RALEIGH, N.C. – Hosted Solutions is moving into the “cloud” computing business, but at a higher level.

In a departure from other providers such as Amazon, the privately-held Raleigh firm is offering a “Stratus Trusted Cloud” service that it says is robust enough to support enterprise applications.

“This service is built with the top-tier software, hardware and security in order to provide a production level cloud,” said Kip Turco, Hosted’s chief operating officer. “We’ve gone out of our way not to short-change ourselves.”

Cloud computing, a relatively new offering that enables customers to utilize an outside party’s net-linked computers in order to generate more rentable horsepower, has largely been used for developers to test and create applications – or just for some extra “cycles.” These “virtualized” machines also can support multiple operating systems.

By moving into a virtualized, cloud environment, users can “scale” – or add – computing power and services on demand rather than have to purchase, install, train staff and maintain it.

is among the early adopters seeking to deploy the cloud capability at an enterprise level – one robust, reliable and secure enough to support the most demanding and sensitive needs of customers. Stratus also aims to help clients who are looking to avoid costly technology capital expenditures and to outsource internal IT engineering jobs, thus saving money even as their technical capabilities increase.

“We are aiming this at CFOs and COOs as well as CTOs,” Turco said, referring to chief financial, operational and technical officers.

The cloud market is a rapidly growing one as financially hard-pressed companies are looking for ways to cut costs without sacrificing R&D. Research firm Gartner recently estimated the cloud market will involve 66 million virtualized PCs by 2011, up from fewer than 5 million in 2008. The virtualization market should hit $5 billion by 2010, Gartner adds.

To achieve enterprise stability such as “4 9s” service level commitments (i.e. availability 99.99 percent of the time), Hosted added extra staff along with additional servers, routers and internal networking at its North Raleigh data center. Turco wouldn’t put a price tag on the amount of the investment, but the center did recently receive a $12 million upgrade.

“This is substantial,” Turco said of the money required. “It’s probably the most significant investment we have made. It’s top dollar.”

Hosted spent months developing its strategy and product offering and is adding additional staff, including sales, in order to support Stratus. The company recently began describing itself as an infrastructure service provider, moving beyond the traditional hosted services paradigm of data center storage, site mirroring, Internet connectivity and IT services.

To implement Stratus, Hosted chose virtualization software from VMware, load-balancing technology from F5, storage solutions from EMC, security software from F5, high-end Sun blade servers and Cisco networking solutions.

In fact, Turco said, Hosted’s configuration and horsepower has triggered discussions with a client that already uses supercomputers but is looking for more speed through a cloud environment.

“Customer demand has almost been a bit overwhelming,” he added. “The increase to our pipeline of potential customers has been nothing short of amazing.”

Given Hosted’s history, Turco added that the cloud fits with its execution and delivery profile.

“If you look at it at the core level, it’s a managed service,” he said. “We’re in the business of providing outsourced IT managed services, so this fits into our product skill set.”

Hosted operates five data centers – in Raleigh, Cary, two in Charlotte and suburban Boston. But the intense demand for the cloud offering is already generating talk about possible expansion into other cities, Turco said.

“With this product offering and everything else we are doing here, we are really positioning ourselves to expand out of market,” he said. “Most of our customers are within 60 to 90 miles of our data centers. The cloud offering enables us to expand out of market. We are talking with companies from the West Coast and many other places.”