Don Christie is a veteran of the local New Zealand ICT community. Deeply passionate about Kiwi ICT companies making a big difference to the country and facilitator of NZRise, an unashamedly New Zealand lobby group that meets regularly with ministers and industry leaders, Don is also one of the owners of Catalyst, a long-time Kiwi ICT company that released their open-source Cloud product earlier this year built on a platform of all that us open.
A massive team effort the Catalyst product is definitely Cloud, but with some differences that you won’t find locally otherwise. Everything is open, the platform can be moved, replicated, and cloned by anyone. There is no proprietary lock-in. Couple that with the ability to deploy as fast as the large providers, ten minutes, and the pricing being comparable to the big players, and you have a good combination.
Catalyst themselves have been around for a long time (seventeen years and counting) and understands critical systems, they look after the system that processes and publishes election results. That’s a serious application; security, reliability, privacy, and speed. They are a successful company with two hundred and fifty staff in New Zealand and Australia. Over the last decade they’ve grown an average of twenty percent per annum. Their Cloud service has grown at five hundred percent this year.
Don says that they eat their own dog food, oh wait, that’s not the saying anymore is it, drink their own champagne? Whatever it is, they use their own product:
“Our cloud solution adheres to the true open source ideal. Private cloud clients can get exactly the same software we run in production ourselves. This includes all the automation tools that we have built to allow them to deploy and expand their clouds with minimum overhead, as well as the important (and often underestimated) supporting systems that you need in order to manage it efficiently such as monitoring, capacity planning, real time dashboards and so on.”
What I like about the product is the depth of services that it offers and the surrounding services that fit it up to a solid solution. On demand computer by the hour, run your own images or pre-configured ones, storage, a strong & fast network with all the security pieces, a pay as you go model, and things like VPN as a service.
Couple that with the fact that all data is stored in New Zealand at geographically diverse sites and plans to open international points of presence in the future, including the United Kingdom, and it proves that we have a solid Kiwi Cloud offering.
On the roadmap there are a bunch of additional product sets and services that include; load balancing, Cloud Orchestration, which will enable customers to deploy entire clusters or application stacks to the cloud using a simple template to describe their infrastructure as well as easily automating actions such as scale-out based on load for specific layers of their architecture, database as a service, message queuing as a service, and PaaS.
In the next few years Don says that “We hope to position ourselves in such a way that customers looking for a robust,flexible open source based cloud will naturally be attracted to us. With new regions in other continents, they will be able to count on the the Catalyst Cloud for their global operations.”
In the Cloud future Catalyst sees a couple of sweet spots emerging: “Use of containers instead of virtual machines in the cloud is likely to become more popular. Containers are a lightweight form of virtualisation that provides the desired levels of isolation without the performance hit of hypervisors. Projects like Docker are making containers friendly and attractive and we expect to see more of it in the cloud. In addition we see open source analytics emerging. The CIO of HMRC (UK’s IRD) told a conference in February on London that all their analytics was open source. Speed of disruption makes it difficult to predict but it seems that “as a service” with develops capability will be quite a thing.”
Finally, I asked Catalyst what it was that differentiates them from the big Cloud providers:
“When it comes to the New Zealand market, being a company incorporated in New Zealand and having our cloud present in the country is something that customers care about. They are closer to their end users (less latency) and have no data sovereignty concerns. The prices are competitive and people are just starting to realise that onshore cost-efficient clouds are a reality.
Some organisation care about the vendor lock-in risk and understand that if they tie themselves too tight to these service offerings they may be in an unhappy place when things change (and is not change the only certainty we have?).
We strongly recommend using clouds governed by open standards or using abstraction layers that prevent vendor lock-in. The market changes fast and you want to ensure that your systems and workloads can be moved freely to vendors who currently offer you the balance you expect in terms of cost, quality and functionality.
A benefit we have compared to other cloud vendors is that our research and development efforts on OpenStack are shared or distributed amongst all the organisations working on the project. This distributed R&D allows us to compete in terms of innovation (new features and service offerings are constantly being introduced) without a substantial impact on costs to clients. This however, does not prevent us from investing as much as we are comfortable with to develop the solutions that we and our customers need. It is a flexibility that not many businesses can afford to have.
Ultimately, our main international competitor is AWS. They continue to impress their clients and as a company have a similar development focus to Catalyst’s. Our background is developing, hosting and maintaining mission critical systems and infrastructure that turns over millions of $s. So is Amazon’s.”
So there you have it. A mature, open source, competitive New Zealand Cloud service with ambitions to go global built on top of a growing, large Kiwi ICT company. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a big risk for a Cloud provider to go open, but Catalyst are bullish and making it work, 500% growth per annum is impressive.
More information here: Catalyst Crowd
Disclaimer: Don didn’t buy me beer.
Originally published in the print version of the National Business Review.