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

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InfoWorld: So you spoke about having your roots in hosting. To me, the lines between hosting and enterprise-class IaaS have never been crystal clear. You offer both. Talk to me about where you see the real points of differentiation.

Moorman: We draw a distinction around our cloud products, which are really software-powered infrastructure. And because of that, they're highly productized. With our cloud servers, you can get small, medium, large -- we have eight sizes -- but the components of what is in that server are identical across the board and you cannot change it. So the way the disk is configured, the way the network works, these are all productized options. Same with our storage offerings, our load-balancing options. You can do some configuration, but it's within a tight range of things, because it's software-powered. It's not something that's done through operations; you have to consume the products as they exist.

With physical hosting and our traditional hosting, we can custom-configure servers any way you want them. We can build out a network any way you want it. We can set up storage any way you want it. There's a lot more ability to customize and tailor; it makes it easier to get security. I think the cloud is extremely secure, but you have to go through more hoops and you have to do more to use this productized service set to get it as secure as you're used to in the physical world.

InfoWorld: What about encryption?

Moorman: Encryption is not a problem. I mean, you can encrypt across any of these technologies pretty easily. It's more about, how do you deal with a big flat open network in the cloud and how do you secure around where you don't have to do that? In the physical world we set up a private network for you with VLANing capabilities, and so you literally are in an out-of-the-box, very secure environment that is very easy to get set up. In the productized, scalable world, you just have to do other things. It can be extremely secure, there's just more work that has to be done because it's in this highly productized model.

So that's really the distinction we draw. And our general belief is that everyone should be using the cloud -- they just shouldn't run everything on it, and they should figure out where it's a better fit. And so many, many of our customers will run databases. There are I/O issues in the cloud because of the hypervisor layer, and they don't want those performance hits. So they run their database tier in the physical world and then they run their application in a Web tier cloud in this combination. And we have ways to securely tie this together so it's all on one network and works seamlessly. This is a very, very common model. They're using the best of both worlds.

InfoWorld: It's interesting listening to you talk about these very well-defined commercial cloud services. I think CIOs are still thinking: private cloud, private cloud, private cloud. The public cloud is either too risky or they're going to have to cede too much power, like control over availability. These kinds of showstoppers still seem to be in place in larger companies. Are you seeing some movement there?

Moorman: I think if you look at the small and medium business world, they are moving to cloud rapidly because they're not going to run data centers anyway. But if you look at the Fortune 500, where they're running data centers, I think that actually CIOs believe the cloud is real, but it's just not for everything.

They're going to have their own assets and their own data centers, and they want to make them more agile and more effective and more efficient. And so they want to build cloud-like capabilities inside the firewall, but they're very interested in having their internal systems talk to their external systems.

We're getting just incredible interest around OpenStack, in terms of big Fortune 500 companies wanting to transform their internal data centers and have all their predictable workloads run in-house on their own cloud, but have all the unpredictable (and in many cases new) applications run in cloud environments like ours.

So I think you're going to see legacy infrastructure in data centers -- they're going to continue to be in-house for some time. But I think that many new applications and much of the unpredictable workloads are going to go in public clouds. And I think the CIOs are more open to it than everyone's letting on. I would bet the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies are using either us or Amazon in some sense. It might be very small, but they are experimenting with it, they're dabbling with it, they're running some applications. They're doing some test dev, and they're seeing the power of it.

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