A start-up that moves VMware-based applications to the Amazon cloud and creates a secure tunnel between a customer's data centre and the cloud service is launching a public beta trial. CloudSwitch, recently out of stealth mode, moves existing applications from internal data centres to the cloud without rewriting the app or requiring changes in management tools.

The concept is not a new one. Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud and the vendor CohesiveFT both tackle the goal of bridging the internal data centre with public cloud services in a secure manner.

But CloudSwitch is unique in offering a service that takes care of all the networking, isolation, management, security and storage concerns related to moving an existing application to a cloud, says The 451 Group analyst William Fellows. Still, CloudSwitch has yet to demonstrate a real-world example of its technology in action, so there are still questions about the mechanism of deployment and user experience, he says.

"There are still some question marks around the operation of a CloudSwitch environment," Fellows says. "A lot of details are still quite closely held."

That's not unusual for a start-up just out of stealth mode, Fellows notes. But the goal of building hybrid clouds, in which computing resources are managed as one entity yet span internal data centers and public cloud services, is a difficult one to tackle, involving many different concerns such as IP addressing and routing, network latency and bandwidth availability, he says.

"It's not for the technology faint-hearted," Fellows says.

CloudSwitch's software, which installs as a virtual appliance into a VMware environment, turns the process of moving Windows and Linux applications to Amazon's EC2 cloud computing service into a simple drag-and-drop operation, says Ellen Rubin, the company's founder and vice president of products. Applications moved to the cloud "remain tightly integrated with enterprise data center tools and policies, and are managed as if they were running locally," the company says.

Data is encrypted in flight and at rest, and CloudSwitch's migration technology is compatible with pretty much any type of storage and network connection, she says.

"When you drag and drop your application, we're launching an encrypted tunnel between the data center and cloud," Rubin says.

CloudSwitch has raised $15 million in venture funding from Matrix Partners, Atlas Venture and Commonwealth Venture Partners.

The company introduced its technology in a private beta, and attracted six paying customers in the telecom, pharmaceutical, healthcare and clean technology industries, Rubin says. The beta customers mainly used CloudSwitch for test, development and various custom applications.

The public beta opens CloudSwitch technology to anyone who wants to download the software. A basic version is free, while an enterprise version including support and management of up to 20 virtual machines in the cloud starts at $25,000 a year.

Although CloudSwitch initially works only with Amazon EC2, Rubin says she plans to expand support to multiple cloud platforms for when the product hits general availability in the middle of 2010.

VMware is the only virtualization platform the company is advertising support for, but some beta customers have successfully used CloudSwitch with the open source Xen hypervisor, according to Rubin.

The company could potentially support Microsoft's Hyper-V in the future. The software isn't locked in to any particular virtualization platform. For example, Rubin says CloudSwitch does not rely on VMware's live migration, instead using a similar technology of its own design to move virtual machines.

Rubin was previously vice president of marketing for Netezza, a data warehousing appliance vendor. The CloudSwitch management team also includes veterans of BMC, EMC, RSA, SolidWorks and Sun Microsystems. CloudSwitch CEO John McEleney was previously CEO of SolidWorks, a 3D computer-aided design software vendor.