Amazon, Microsoft and Google targeted by cloud provider Joyent

Joyent may be the biggest cloud provider you haven't heard of.

According to the pure-play infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider -- which was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in San Francisco -- it is a top 5 vendor of cloud-based virtual machines in the world, a stat that's backed up by Gartner. That means it's rubbing elbows with the big names of cloud computing -- Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, Microsoft and Google.

"They're the most interesting cloud company that few people talk about," says George Reese, CTO of enStratus, a company that consults with enterprises on cloud strategies and helps business deploy applications to the cloud. "When we talk to people we get questions about AWS, Rackspace, HP, and when we mention Joyent, they're like, 'Who?'"

Perhaps users should start paying attention, though. The company this week released Joyent7, the latest version of its cloud management platform named SmartOS, which it says enhances capabilities for hybrid cloud deployments between a customer data center and Joyent's cloud.

Company founder and CTO Jason Hoffman is aiming for the fences with his company, openly stating that he's looking to take on the Amazons, Googles and Microsofts of the world.

Does he have a shot?

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Joyent's differentiator, Hoffman says, is its integrated stack. SmartOS is not just an operating system, but also a networking fabric and hypervisor -- it uses KVM. He describes it as analogous to a large-scale storage area network (SAN), with an integrated network between compute and data layers that run virtual machines directly on it. "We completely collapse the model into a single hardware design," he says. By doing this, new customers are easily onboarded to the cloud, with each new customer site added to Joyent's network being like the equivalent of adding another availability zone in AWS's system.

Hoffman says Joyent is cheaper and offers more compute for the buck compared to AWS. A pricing comparison chart on the company's website shows that Joyent prices are between 6% and 29% less compared to prices of similarly sized VM instance types in AWS's cloud.

Reese, the cloud consultant, says Joyent seems to have a dedicated user base, but it is still a niche play in the market. "They don't have a ton of features, but the features they do have perform really well," Reese says. VMs come up fast and are predictable and reliable, he says, based on testing he's done within enStratus for customers using Joyent's cloud.

Joyent seems optimized for customers that run large, complex, cloud-native apps in Joyent's cloud, apps from which developers want high visibility and highly reliable performance, Reese says. The focus on its core features leaves some wanting, though. Joyent doesn't have a database as a service feature, for example, nor does it have nearly the breadth of services offered by AWS or Rackspace. Ultimately, that could provide a challenge for Joyent significantly biting into Amazon or Rackspace's dominating market share.

Joyent is continuing to develop its products and company, though. The release of Joyent7 is about enabling "seamless hybrid cloud," Hoffman says. The new OS furthers LDAP integration and adds a catalog of APIs, specifically around workflow management, image management and security groups.

In addition to announcing Joyent7, the company also appointed a new CEO, Henry Wasik, formerly president and CEO of Force10 Networks, to lead the company.

Hoffman likes his chances of going up against the gorillas of the industry. "If someone really wants to take on AWS," which Hoffman clearly states he wants to do, "you have be multi-region, multi-AZ from the get-go." If a provider takes a pure-hardware approach, it says it would cost a half billion dollars to set it up. "We're in a space where, as a private company, we're partnering with a top-three chip maker [Intel], we have our own technology stack end-to-end and we've raised hundreds of millions of dollars." The company announced its latest $85 million funding round in January.

Gartner says it will be an uphill climb for Joyent, though, especially when it's competing with companies that have much greater resources they can devote to R&D. "Joyent is focused on developing its own technology, which creates long-term challenges in competing against providers with greater development resources," Gartner says. If Joyent remains a niche provider, Reese believes it has a chance to carve out a chunk of the market and serve it well. It's an open question if a company like Joyent can scale up to the size of some of the major cloud providers in the market, though.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Tags Amazon Web ServicesMicrosoftinternetJoyentcloud computingrackspaceHPGartnerJoyent cloudGoogleStratus

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