In 2010, the Netscan group acquired the highly regarded hosting company, Native Space from Peter Duggal. Last year, Netscan tempted him back to the group to head up its Cloud project. In this interview, he explains the what and why of our new  Cloud platform and his new role.

Peter, what tempted you back from retirement?

The technological changes in hosting in the years since I exited Native Space have opened up fantastic new possibilities.  I could not just sit back and watch it all happen without me! When I got a call from the Netscan Group, to see if I wanted  to run a new Cloud-only business to service Netscan and other group companies, I jumped at the opportunity.

Why has the Cloud suddenly become important?

The term Cloud came into widespread use during the last year or so but the interesting thing is no-one seems to have a clear idea what it is and what it does. It’s strange but if you ask an expert in the industry for a definition – and believe me, I have – they have real difficulty.

It’s probably easiest to look at the Cloud as the result of a cluster of advances in hardware and software that really began around three years ago. Taken individually, the changes don’t sound like much but put together they have enabled engineers to make the technology run faster, safer and opened up new ideas for managing the hardware that expand its capabilities. Instead of having a single box, the server, containing all the technology and software, we now have a cluster of separate components which can be addressed separately by the software depending on what we want to do in interesting and dynamic ways. For example: disc arrays are set up (in huge numbers) in such a way that they are almost infinitely expandable so customers can if they wish, only pay for the space they actually use; capacity constraints are a thing of the past; and it is now almost impossible for there to be downtime as a result of disc failures since data is written simultaneously to multiple discs and there is instant failover.

We have named our platform 'Nativespace Cloud platform' to distinguish it from the many other versions of the Cloud. It represents the combination of hardware and software that delivers the highest level of facilities and resilience available anywhere.

VPS’s have been around for some time. Why are you launching it now?

As MD of Nativespace, I learnt that being an early adopter may be tempting but can be an expensive mistake. I found it to be far more productive with any emerging technology to watch and learn what works well, and what doesn’t. In this industry, we are always being presented with technical specifications backed up by strong claims for reliability, flexibility and power – but, until you see how the hardware performs in the real world, used by real people over a period of time, you cannot proceed with any degree of belief in your product.  So, because I believe long term success and reputation comes from providing the best possible service over time, we’ve spent all the time that was necessary on R&D to get this right.

Where does that put Nativespace among the competition?

Through the Nativespace Cloud platform, we have been able to take advantage of price-drops and provide what we believe is the best ‘true’ cloud offering on the market. Nativespace Cloud platform is the result of a year’s research and analysis into cloud systems and architecture, specifically in understanding what will provide truly significant enhancements in reliability, cost and additional utilities to our customers.

I suspect that with hindsight, some established hosting companies may have jumped the gun, and gone too early to market. The technology has evolved so that the original infrastructure suffers  by comparison and in many cases defeats one of the principle purposes of providing  ‘cloud’ in the first place – reliability.

In some instances, the product being provided is not ‘true cloud’ at all, but rather a traditional VPS arrangement on legacy hardware with cloud simulation software. These products do not provide all of the functionality, reliability or cost savings of a true cloud platform.

What is so special about the Nativespace Cloud platform?

It offers five core advantages:

1. Reliability and Uptime (if one server fails, then services instantly fail over to other hardware).

2. Control (full root access and control of the 'server'). (We still use the term 'server' because to the user, Nativespace Cloud platform retains the same look and feel.)

3. Scalability (instantly increase resources in response to, say, a TV advertising campaign).

4. Immense economies of scale. It's like sharing the platform of a multinational.

5. Costs – no initial investment in hardware and lower on-going IT costs.

There are a range of other advantages such as immense scale ability and even  'burst capacity' which enables very high temporary usage levels when needed without experiencing crashes.

Multinational users can benefit from the ability for data to be written to separate clouds in say, different continents and other bespoke arrangements.

How do these benefits translate to real business scenarios?

Anybody that hosts data on a server would benefit from moving to one of our Cloud Servers. The advantages over traditional servers (in-house, or in a datacentre) include the potential for dramatic cost savings, high availability, scalability and mobility.

I imagine that applies particularly to start-ups?

It gives them an amazing kick-start. Not having to invest in infrastructure at the outset is a huge benefit and they get technology that allows even the smallest businesses to compete with large enterprises. They need only pay for the server resources they need. In addition, full scalability enables a small firm to grow, safe in the knowledge that the IT capacity can grow with it.

What about businesses that already have in-house server hardware?

They will hugely benefit from moving to a Cloud VPS – they are more cost efficient (with less need to have in house IT staff as we manage the server hardware), they are greener (less energy used due to less equipment on site) and they are more flexible (the data can be accessed from anywhere, securely and safely).

As our cloud has true HA (High Availability) – this means should any physical server fail, the cloud instantly rebuilds to another node which resolves one of the big problems faced by any project hosted on traditional shared servers – downtime. E-Commerce websites and indeed any mission-critical project benefits enormously from this.

Security concerns over the Cloud are a hot topic – how serious are they?

We are very aware that the primary concern for many customers is security – and our platform has been developed from the ground up with this in mind. Hardware firewalls and 24 hour proactive monitoring/management ensure we manage and maintain our infrastructure to the very highest level at all times. Each VPS is isolated into its own space within the environment, thereby eliminating security issues at the VM level. Further, we roll out the same high end management as an option for end users to implement on their own VPS with 24 hour management. Having your own Virtual Private Server means total peace of mind.

Your solution appears cheaper than others with similar specifications. Does this mean compromising quality?

Cloud computing infrastructure has advanced rapidly in the last few years, with competition amongst the big hardware providers improving specifications and driving down cost. By taking our time, we have been able to use this to our advantage in providing what we believe to be the very best cloud solution on the market, and great pricing advantages have fallen into our laps.

Are your systems proprietary?

We have partnered with OnApp to provide a truly portable system. If a customer wishes to move to another OnApp provider, we provide a full image file for them to rebuild their environment anywhere they wish. This takes about ten minutes for an average site. We don’t believe in customer lock-in, and have never had the need to!

How is data protected from loss?

We take regular full image backups, which mirror customers’ entire VPS so that we can restore a perfect image, at the byte level. We also employ full RAID and redundancy on all storage hardware.

What privacy protection do you have?

We use carefully selected datacentres that employ the highest levels of security, with managed firewalls, security updates and patching, alongside our routine proactive security audits.

Are there software options included in the offering?  

We offer a huge number of base OS templates (including Linux and Windows), as well as a number of predefined applications (such as Magento, Drupal and Joomla) that are configured on servers optimised for their particular application.

In addition, we offer cPanel as an option for those who prefer a control panel front end to their server.

As these servers provide full root access, the possibilities are unlimited, and the customer can install any software they wish but our support staff are always on hand to help in case of need.

As you mentioned, Cloud technology is still evolving. What’s next?

We’ll keep evolving with it, researching it and ensuring we keep our technologies up to date. We’ve got a number of exciting projects launching in 2012 based on the Nativespace Cloud platform as we continue to invest in its infrastructure. We’ll keep customers informed about new developments as they happen – it should be an exciting year both for technology and the opportunities it offers to businesses.