One way to look at cloud computing is in layers. The lowest layer is the physical infrastructure, the computing power and Internet bandwidth that makes it all possible. An example of this layer is the 4WEB.ca data centre that I wrote about in September. Look one layer up, and you’ll find the applications and services that add value to the infrastructure. An example of this layer is Edmonton’s Nirix Technology.
Founded in 2001 by Steven and Stanford Hsu, Nirix provides IT utility services to other organizations. They make it possible for a business to completely outsource technology operations. The company has grown significantly since their runner-up finish at the VenturePrize business plan competition in 2007, and they’ve become a little more focused too. Their primary offerings are Managed Backup, which enables businesses to securely store their data on Nirix’s infrastructure, Managed Email (hosted Exchange), and Managed Office (hosted Microsoft Office).
Nirix is the only company in Edmonton providing this kind of service, so it’s no surprise that most of their customers are shocked to find that they don’t need to look across the border. About half of Nirix’s customers are local, with the other half spread across Canada. When they started, Nirix spent a lot of time finding and educating customers. Now, customers increasingly come to Nirix. Steven told me that there are a number of advantages to being located in Edmonton; there’s very little chance of natural disasters, but still good access to power and other services. Some organizations have policies that specify their data must be kept in Canada too.
Things have been going well for Nirix. The company is cash-flow positive and grew 40% in the last fiscal year. A few weeks ago, Nirix was named as a finalist in the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Owner of the Year Award for 2008.
Where does Nirix see this going? Steven says that ten years ago, a common question for businesses was “are you online?” but now, the question to ask is, “are you in the cloud?” Nirix thinks it can help businesses answer “yes” easily and cheaply. The company is looking to expand aggressively. They’re looking for $2 million in funding to target specific markets and increase their staff from twelve employees to twenty. Nirix also intends to increase the capacity of their storage area network (SAN) to a whopping 800 TB. The SAN is a focus, Steven says, because “everything needs storage.” Isn’t that the truth!
I think a big challenge for Nirix going forward will be convincing customers to choose them over similar services offered by Amazon, Microsoft, or Google. Certainly Nirix has the local advantage and can offer personalized service and support, but it’ll be hard to compete with the prices that the big players should eventually be able to offer. Nirix will have to continue to improve their service offerings, to give customers something they can’t find elsewhere.
You can learn more about Nirix and the services they offer at http://www.nirix.com.