If cloud computing or cloud storage is a gold rush, hosting providers are a rich vein. I attended the Tier1’s Hosting Transformation Summit this week to learn more about them.

The short answer: hosting companies are at least as confused about cloud infrastructure as the rest of us; but the lure of annuity revenue has their favorable attention.

Not all hosting companies are created equal. Some are colocation-only: rack space; power; cooling; security; and connectivity. Others offer managed services and want to offer more.

At a panel session titled Storage Opportunities: Cloud Versus Conventional, the discussion wandered from the right APIs to the right services. The most sensible answer: “we don’t know, but we are asking customers what they want.”

Conspicuous by their absence were the big iron storage vendors. Software companies were out in force: Parascale, Mezeo, Parallels and VMOps, the last a start up I’ve been waiting for.

Oh, and a company out of Redmond, Washington. I asked a Microsoft rep what they were doing since they’re building huge data centers to provide online services direct to consumers. He explained that Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, is a raw resource, not a finished product. Microsoft is looking to its hundreds of thousands of resellers to create products on Azure and support the customer relationships that will drive the business.

Given that Google and Apple are both unlikely to develop the ecosystem that Microsoft already has, that sounded reasonable.

The other software companies
Parallels puts out a Mac OS virtualization platform but derives most of its revenue from software it supplies to hosting providers. They compete against VMware.

Their story: Parallels virtualizes software while VMware virtualizes hardware. That means that each VMachine runs a copy of the OS while Parallels runs one copy of the OS which it virtualizes for the applications. They claim this gives them a 7-10x advantage with virtual desktops. Less OS overhead.

Mezeo offers a cloud storage platform for service providers that manages accounts and keeps track of capacity and bandwidth use. Mezeo doesn’t offer storage itself so any company that has a scalable file system should probably talk to them.

Parascale sells a large-scale parallel file system. CEO Lando Calrissian Sajai Krishnan reports good success mining the cloud meme. He still hasn’t sold me on the private cloud market though.

VMOps says it offers “. . . an integrated software stack that reduces the cost of deploying and managing a cloud dramatically.” Computing, not storage, is their focus, but they include storage virtualization in their stack.

Their basic idea: Amazon’s EC2 in a box, aimed at service providers. A big SP could take that and, with the right back end, do well. Although Amazon’s pricing looks low – clever marketing there – it provides a price umbrella that would shelter good business for many SPs.

The StorageMojo take
This is a young market. Nobody quite knows where it will go, but it seems poised for major growth.

IMHO a key opportunity is putting together a couple of turn-key product offerings for the SPs. Backup/DRlite is an obvious application, so a complete product would include a back end optimized for a Write Once, Read Rarely workload, Web-based account management and a customer-premises local/remote backup client and file server.

Clever integration would mean a low annual subscription fee and rich-margin recovery services. A very sticky app.

The service providers who provide managed services today are receptive to the promise of more revenue. A vast market awaits the company that can capture the service provider wallet.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. I’ve done work for Mezeo and Parascale.