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Rackspace does the Red Hat thing with 'Linux for the clouds'

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Cloud Connect Rackspace is offering formal service and support for OpenStack, the eight-month-old open source platform for building Amazon EC2–like "infrastructure clouds".

A new Rackspace business unit, known as Rackspace Cloud Builders, will help enterprises and ISPs design and deploy OpenStack clouds, offer ongoing support for these sky-high computing services, and, yes, provide OpenStack training and certification. Now we know why Rackspace acquired Anso Labs, the small Silicon Valley outfit that helped NASA build the Nova compute fabric comprising half of the OpenStack platform.

"The one thing we've heard [from businesses] is that people need a commercial entity to back an open source project," says Mark Collier, vice president of marketing and business development for Rackspace Cloud Builders. "Free and open source is great and all, but they want someone they call when they run into problems. Rackspace is the natural company to do that."

Rackspace runs its own infrastructure cloud services, and its cloud storage service uses the same platform, Swift, that makes up the second half of OpenStack. The company founded the OpenStack project last July along with NASA, which uses the Nova fabric for its internal Nebula cloud. Together, under the aegis of OpenStack, Nova and Swift are meant to drive both "private clouds" along the lines of Nebula as well as public clouds of the Rackspace variety.

The project was founded on the idea that it would be completely "open". Rackspace calls the platform a LAMP stack of the cloud, while NASA has called it a Linux kernel for the cloud.

According to Collier, the new Rackspace Cloud Builders unit already boasts a handful of customers, including CANARIE (Canada's Advanced Research and Innovation Network), an organization that funds programs and tools that "promote the evolution" of a digital infrastructure supporting Canadian researchers. Collier says Rackspace has been working with CANARIE to set up a cloud based on Nova, which provides on-demand access to readily scalable processing power.

The cloud is part of CANARIE's Digital Accelerator for Innovation and Research (DAIR) program, which will let small- and medium-sized outfits create, host, and demonstrate new applications without erecting their own back-end infrastructure. The service uses CANARIE's eponymous high-speed network.

When Rackspace acquired Anso Labs, there was some concern that the company had gained too much control over the OpenStack board, overseeing seven of the nine seats. "I don't think Rackspace will exert any pressure on [the Anso board members], but I believe there's a natural tendency to do what's best for your employer," said Sebastian Stadil, CEO of open source cloud-management outfit Scalr and the founder of the Silicon Valley Cloud Computing Group. But last week, Rackspace announced the addition of three new elected seats to the board. The company has an obvious interest in keeping the project as open as possible.

"Rackspace was aware enough of the concern to act on it," said Stadil, who has been heavily involved in the project. "That's good."

But before Rackspace announced its Cloud Builder service and support, Stadil suspected that such a move was in the works. "There's also talk of whether Rackspace secretly wants to become a technology company," he told us. "They've been aggressively investing in technology, and many believe that long term, hosting is just undifferentiated heavy lifting."

Anso Labs is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and its roughly ten employees will remain there rather than move to Texas, where Rackspace is based. Last year, Rackspace acquired another Bay Area outfit, cloud-management startup Cloudkick, and the Texas company plans to open a new San Francisco office that will house both former Anso and former Cloudkick employees. "We really want to attract the top talent in the Bay Area," Collier says.

Collier says that Rackspace has no plans to offer its own OpenStack distro. Canonical is already building OpenStack into its Ubuntu Linux distro, and Collier indicates that Citrix, the third-largest contributor to OpenStack, will work on a distro as well. Rackspace's revenue will come from its existing hosting business, and service and support. "We've got a built-in hosting business that helps us make money," he says. "And we do not want to become a software company. We're going to be working with partners like Citrix and Canonical." ®

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