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We contacted each vendor, described our requirements and waited for the proposals.
Each vendor has a different process to arrive at a quote for the resources we asked for, which amounted to a small subset to the wide array of possible offerings in each vendor's menu. While each vendor had a different list of options, there were many commonalities. Ordering virtual private cloud or enterprise cloud services meant getting dedicated machines with gear we wanted and a connectivity method that would link our network operations center at n|Frame in Indianapolis to the vendor's resources through VPN connectivity, which should be used as a demarcation point for both security and cost purposes.
BlueLock's hardware choices were among the narrowest, but they won points for having a thorough and deliberate quotation and subsequent provisioning process. They use forms made of Excel worksheets to exchange information, but the interactivity of information exchanged was thorough and well thought-through. By contrast, Rackspace offered the most flexibility in many ways.
Terremark's rapid speed of delivery (three days) earned the product high marks as it delivered quickly and to spec — all things we like in a cloud vendor. But the other vendors weren't far behind – BlueLock delivered in five days and Rackspace in six.
BlueLock has an openly published security process, which initially intrigued us, and we were reminded of an almost military provisioning process. We e-mailed them with our desired configuration, and Bluelock responded with a detailed proposal. Bluelock creates the offering from a source document build list. Once we said "go", Bluelock created the entire private cloud, operating systems deployment, initial security, IP routing, and so on. We didn't create the virtual machines and BlueLock provisioned the VMware instances (VMware 3.5 at this writing; 4.0 soon). We received dedicated hardware running on HP blades, which are their only hardware platform.
For connectivity via VPN and firewalling, BlueLock provided a CheckPoint SSL VPN whose administrative interface doesn't work with very many browser platforms; we tried various setups but only were able to get it to work in Windows XP and Internet Explorer (and Firefox 3.5 with Java installed). Windows 7 with IE8 or Firefox, Mac OS X 10.5/10.6.x with Safari, Firefox, did not work at all. Once inside CheckPoint, it works well and it's an enterprise class workhorse firewall and VPN. Bluelock was also able to pass our not-a-Cisco VPN test, by connecting to our Vyatta router/VPN appliance quickly.
The management interface to our 10 operating systems instances could have been better. There is no Web interface for accessing VMs (you can only connect to instances directly after connected through the SSL VPN or through IPSec site-to-site VPN, we tried both). Cloud administration was stiff. Bluelocks's own Vital Signs portal is a Web-based shell program that in turn calls other administrative applications. Vital Signs displays choices including a Vital Signs Diagram (which wasn't useful, as it shows a user count, and our agreement did not concern users, so it displayed - one user), and Event Monitoring Portal (the FOSS tool, Nagios), a Trend Portal (the FOSS tool Cacti), a non-working Reports screen, a Ticket and Support System (trouble ticket submission and process control), a portal user account maintenance facility, and FAQs.