Forget offshore tax-havens & meet the offshore cloud

It’s unclear if a small, niche player that offers the benefits having actual servers located on the Channel Islands can create a business that can compete with Amazon’s infrastructure as a service or the myriad private clouds people want to build, but the experiment is worth watching. Calligo, founded by Julian Box, the former CTO of Virtusteam has leased servers at data centers on the Jersey and Guernsey Islands to provide a cloud option for companies that need to keep their data offshore.

The offshore Jersey shore.

This isn’t a new idea. In 2000 a company called HavenCo. put servers on the Principality of Sealand, with the pitch that it would provide customers who were trying to avoid copyright law and taxes a place to put their data. While it said it wouldn’t accept child pornography or host malicious content and spammers, the bad elements trickled in, and in 2008 Haven shut down. Box has a similar pitch but is actually vetting his clients.

The pitch may be similar to Haven, but the way in which Calligo has assembled the infrastructure and some of the services it offers wouldn’t be possible without the software provided by Nicra. Calligo is using Nicira’s software to create software-defined networks inside its data centers and between them to create a seamless and unified cloud for clients while also ensuring that specific security and data routing protocols are kept in place. Much like Google’s (s goog) use of software defined networks between its data centers, or NTT’s experiments in creating a seamless failover environment spread between multiple data centers in Japan, Calligo is showing what a abstracting the network from the physical infrastructure can do.

Box explains that Calligo can offer customers a unified view of both data centers if the customer desires or customers can move workloads form one data center to another if needed. This is made possible in part because there is relatively low latency on the networks spanning the data centers, which are only 14 miles apart in the real world. Bonds admits that if future plans to bring in more offshore locations (such as the Cayman Islands) happen, latency would make moving workloads more of a tricky proposition. Customers would have to have redundant or synched data stores in places where they want to move their jobs.

However, it’s not a crazy proposition, and Box says it’s possible to use Nicira’s software to essentially cobble together various layers of infrastructure into a seamless cloud from the client’s perspective. Calligo would do the heavy lifting underneath –and it is detail-oriented work. When listening to Box describe his physical infrastructure it was hard to tell where his gear began and his partners’ ended. That’s a function of having more abstraction in place for clients, but means that Box’s team has to be particular about how it programs it’s network and defines rules with its partners.

At least it’s gear is cheap. Box says thanks to Nicira’s software, he uses whitebox networking products that cost him about 8,000 for 24 10GigE ports. He admits he doesn’t have the functionality in the gear that he would by going with a branded box, but he says he doesn’t need it thanks to Nicira’s software. He may be skimping on hardware, but he’s using VMware and SolidFire flash storage gear to help boost IO in his virtualized environment. In many ways Calligo has built a software-defined data center, a topic we’re going to discuss in several panels at our Structure 2012 conference in San Francisco in June.

The products launched Wednesday include a platform as a service based on VMware (s vmw) CloudFoundry, infrastructure as a service using software form Nicira and SolidFire, a SaaS platform, disaster recovery and a virtual desktop program. Eventually Box says Calligo plans to offer and offshore Dropbox-style personal storage account since many of the employees at its proposed customer base are leery of their employees using services like Dropbox given the sensitivity of having corporate data land on servers that could be located in the U.S.

Image courtesy of Man vyi via Wikipedia.