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AppFog PaaS drops Rackspace IaaS

Low demand leads to shutdown as PaaS runs to private clouds

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Platform-as-a-service provider AppFog is evaporating its cloudy bridge to Rackspace due to poor customer demand, in yet another case of the fluffy industry coming to terms with hard business realities.

AppFog provides an application infrastructure automation service – otherwise known as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) – that lets devs choose the infrastructure upon which their apps run. The company has decided to curtail support for Rackspace's OpenStack-based cloud due to "low adoption rates," according to an email seen by The Register that was circulated to AppFog customers last week.

"While we believe [multi-cloud support] to be one of our main selling points, it's also become increasingly resource intensive to maintain so many instances of our infrastructure," AppFog CEO Lucas Carlson wrote in the email. "In an effort to keep our service affordable and reliable, we'll be discontinuing support of the Rackspace public cloud due to low adoption rates."

Rackspace infrastructure support will be turned off on Thursday, and AppFog customers can no longer create new applications on Rackspace infrastructure. Instead, AppFog will revert to offering Amazon Web Services infrastructure across three separate regions, and the HP cloud.

The cloud industry is young and usually optimistic. Something serious must be going on for AppFog to write such an email to its customers.

"I can see how it would be shocking," Carlson told us on Monday. "It's become very clear that the developers are really interested in apps – infrastructure is something that I know is important at a market level, but these 100-plus thousand devs are deploying applications and what they're interested in is getting their job done."

The decision to drop Rackspace was made because AppFog doesn't have enough resources to effectively support its breadth of infrastructure options and because it had not detected vast demand for the cloud.

"We're very data driven," Carlson said. "We don't have the same resources as a big company."

And to that end, the Rackspace drop may be part of a larger strategy by AppFog to retreat from public clouds and re-specialize as a vendor of software for running private PaaS clouds. This is a route also taken by Red Hat via OpenShift, VMware via Cloud Foundry, and Oracle-acquired Nimbula and Oracle-backed EngineYard.

"We've shifted a lot of focus towards the private cloud and putting AppFog behind the firewall," Carlson said.

There are several ways to read AppFog's dropping of Rackspace, beyond the publically stated reasons. One interpretation could be that the company doesn't think it wise to grow its engineering team to continue supporting Rackspace while working on its private offerings. Another would be that overall demand for the public services is weakening – potentially due to the competitive environment, including AWS's own platform offering Elastic Beanstalk – and Rackspace is an easy cloud to drop in favor of Amazon. A third way is that there is some kind of non-public agreement between AppFog and HP that sees the former company agree to support the latter's cloud – a cloud which is still in beta, and whose scale is difficult to ascertain.

"We're still good friends with the people at Rackspace, we're still good friends with the people at HP and Amazon," Carlson said.

Then again, there's always reason number four: supporting multiple cloud infrastructures is a notoriously difficult problem, and one that no other cloud we are aware of has been able to crack. The closest cloud to AppFog's in this capability is Engine Yard, which has plans to add support for the Dell cloud [???—Ed.] alongside Amazon. Running an app environment across separate infrastructure clouds is like spinning multiple plates, where each plate demands a specific rhythm to stop it from crashing down.

AppFog's decision highlights the fragility of the cloud industry, and the cat's-cradle of provider relationships it creates. ®

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