Cyberport offers innovative cloud-based services for Hong Kong’s technology entrepreneurs

OpenStack and Ubuntu provide secure, cost-effective cloud infrastructure

Summary

To give local start-ups and entrepreneurs access to infrastructure and services on demand, Hong Kong’s digital community Cyberport built a new, open-source cloud computing environment on OpenStack and Ubuntu. Following 18 months of development effort, the Cyberport cloud now provides a range of industry vertical solutions for local start-ups in the digital content community, from digital content storage and delivery, to animation rendering in the cloud. Cyberport is planning to scale out the cloud environment to serve ever greater numbers of local tenants, and is sharing its cloud-buildings knowledge with other local organisations to foment ICT innovation and economic growth.

Challenge

Until recently, start-ups, entrepreneurs and small businesses had to invest heavily in technology infrastructure before they could open for business. Today, however, cloud computing provides a faster, more cost-effective option, giving small businesses access to IT infrastructure and services on demand – providing an even playing field to even startups.

Cyberport, a creative digital community in Hong Kong, has long been charting the rise of cloud computing and analysing how it might benefit local businesses. The company, which is wholly owned by the Hong Kong Government, is dedicated to driving the local economy by nurturing IT-intensive start-ups, driving collaboration to pool resources and create business opportunities, and accelerating ICT adoption through strategic initiatives and partnerships.

Already equipped with state-of-the-art IT facilities, including a tier 3+ datacentre, cutting-edge broadband network, Network Operations Centre (NOC), and remote back-up site, Cyberport began evaluating potential cloud technologies.

Dr. David Chung, CTO at Cyberport, says: “We always knew we wanted to build a cloud and deliver data, voice and video services to local technology start-ups on a utility basis. However, with so many open-source options available, we didn’t really know where to start.”

Chung admits that the road to cloud implementation was a rocky one at first. “We tried several technologies that were quick and easy to deploy, but there was a price to pay for that simplicity,” he says. “Our first attempts at cloud building were riddled with security vulnerabilities, and we went back to the drawing board several times to evaluate different options.”

Solution

When Chung became aware of the OpenStack project in spring 2011, he decided to evaluate the technology as a potential foundation for the new Cyberport cloud. The Cyberport team members began working with OpenStack full time to assess its functionality and build a test cloud environment on the organisation’s existing hardware infrastructure.

Chung says: “Lots of vendors talk about cloud, but their strategies fall short in one way or another, either in terms of security or functionality. By contrast, OpenStack is a global movement that is constantly evolving. It’s simple to set up a test cloud and to get a taste of what the technology can do.”

Based on trials in a test environment, the Cyberport team decided to build its live cloud on OpenStack and the Ubuntu 12.04 Long Term Release operating system.

“Ubuntu is the reference OS for OpenStack, and it is an ideal fit for us and our tenants,” says Chung. “It enables us to scale out the cloud environment without paying additional licensing costs, which is very important for a non-profit organisation like ours,” he adds. “Ubuntu has also proved extremely stable and secure – especially since the launch of 12.04 in April – which helps us ensure that our tenants’ systems and data are available and fully protected at all times.”

Cyberport’s Ubuntu cloud is tailored to the needs of its start-up tenants.

“We have vertical knowledge in the digital content space, and most of our start-up tenants operate in that sector,” says Chung. “Using OpenStack and Ubuntu, we have created industry vertical cloud services that help tenants solve specific business problems – such as how to record, store and deliver digital content, and how to render animations in the cloud.”

Results

Value-added cloud services for start-up tenants

Today, 16 local, IT-intensive Cyberport tenants are consuming cloud services – requesting access to virtual Ubuntu servers and other resources via a self-service portal. Around 20 local cinemas are streaming live content/movies from the cloud, and students from over 30 local school teams are using the cloud to render their animation projects. The cloud infrastructure is also used to broadcast live and pre-recorded events for local people online.

“We are doing all kinds of exciting things with the cloud, and we’re now looking to scale out to serve more tenants, add more content, and create new, industry vertical services,” says Chung.

Sharing knowledge between cloud builders

Since it began building its Ubuntu cloud, Cyberport has been in constant contact with other cloud builders worldwide. “There is a huge amount of useful information available from the global Ubuntu community online, and that has been a big help to us during our own cloud journey,” says Chung. “We have also attended meetings around the world, and shared our experience to save others time and help them achieve success with their cloud deployments,” he adds.

Canonical is a trusted advisor to Cyberport and Ubuntu engineering routinely helped Cyperport evangelise Ubuntu and OpenStack to startups by offering workshops and trainings to Cyberport’s startup community.

This strategic yet symbiotic relationship has been the catalyst for the creation of Hong Kong’s first Openstack/ Ubuntu user group, which will promote knowledge sharing between cloud builders across Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and beyond.

Enterprise support for the open-source cloud

With plans to scale-out its Ubuntu cloud, Cyberport is looking into the various support options and management tools available from Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu project. “We are working with Canonical to ensure we are properly supported as we scale out our Ubuntu cloud,” says Chung. “In particular, we are looking at the Ubuntu Advantage service, which gives us access to Canonical support engineers and Openstack contributors working at Canonical, whenever we ever need them.”

Cyberport is also evaluating the value of Canonical’s Landscape systems monitoring and management tool for cloud administration and scaling. “Landscape offers great benefits for simplifying cloud management – particularly updates and upgrades,” says Chung. “Technology of this kind is extremely beneficial for us as our cloud infrastructure expands and user numbers grow.”

A cost-effective cloud environment

Chung is convinced that OpenStack and Ubuntu offer one of the most cost-effective cloud solutions available. “In a proprietary cloud, software can be even more expensive than hardware, and licensing, maintenance and support costs would have to be passed on to our tenants,” he says. “By contrast, using Ubuntu and OpenStack has kept software costs to a minimum, enabling us to focus on increasing the size and capacity of our hardware estate and delivering better services for local start-ups.”

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