Flow offers alternative solutions to the Swiss market

Flow offers alternative solutions to the Swiss market

How can a local cloud service provider stay relevant and compete with the big hyperscalers? We talk to Bojan Jovanovic, Flow Swiss Co-founder, about the company’s new underground data centre location and its success selling premium cloud services designed for the Swiss market.  

Flow Swiss was established in 2009 and is still run by its founders. Flow offers a range of premium as-a-Service (aaS) cloud products, including Mac-as-a-Service (one of the company’s first offerings), Kubernetes and DevOps hosting, compute cloud, object storage and Platform-as-a-Service for scalable, container-based application hosting. 

Swiss sovereign cloud

An important part of the Flow Swiss approach is its focus on sovereign cloud. Microsoft and Google have had Swiss locations for a few years and AWS fully entered Switzerland in November 2022, but the growing trend is for companies to seek cloud services from locally owned companies. 

“In Switzerland the term ‘sovereign entity’ is becoming more and more popular and people are beginning to think carefully about the companies they outsource their data to,” said Jovanovic. “Your data can be encrypted, fine, but if for some political reason, for circumstances outside your control, your provider removes your access to it… you’re in a bad place.

“Of course, this isn’t the purpose of these big US hyperscalers, they’re in business to make their stakeholders happy, but I think people underestimate the potential risk here. And this is why we focus on Swiss cloud for the Swiss market.”  

Carbon neutral data bunker 

Flow’s cloud services are hosted in two state-of-the-art Swiss data centres, the first in Zurich and the second at ALP2, an all-new facility in Luzern. Adding new meaning to the term ‘data protection’, ALP2 is a high-security data bunker under the Swiss Alps. It guards client data against every imaginable risk, from extreme weather events to electromagnetic pulse radiation.  

As well as giving customers the ‘cool factor’ of having their data in an underground bunker, ALP2 elevates the term ‘carbon neutral’ from a vague buzzword to a real commitment.  

“Actually, the really special thing about this data centre is the CO2 neutrality,” said Jovanovic. “It is powered by sustainable energy, mostly hydropower and it is cooled by water taken from deep in an alpine lake. The heat produced in the data centre is exported to the nearby city, where it is used to heat apartments and houses. It’s a whole cycle of energy reuse. It is very Swiss, so well organised and it’s just amazing.” 

Be like a boutique bakery 

Having that sovereign Swiss service is important, but building a successful cloud business in a market dominated by the large cloud players requires Flow to stay innovative. In fact, the company has actively decided not to compete directly with the hyperscale providers. 

“We have to be more creative and offer a nicer alternative, a more personal boutique service,” said Jovanovic. “It’s like bread. Not everyone wants to buy bread from a supermarket, it’s just not the same as something hand-made by a local baker. We’re a lot like that in our relationship with hyperscalers. Their bread isn’t bad, but they work on a bigger scale – they can’t do things like ALP2 or offer the quality alternative cloud our customers want.”  

Would you like containers with that? 

Containerised application development and hosting is a hot trend in the cloud industry. Flow offers managed Kubernetes hosting, which makes it easy to deploy, manage and scale Kubernetes clusters on demand. Meanwhile, its App Engine service uses efficient, lightweight system containers to automate DevOps processes and host applications on infrastructure that is easy to deploy and scale. 

“There are use cases where Kubernetes makes sense, no doubt about that, though I think that companies underestimate the investment it needs,” said Jovanovic. “Just operating Kubernetes, even without any application, takes a lot of resource and as the environment grows, they have to hire more people and suddenly their costs are exploding.

“That’s why App Engine is perfect for many SaaS companies and digital agencies. They need infrastructure that is fast, efficient and scalable, but they don’t typically want to spend a lot of time managing that infrastructure.” 

The value of Virtuozzo

Flow’s compute cloud, managed Kubernetes and storage services run on Virtuozzo Hybrid Infrastructure, while its App Engine runs on the Virtuozzo Application Platform, which was formerly known as Jelastic. 

“The Virtuozzo technology stack is essential to us. As a young company we would never have the resources to be able to develop our own platform and offer these innovations to our customers,” Jovanovic said. “We’d need three times more people, expensive skilled people that are hard to find.”

Flow also appreciates the fact that the Virtuozzo cloud stack is built on open-source technologies.  

“We love that it’s OpenStack-based,” he said. “It’s an industry standard and it is open, but with Virtuozzo it is fully supported and we can actively work with the team there to keep improving it and develop features that suit the way we bring cloud services to the market.” 

A unique cloud experience 

Using Virtuozzo as the foundation Flow has created its own customer portal for cloud services, leveraging Virtuozzo’s OpenStack API to integrate its services in a simple, friendly way.  

“Simplicity is so important in this market and it’s another way we offer something different to the hyperscale providers,” said Jovanovic. “Our portal lets you provision and manage everything in one place, whether it’s KVM virtual machines, Kubernetes or object storage running on Virtuozzo, or even our bare metal Mac hosting services. And we have some very cool features coming to make the user experience even better.” 

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