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Skytap, the Seattle based
lab cloud automation provider, has announced powerful network automation capabilities in the cloud. Skytap is one of the hot companies in the enterprise cloud space (see my previous coverage here and here). I have been following them closely and I have often wondered about their long term strategy. I was not very convinced that their lab automation strategy will take them far. With today’s announcement, they are positioning themselves as a cloud automation provider getting ready for a long innings in the cloud marketplace.
Starting off as a lab automation provider, they were catering to the needs of enterprises by enabling testing labs, QA and training on their cloud. Their solution enabled enterprise applications to run unchanged in the cloud, making it easy for collaboration at a global level. The 50-70% savings they could offer made Skytap very attractive for enterprises. From the lab automation beginnings, Skytap has evolved to support Sales demos and complex ERP migrations. With today’s announcement about multi-tier network automation capabilities that will accelerate the creation, migration and deployment of multi-tier enterprise applications in the cloud, they are standing out from the rest of the competition as one of the few providers offering powerful virtual datacenter features that can be managed with just a few mouse clicks. The evolution of Skytap can be captured as follows.
VM Automation –> Self Service VM Import/Export –> Network Automation
There are many companies offering storage automation, CPU automation, server automation, etc. but Skytap goes far ahead to offer a complete network automation in the cloud. According to Rachel Chalmers of The 451 Group, network automation is an important capability for external clouds. It builds on approaches that have been shown to reduce costs in the physical data center. Compared to weeks and months needed to configure the complex networks, where IT admin resources are needed, Skytap simplifies the configuration of network to a few clicks and it can be done by an end user with absolutely no networking capabilities. With this release, Skytap enables IT organizations to move multi-tiered enterprise applications with clustering and fail-over networking capabilities into the cloud with point-and-click ease. The resulting cost savings is huge and this is what makes Skytap a hot company in this space.
Skytap allows IT organizations to create “ready to run” virtual data centers with advanced networking topologies, customizable security policies, and scalable computing capacity. Functional users can utilize the self-service Web interface to deploy those virtual data centers immediately. As application needs change, IT organizations can easily add or remove networks, change server and storage capacity, and rapidly adjust security and access policies. Skytap’s networking capabilities bring unprecedented power, scale, ease-of-use, time-to-value and cost efficiencies to cloud-based application deployments.
While talking to Sundar Raghavan, their chief product and marketing officer, he also pointed out to me that everything that can be done through Skytap’s web UI can also be done using the APIs. The API access allows for automated back and forth movement of Virtual Machines between the enterprise datacenter and Skytap cloud. I asked Skytap about the possibility for an “on the fly” configuration of the networks while moving the Virtual Machines to Skytap Cloud. They pointed out that even though such an automated configuration is not possible right now, it is definitely on their roadmap for the future. In fact, Sundar pointed out that the very availability of API access will allow an admin to write a Python or shell script to push a Virtual Machine to the Skytap Cloud and configure the network on the fly. In future, this network configuration will be completely automated.
Network automation itself is not easy and the fluidity of virtual compute infrastructure makes virtual network automation a much difficult problem to tackle. By attacking this problem head on, Skytap has completely altered the game. By making the process of creating advanced multi-tier topologies just a few mouse clicks away, Skytap has provided the critical missing piece that has held back complex enterprise application deployments in the cloud. For more information on the features announced today, check out their blog post on the topic. This is truly game changing. The interesting aspect of their offering is not the powerful network features available in the Skytap Cloud but the ease with which one can create such networks. It is so easy that even your grandma can create complex networking topologies such as clustering, fail-over, shared resources, and multiple subnets with firewalls and security controls. This is a hot company to watch in this space.