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Rackspace attacks Amazon with new cloudy clones

AWS spies clone army advancing on service provider, telco fronts

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Look out, Amazon Web Services. Rackspace is cloning its own cloudy service – and to quote Jimi Hendrix's Foxy Lady, it's "comin' to getcha."

Way back when, Rackspace Hosting teamed up with NASA to create the OpenStack community precisely to leverage the smarts and excitement of the open source community to take on the closed and controlled AWS cloud. Now Rackspace will take OpenStack and leverage its own experience in building custom infrastructure to house OpenStack clouds, and deliver it as a service to telecommunication and service provider customers.

Basically, it'll now sell and operate clones of its own Rackspace Cloud, turning its enemies into allies in its battle against AWS.

El Reg told Rackspace CTO John Engates point-blank that a lot of people will think this idea is batshit crazy. That's nothing new: the alliance with NASA to create OpenStack was perceived by some as giving away all of the intellectual property NASA and Rackspace had developed to an open source community and thereby spawning a zillion competitors in the cloud biz.

Wall Street will no doubt be unhappy with this latest move – particularly if they don't understand it.

But as Engates has explained before, Rackspace doesn't think infrastructure is necessarily a huge differentiator; customer service and operations are. And enlisting the help of many different cloud providers all around the world – building a mercenary army – does give OpenStack a better shot in taking on AWS, Google, and Microsoft in the public and private cloud spaces, companies that have a lot more resources than Rackspace can ever bring to bear.

If this idea is crazy, it is crazy like a fox – and pretty much the only move that Rackspace could make to help OpenStack catch up to and perhaps even pass AWS in terms of revenue and usage.

"One of our goals is to advance cloud computing – and OpenStack in particular – around the globe," Engates explained to El Reg. "For a long time, even before OpenStack was founded and a lot more since, we have been approached by service providers to help them build clouds. We would coach them a little bit, but that has now changed. We are serious about it. This is something that we should have done from the get-go, but it took us a while to get OpenStack out. And now that we have OpenStack moving along, and we have Project Alamo to build internal private clouds based on our technology, we thought about what do we do next."

Well, the one thing that Amazon Web Services absolutely does not believe in is private clouds – and, yes, we know about its partnership with Eucalyptus Systems and the other OpenStack providers that are weaving the AWS APIs into their variants of OpenStack.

But that is not literally putting the same iron and the same software stack into private data centers that AWS uses in its own; it is making a quasi-clone or AWS-alike out of a different cloud controller and hypervisor from which AWS uses and supporting the same AWS APIs to control the cloud. Bursting between the two is not seamless, which is what enterprises want.

More precisely, it's what they think they need, whether or not it will actually prove to be useful.

This reminds El Reg of all of the APIs that every Unix had to have a decade and a half ago to be called an open system, which still did not lead to seamless application portability but at least something better than trying to jump between proprietary systems.

But we digress...

Scott Sanchez, director of strategy at Rackspace, says that the company will continue to build out its own data centers, which it now operates in North America and Europe already. The company has hinted that it will open up more Rackspace Cloud facilities in Asia/Pacific and will probably do so in Europe, as well.

Rackspace currently has nine data centers: Grapevine and Richardson, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; and Herndon and Ashburn, Virginia in the United States. Europe is serviced through two data centers in England – London and Slough – and Rackspace also has centers in Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia.

But, pipes up Engates, there are regional service providers that dominate their local markets, and Rackspace may not be able to compete against them or even want to try to do so. It's simpler and easier to sell them a chunk of the literal Rackspace Cloud and operate it as a service than it is to compete against them in markets it cannot reach quickly.

Rackspace will obviously get paid for the iron and the support, which includes operating and patching the OpenStack setup exactly and precisely as Rackspace does for itself.

This means that telcos and service providers don't have to build their own OpenStack expertise, and that they can get up and running quickly. Rackspace will provide SPs and telcos that participate in the program with runbooks that plug into their automation tools will that tell them how to deal with failed servers, or roll in new racks of servers and storage. Sanchez and Engates would not say what the chunks of the Rackspace Cloud will cost to buy or what fees it will charge to telcos and SPs to operate those clouds.

"We are going to put together a compelling model that will be more attractive to telcos and service providers than building an OpenStack cloud themselves," is about all Sanchez would say about it.

The idea is not only to sell the Rackspace Cloud to other hosters as a service that generates recurring revenue, but also to allow these clouds to be interconnected as Rackspace does with its own data centers – and as does Google, Microsoft, and AWS.

Because these clone clouds are identical to what Rackspace is itself running, compatibility across the network is guaranteed. It not only means that Rackspace can burst out to other partners in the network of OpenStack clouds, but they can burst out to each other or to Rackspace itself.

The Rackspace Cloud hosting deal will include patching, tuning, and monitoring services with carrier-grade service level agreements. It also gives partners sales and support training, collateral, and customer references to help them peddle their services.

This is not, says Sanchez, a program that will have thousands of companies in it of varying levels of compatibility, like the vCloud service provider program over at rival VMware. "We are not talking about adding thousands of partners," says Sanchez. "We are adding people to our family, and we are going to be very selective.

Rackspace has a number of partners for the cloud clones already lined up, but is not naming names, they just say that these are very large companies that make their decisions deliberately – and slowly. ®

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