Servers

How to build a Windows Server in the Rackspace Cloud

Colin Smith takes you step-by-step through building a Windows Server in the Rackspace Cloud. Here are some of the problems he ran into and his overall rating of the service.

I am scheduled to do a presentation on Virtualization and Cloud Computing later this month at Microsoft Canada TechDays. As part of my presentation I will be demonstrating some cloud services. My plan is to demonstrate both a SaaS (software as a service) offering and an IaaS (infrastructure as a service) offering. I chose to use Microsoft Business Productivity Online (BPOS) and a Rackspacecloud.com Windows 2008 R2 Server.

In this post, I will take you through the steps to create a server in the Rackspace Cloud and give you my impressions of their offering.

Rackspace Cloud

The Rackspace Cloud is an IaaS cloud service that offers cloud hosted servers. I chose them over EC2 because they offer a Windows Server R2 x64 instance. EC2 does not have an AMI for Windows Server 2008 R2 yet (go figure?) and the on demand instances are less expensive by about $0.04 / hour. The sign-up was pretty straight forward and creating a cloud server was quite easy. Again my screen resolution made things a little awkward but it was definitely usable. The control panel where instances are created is much more intuitive than EC2 and much less cluttered. Creating a server was fairly easy. Overall, it took about 15 minutes. I have created three servers in the last few days and every time I encountered the same glitch. The control panel gave me a message that indicated that it couldn't update the status of my server. Both times when I renavigated to the control panel, my server was built and active.

Here are the steps that I followed to build my server:

1. Create an account at rackspacecloud.com and login to it.

2. Select Hosting.

Figure A

3. Select Cloud Servers.

Figure B

4. Click Add Server.

Figure C

5. Select Windows.

Figure D

6. Select the image that you want your server based on.

Figure E

7. Give your server a name and select the server size then press Create Server.

Figure F

8. The server will now be built.  You will see a rotating progress icon as in Figure E.

Figure E

Note: Every time I built a server I received the error pictured in Figure F.

Figure F

If you refresh the page the error should disappear, as in Figure H.

Figure H

9. Once your server is active (Figure I) you should receive an email from Rackspace giving you your server's IP address and the Administrator password. TIP: Since newer versions of the Microsoft Terminal Services Client do not permit pasting into the password field, you may prefer to give your server a short name as the auto-generated password will be your server name followed by a series of random characters. You can, always rename your server once you reset the password.

Figure I

10. Connect to your new server using the Rackspace VNC client or an RDP client (Remote Administration is turned on by default).

11. Check for patches and harden your server as appropriate.

Although it was easy enough to create a server, I found the service is still a little rough around the edges. Some of my complaints are:

  • The website was a little slow.
  • The server status glitch I mentioned previously.
  • Waiting for the password to arrive can be a pain. The first time I used it (a Sunday evening) it took about 30 minutes to arrive --TWICE as long as creating the server! This was not an issue for subsequent servers that I created.
  • There isn't much documentation available compared to EC2 or MS BPOS.
  • There is virtually no security on these servers. EC2 has an x.509 PKI infrastructure in place to help safeguard the admin console and security groups for firewalling and isolating servers while Rackspace has a single factor logon to get to the control panel. They claim that they have a new service being launched next month that has better security.

Overall I rate the product 7/10.

While I was waiting for the password to come through I decided to call Rackspace support and see how good they are. They claim that they have fanatical support. I explained the issue I was having and while I was on hold the emails came through. Overall I found the support quite good although I did have to wait in a hold queue for about 5 minutes before speaking with a human with a North American accent. I rate the telephone support 8.5/10.

About

Colin Smith is a Microsoft SCCM MVP who has been working with SMS since version 1.0. He has over 20 years of experience deploying Microsoft-based solutions for the private and public sector with a focus on desktop and data center management.

8 comments
tim.cole
tim.cole

Would you recommend this or a different cloud service to create a network for temporary office at a conference or road show?

NassimJD
NassimJD

This could be an easy way to put foot on the cloud or at least to know how to when a need arises.

Skytap
Skytap

Skytap provides similar functionality as Rackspace with a self-service UI for a fraction of the cost and time. Hundreds of customers are using Skytap for the same situation and have achieved significant time and cost savings. The beauty of Skytap is you get a dedicated account manager and support. Check us out by signing up for a trial. http://bit.ly/c7vz5q

sserwe
sserwe

I would have to guess that the error you are getting for server status when you first set it up is because it takes the server a few seconds to build and configure your VM and cannot contact the IP while that is happening. I would think that all cloud services would have that "issue".

techrepublic.com.com
techrepublic.com.com

I've never deployed a windows-based server with rackspacecloud, but I have deployed several *nix-based ones and have been more than pleased with their service. At least for me, the servers are ready in 3 minutes or less and I receive the password within a minute of when the server is ready. Add to that the ability to create snapshot images, and then deploy new servers based off that snapshot, and you have a service that is really hard to not look at seriously. I'll agree that their web console can be a bit sluggish. And you're right: there is no extra security on the server beyond what is baked into the server OS you select. But then, I dont want anything added. I want it to be just like I had opened up a brand-new, virgin hardware server and finished installing the OS of choice on it.

The Colin Smith
The Colin Smith

I don't do public endorsements. Please, contact me privately through my profile if you want to take this offline. Colin.

The Colin Smith
The Colin Smith

If you want me to try it out and blog about it feel free to contact me directly through my TR profile. If you provide me with services I will gladly review it (with full disclosure of course).

The Colin Smith
The Colin Smith

You are probably right however it it is a known issue it can easily be coded around for a better user experience. You don't want to confuse new users. Even easier - put a message up on the screen warning about it?