CEO OnApp, Ditlev Bredahl, “It isn’t just about cloud, in the end”

INTERVIEW – The first version of OnApp’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) hosting platform was launched in July 2010. Today, OnApp already has an employee base of 140 and more than 3,000 hosts and telcos globally present in the OnApp ecosystem. Hosting Journalist spoke to OnApp CEO Ditlev Bredahl about their ambitions and go-to-market secrets.

OnApp is quite a young company with a relatively large staff already. How did you manage to grow that fast?

“We’re removing as many barriers as possible for hosts who want to get into the cloud,” said Ditlev Bredahl.

“I think the answer is pretty simple, we identified a very real need in the market: to make it easy for hosts to offer their own utility public cloud service, to be able to compete with providers like AWS. We built a kick-ass product with the best cloud management UI in the industry, and we packaged it in a way that makes sense for the hosting market – with a simple license model, and deployment and support included for free. Most of my team has direct hosting experience, and everything we do is focused on helping hosts sell more, automating more and launching new services that keep them growing. I think that’s largely why we’ve been able to grow so quickly.”

What hurdles did you encounter when establishing the company and achieving fast growth?

“No really big hurdles, to be honest. Of course the usual situations you get in a start-up, when everyone does everything, and you get no sleep for 18 months… but that’s just to be expected. We were lucky to be able to assemble an awesome core team of developers and support techs right at the start, many of whom I’d worked with on previous projects: that really helped us build early momentum and get us to our first hundred clients really very quickly.”

“If anything, the challenges come when you start to scale beyond those first hundred clients – that’s when you need to make sure you’re putting proper processes in place. You then need the right people to make growth sustainable, but I think we’ve done a pretty awesome job. Four and a half years on we’re still growing quickly and sustainably.”

Can you provide some funny or remarkable examples illustrating the path to becoming a corporate hosting entity with enterprise-grade processes in place?

“There are plenty of funny stories. I’m just not sure I can share the best ones in public. Over a beer, maybe!”

What in your opinion are the prerequisites for “a REAL” IaaS platform?

“Talking about IaaS isn’t as fashionable as talking about cloud, but it’s a lot more accurate. I think we’ve always had a very clear sense of what IaaS/cloud really means for hosting providers. What it really boils down to is automation. Self-service, automated provisioning, automated scaling and automated failover. That’s the core functionality we delivered with the first versions of OnApp. Things have moved on a little and today, to stand any chance of competing in this market, you have to bring that automation to everything you do – not just virtualized hosting, but bare metal, storage, CDN, DNS, backup, server deployment, workflow…everything. Because it isn’t just about cloud, in the end. Your customers have workloads they need you to host, and workloads just want to work – they don’t care about cloud.”

How did OnApp incorporate these ideas into its own IaaS platform?

“What we’ve been focusing on in the last 18 months is expanding ‘Infrastructure-as-a Service’ to include all kinds of infrastructure delivered as a service. As a host, that means having the ability to automate hosting for all customer workloads, on many different kinds of infrastructure, and being able to do that under one UI – one pane of glass. That’s where the real efficiencies come from, and that’s how you position yourself to handle any kind of workload your customers need you to run. The next step is to enable hosts to do that anywhere in the world, which is what we’re launching with the OnApp Federation.”

Can you explain how the “federation model” works?

“The OnApp Federation grew in three phases, really. The first phase was building our core OnApp platform: a rock-solid base for service providers to sell all kinds of virtual and dedicated hosting products, create storage, manage billing and users and so on. That’s the foundation – the ability for each member of the Federation to offer a great range of hosting services on their local infrastructure.

“The next step was connecting these local pools of capacity together, which we began 2 or 3 years ago, now with the launch of our federated CDN. The final phase, which is coming out of beta very soon now, is extending that federation to all of the resources managed locally by our clients – not just caching and bandwidth, but CPU, RAM and storage too – and providing a single marketplace to enable each member of the federation to buy and sell that federated compute and CDN capacity, on demand.”

What distinguishes the OnApp Federation from other cloud marketplaces?

onapp-cloud“This is really the first time that anyone has delivered a truly global and transparent cloud marketplace. Every other attempt, all the cloud brokerages and so on that are out there, they are nothing more than catalogs or directories. The buyer has to manage relationships with all of the providers, and you’re buying capacity from 3rd parties based on trust, based on whatever SLA the provider claims to offer.”

“The OnApp Federation is a brand new kind of marketplace, a marketplace for global infrastructure. It’s a true marketplace: you choose infrastructure from providers based on benchmarks and real time metadata, which we measure independently. So if you’re a host in Paris, say, and your customer needs to deploy apps in New York or Tokyo, you can go to the marketplace and choose from a range of federation data centers in each location based on their performance and uptime, and their price.”

“And, with the OnApp Federation, there’s only one relationship to manage. A host can offer customers as much global capacity as they need, and source it all from one place – the Federation marketplace – where they only do business with us. We take care of all buy and sell transactions, so no matter how many providers you source capacity from, you have just one UI, one account, one bill, and one place to go to for support.”

What role do channel partnerships play in rolling out the Onapp IaaS services worldwide?

“Partners are essential to our strategy, even more so now as we begin to help hosts scale out through the OnApp Federation. There are two main ways channel works for us. The first is kind of the traditional way. OnApp is all about making it super-easy for hosts to build and launch a successful IaaS business – not just the cloud platform, but the hardware, the connectivity, the billing and other components it might depend on. So we work with partners who sell the hardware, hosting, bandwidth, integration services, add-on software (and so on) – and by packaging all of that up with OnApp, in what we call CloudPODs.”

“People should be able to choose where they deploy their apps, on what kind of infrastructure, and get precisely the right price and support package for their purposes,” said Ditlev Bredahl.

“We’re removing as many barriers as possible for hosts who want to get into the cloud. You can get OnApp standalone, or as a hosted service, or with hardware and colo, or running on leased hardware, and many other options. The other way channel works is kind of new, and emerging. The OnApp Federation acts as a new kind of channel for all kinds of participants. It’s a marketplace in which hosts can act as infrastructure sellers, infrastructure buyers or both at once – and it’s a marketplace you can use to sell cloud, even if you have no traditional infrastructure at all. By creating a global pool of cloud capacity and an easy way to build services on top of it, we’re creating a new kind of channel for this market. It’s awesome to see how people are beginning to use it already in our beta trials.”

What makes an IaaS cloud hosting platform like yours enterprise ready?

“OnApp is proven in production at a huge range of hosting companies from large telcos and international hosting groups, to small boutique hosts. Increasingly we’re talking with larger hosts and also some large telcos and carriers, especially for CDN projects using the Federation. Pacnet is one recent example. What makes OnApp ‘enterprise ready’ for our clients is really the fact that it’s a ready-to-run platform, a turnkey platform with all of the components you need to go to market. Unlike, for example, a platform like OpenStack, which is more like a framework or toolkit you have to spend time and money on getting it to work.”

What are the prerequisites for deploying IaaS services on a global scale, and what are the pitfalls for clients in consuming these globally offered (cloud) services?

“In the past, the only way to offer IaaS on a global scale was to either build your own global network of data centers, at huge cost, or rent space in multiple data centers, and deal with the cost and complexity of managing all of that infrastructure and all of those providers. There are only a few companies doing this today for public cloud, and even the biggest and best-known, like AWS, only have a handful of locations, in a few major (mostly western) cities.”

“This is one of the key problems we set out to solve with the OnApp Federation. By sourcing capacity from the federation – with hundreds of locations available in countries and cities, large and small, all over the world – you can sell IaaS on a truly global scale for the first time. For end customers consuming these federated services, it’s about potential, not pitfalls. For some it will be about global application deployment – getting your app close to users to minimize latency, and improve redundancy. For others it will be about more data locality – using the Federation to scale up but doing so in a specific country or region, because of the need to comply with local data protection laws.”

“People should be able to choose where they deploy their apps, on what kind of infrastructure, and get precisely the right price and support package for their purposes. That simply isn’t possible with the handful of ‘global’ cloud providers you have today: you’re stuck with the locations that make sense to them, the complex pricing that makes sense to them, and in many cases no real support at all.”

“The OnApp Federation will mean you can go to your local service provider, get the benefit of their local presence and support, their market expertise, and still get access to as much global capacity as you need. We plan to roll out a range of different federation services: it’s the first time this has been done at this scale, and we really expect this to shake up the market and provide a way for the ‘long tail’ of smaller hosts to become a dominant force in the IaaS market.”

About Ditlev Bredahl

OnApp’s UK headquarters is located in the Old Truman Brewery complex on Brick Lane, London. The office walls are decorated by Nathan Bowen, a street artist whose work can be seen around Brick Lane and other parts of London.
OnApp’s UK headquarters is located in the Old Truman Brewery complex on Brick Lane, London. The office walls are decorated by Nathan Bowen, a street artist whose work can be seen around Brick Lane and other parts of London.

Ditlev Bredahl is a Danish Internet and hosting industry veteran living in the UK, with more than 15 years’ experience leading hosting and related technology companies. Before founding OnApp, Ditlev led UK2 Group’s hosting companies as MD and CEO, and spearheaded the launch of VPS.NET, which now operates one of the world’s largest public clouds. He has also founded numerous successful web hosting brands and, earlier in his career, had a number of roles working for the European Parliament. 

OnApp is headquartered in London, UK. Its software enables hosts, telcos and other service providers to sell the complete range of IaaS products, from bare-bones virtual servers to fully-automated cloud, dedicated servers, CDN, storage and more. The OnApp platform also gives service providers on-demand access to the OnApp Federation, a global marketplace with a network of cloud providers in 170+ locations, across 43 countries.