivity is an issue, Oprysa said, Connect Infobahn can package a business-grade DSL service from PowerTel (AAPT) which, while more expensive than consumer ADSL, will give the business unlimited transfers between its site and the cloud service, and will come with a business grade SLA.

For the BitCloud service, SLAs will range fro 99.9% uptime to 99.99% uptime depending on the package.

What’s in the box? cloud?

In addition to cloud-based servers, BitCloud is offering:

  • Hosted e-mail and communications – with hosted Exchange services, iPhone and Windows mobile services, and hosted Zimbra collaboration services;
  • Collaboration – with either simple cloud storage or hosted Microsoft SharePoint;
  • Cloud hosting – based on the Litespeed WebServer platform; and
  • Cloud storage.

In the future, Covington said, BitCloud will look at ways of partnering with systems integrators, particularly those specializing in business application integration and customization.

This would be particularly suitable for SMBs in the 20 – 150 employees space: “We don’t want to just host a vanilla Navision,” he said, because that would constrain a key opportunity for customers to use their applications to differentiate themselves.

He added that any applications BitCloud brings into its offerings will have to be supported with SLAs “at launch”.

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