Why Rackspace Is Focusing on the Hybrid Cloud Market

NEWS ANALYSIS: Rackspace believes that all cloud roads eventually lead to hybrid, and it's willing to prove its point.

At this early point in the wild, wild west of cloud computing, there are lots of opinions about whether private, public or hybrid clouds will eventually become dominant in enterprise IT.

But that's like asking: Which of the following takes precedence—television news, radio news or online news? The answer, of course, is that all of the above are used for people to find out what's going on. Same idea with cloud structures; all forms are necessary for various systems to do their work. It all depends upon the use case, or use cases, of the enterprise.

Rackspace Hosting, which positions itself as the "open cloud" company and is the co-founder with NASA of the OpenStack cloud operating system, has a slightly different take on the cloud question, however. Rackspace believes that all cloud roads eventually lead to hybrid.

No. 3, but Not Yet With a Bullet

According to a recent Gartner report, Rackspace currently is No. 3 in Web services market share behind Amazon and Microsoft, but it's not even a race at this point. Amazon has banked five times more revenue than its next 14 challengers combined. Other contenders with minuscule marketshare include telco-oriented providers Verizon Terremark and Savvis, Dimension Data, Joyent, Tier 3, Virtustream, Fujitsu, SoftLayer (now owned by IBM), GoGrid, HP and IBM.

Rackspace intends to carve out its niche in the hybrid cloud space, and that's the way it wants to be known.

Before we go any further, however, it's probably prudent here to quickly define each of the three categories.

--Public cloud: Using subscription public cloud services such as Salesforce.com for sales and CRM, SumTotal for human resource management or Concur for travel expense management, constitutes a "public cloud model" for an enterprise. These services may be packaged by an enterprise IT department and delivered through a virtual private network. More companies are running most or all of their businesses using public cloud services.

--Private cloud: This is one that an enterprise runs behind a firewall to provide software tools and services like those above for internal employees, contractors, resellers and various corporate partners. Sometimes even customers earn their way into a private cloud.

--Hybrid cloud: This contains elements of both of the above and is secured by the enterprise network.

Research has shown—and a key report to this effect was published last spring by eWEEK's publisher, QuinStreet—that there is a marked increase in building private clouds and in plans to build private clouds. This seems counter-intuitive in that it is logical for conventional data centers to add incremental cloud services in lieu of suffering a forklift change-out of hardware and software, thus becoming hybrids.

So where does an IT manager or CTO start? Easy: A private cloud is the true starting point for an enterprise, and it's only a half step further to become hybrid, Rackspace CTO John Engates (pictured) told eWEEK.

"Enterprises are implementing new private clouds because they already have data centers, they already have people, they already have politics of the IT department—they have a lot of things that align with doing things in their own data center," Engates said. "That's where private cloud lives. We see a lot of this. Customers come to us and see private cloud as the entry point to cloud computing, but I don't think that's where they stop."

Where they eventually end up, Engates said, is putting together a private cloud that includes public cloud capabilities, whether it be offering software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (Iaas), a customer-facing app or something else.

Public Cloud Attributes Inside a Private Cloud

"As their developers become more sophisticated, they will move certain workloads from that private cloud to the public cloud as the production location for them, depending on what kind of app it is," Engates said. "They want private clouds because that's what they're comfortable with; they want IT to sit under their control, in their data center, with their people operating it."

Rackspace helps its customers build any type of cloud they want and provides software and services to support them, but Engate still sees hybrid as the end game for most of them because of the shifting requirements an IT system endures over time.

"Look, nobody's going to be 100 percent private, or 100 percent public. That really leads you to the end state of some sort of a hybrid cloud," Engates said.

To that end, Rackspace is putting most of its corporate R&D into finding solutions that involve the hybrid cloud model. The fact that the San Antonio, Texas-based company was a co-creator of OpenStack enables the company to use common tools and management frameworks to install and deploy the open-source operating system in the most efficient manner.

OpenStack Fast Becoming de Facto Standard

OpenStack, the open-source, open-standards enterprise IT system, is fast becoming a de facto standard. This is not only what Rackspace uses but also what IBM, Avaya, and several other companies have chosen as its operational paradigm for how they are building out software-defined environments.

By using OpenStack, data center administrators are able to use a single graphical user interface to do everything from deploying virtual machines to assigning storage to configuring networks. A software-defined data center (SDDC) framework can include a company's own OpenStack-based management platform, with orchestration capabilities for compute (Nova, the project name for OpenStack Compute, a cloud computing fabric controller), storage (Cinder and Swift, project names for block and object storage) and networking through a fabric connection (Neutron, the OpenStack project name for networking as a service).

OpenStack aims to deliver solutions for all types of clouds by being simple to implement, massively scalable and feature-rich. The IT consists of a series of interrelated projects delivering various components for a cloud infrastructure solution. It runs on commodity hardware. Open APIs into the fabric architecture are required to enable integration and interoperability with other software-defined networking offerings.

Global Development Community Is Growing

Work on this platform has grown into a global software community of developers collaborating on a standard and massively scalable open-source cloud operating system. Its mission is to enable any organization to create and offer cloud computing services running on standard hardware, thus setting the stage for software-defined data centers.

"This is what we love about OpenStack; you get all that capability out of the box. The same API at your data center, at Rackspace, at HP Cloud, and potentially now at Oracle Cloud," Engates said.

"There's a common architecture underneath, too. We are more or less running identical code. It's very different to try and put a compatibility layer on top of all this versus having the stack work together from top to bottom.

"This sets us up nicely to introduce customers to a hybrid cloud. That's why we are so interested in OpenStack."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...