Let's say I am part of an organization that wants to test drive a cloud computing service now, with a view to entering into a managed service partnership later. Should I try Rackspace? Many companies seem to. Is Rackspace the best place for my organization's people to play around with off-premise computing?
Rackspace is a large and successful hosting provider. They have had their share of data center problems in the past and have plenty of happy customers now. Rackspace is one of the hyperscale providers, along with Google, Facebook and Microsoft. But Rackspace isn't the biggest - AWS is.
Many data centers, managed by an army of engineers, sysadmins and operators, host a zillion servers for customers around the globe. They've got a great SLA, but so have HP. Rackspace had the cojones to kick off the OpenStack project, but I don't know what difference that makes to me. There is no doubt they are trying hard to be the best in the business - the most reliable, the most supportive and even the most open. Have they got what I want?
The Rackspace edge
In the world of cloud computing, all the big players provide instant access, customer self-service, and utility-style bills. Those are qualifiers for membership of the cloud club, not differentiators. What benefits does Rackspace offer that are different from the other big players?
The Rackspace people are clear about what benefits they offer, and has a strong marketing department that makes sure the message comes across loud and clear. Who hasn't looked at a trade magazine (paper or Internet version) and read about Rackspace's Fanatical Support, OpenStack, Interoperability and so on?
But what does that mean? Why are these words important? And what's that capitalization telling me?
Rackspace push the Fanatical Support angle. You can't move your mouse on their website without a chat window popping up prompting you to talk to their support staff. Computer systems are the most complicated machines ever built by humans. Nothing spooks an organization like the fear of being left by themselves in the dark when systems fall over.
Rackspace have gone as far as registering Fanatical Support and a few variants as trademarks and making it a central pillar of their entire business.
Rackspace kicked off the OpenStack cloud management platform project. Big players, including Rackspace, HP and NASA use OpenStack apps within their data centers. The development of OpenStack as an open source project is leading to a new business ecosystem forming around it. In the world cloud ecosystem championships, OpenStack is not a finalist (AWS wins and VMware is runner-up). It's early days - OpenStack is a young project and it has a lot of potential to develop. The open source applications are time savers for coders.
Interoperability reassures early adopters that they are not entering a relationship they will not be able to escape later. Interoperability is the ability to chop and change between cloud providers.
The FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) of vendor lock-in has always been useful in marketing. In the 1990s IBM was advertising the exclusive power of the AIX OS while Sun marketed Java as "write once, run anywhere" freedom of choice.
In truth, cloud interoperability is patchy at best. Cloud computing is just too young a computing segment to provide stable interfaces to build on - there is too much change happening. OpenStack is more about making interoperability possible than making it - at least the information needed to get the job done lies in the public domain, rather than hidden as company secrets. Interoperability will — eventually — allow an organization to do things like this.
- Automatically and seamlessly transfer data between cloud storage providers
- Spread a workload across cloud computing providers.
- Take your custom code from one platform and run it on another without the need for an expensive migration project or support contract.
Infrastructure test drive
It's usually impossible to say up front if a certain cloud provider has what my organization needs. There just isn't enough knowledge to make an informed decision. There is one way to find out for sure. Sign up to Rackspace, run up a couple of test services, and find out how it feels.
Test-driving infrastructure is not possible in the on-premise IT old world. It's not possible to convince IBM to drive a truck full of computers and software to the office, unload and install it all just so a prospective customer can play with it. How does an enterprise customer convince IBM to dump a lab's worth of computing power one month, HP's truck-load to arrive the next, and Dell's the month after that?
In the new cloud world, an enterprise can play with the large computing installations of half a dozen vendors and see which one fits best with their business.
Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the designers and developers who build the top layer that customers use.