No. 2 cloud provider Rackspace tries harder

The chief strategy officer of Rackspace talks to InfoWorld about the vital importance of open cloud standards -- and the services his company offers that Amazon doesn't

Rackspace is the second largest provider of IaaS (infrastructure as a service) after Amazon Web Services. On track to make $100 million in revenue this fiscal year, Rackspace's IaaS business is roughly one-tenth of Amazon's, a number that does not count the revenue Rackspace accrues from its more traditional hosting business -- where the company began and from which it derives its differentiation in the cloud space.

Last week, InfoWorld Executive Editor Doug Dineley and I interviewed Lew Moorman, the chief strategy officer of Rackspace and the president of its cloud division.

[ Also read "How to be a modern CIO" by Eric Knorr. | Get the no-nonsense explanations and advice you need to take real advantage of cloud computing in InfoWorld editors' 21-page Cloud Computing Deep Dive PDF special report. ]

Moorman was in the San Francisco area for a conference on OpenStack, a new open standard for cloud computing that Rackspace developed with NASA that has generated considerable industry excitement. We began by talking about how Rackspace's array of services differs from that offered by the No. 1 IaaS provider.

InfoWorld: What it's like to be No. 2? How would you differentiate the services that you offer from Amazon's?

Lew Moorman: I think Amazon has been a catalyst to this industry and has been a great pioneer in this space. But I think that we have a very different approach than Amazon has.

First of all, we are a hosting company, and we think our hosting roots are actually very powerful. It's going to be very difficult to tell the difference between hosting and cloud because I think every big customer is going to have some of each over time. So that portfolio [of hosting services] really matters.

Also, we are very committed to open standards. I'm actually here this week for the OpenStack Design Conference down in Santa Clara, Calif. There are 500 folks down there working on OpenStack, and we just couldn't be more pleased with how that's going. The idea is that you can run a Rackspace cloud through our public cloud. You can run it privately in our hosting environment, or you can run it on premise. And in the future you're going to be able to run it with our competitors.

And the last part, of course, is service. I think that when most people hear the name Rackspace, they think "service" and "customer support," and I think that the cloud needs support as much as the physical world did. In some cases, more so, because there's this explosion of applications that IT departments can't keep up with. They need some help keeping these applications up and running, responding to monitoring alerts, doing those kinds of things. So the idea that we log in to boxes and help you fix things is just a whole different kind of approach than Amazon has.

InfoWorld: You wouldn't say there is any significant difference in technology support?

Moorman: I think there is. We really want to build our cloud products to look and feel and act like traditional infrastructure. So we have persistent storage, we have static IPs, we are going to use VHDs, not a proprietary standard of disk format. So we are committed to having things look and feel and run very much like traditional infrastructure, which makes it very easy for people to use our cloud products. I think that Amazon has had just a different approach. It's not better or worse, it's just different.

InfoWorld: So in a nutshell, high availability and disaster recovery is cheaper under your model?

Moorman: No, I wouldn't agree with that.

InfoWorld: It's more familiar?

Moorman: It's simpler. It's more familiar -- there aren't new concepts to learn to use our cloud. We want to eliminate this need to re-architect for the cloud as much as possible, and we want things to work like you're used to them working.

InfoWorld: Could you give me a breakdown of applications on your cloud?

Moorman: I can give you a general sense. We have a lot of our enterprise customers who are using our cloud for dev and test, and so it's a great option for that. But I would say the predominant is public, bursty websites. So if you look at big media companies ... any company ...

InfoWorld: E-commerce?

Moorman: ... yeah, e-commerce, running promotional websites, public websites, the cloud is just such a better fit for it. Because many times you run promotions or run new initiatives and you have no idea how big they're going to be. So the ability to be able to sort of fine-tune that over time is something that really makes a big difference for customers.

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