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: Give me a quick sort of technical overview, high-level technical overview of OpenStack.

Moorman: OpenStack has really three core components out of the gate. It has a compute orchestration layer, so the ability to sort of provision virtual machines, turn them off and on, move them, back them up, all those kinds of things. It has an object storage system similar to our cloud files. And then it has an image service called "Glance," which allows you to manage your images and use them to sort of control workloads.

So those are the three core components, which form the core of any cloud: the workload management, the compute, and the storage. Lots of new projects are emerging around it, including our load balancing service that we've donated. We have a block storage effort that's ongoing. We have a database service that we're sort of working on. So a lot of these things will start to show up in the code as well, but the core elements are there to really run a cloud.

And today we run the object storage and we are in the process of moving to the compute. The compute is really the next generation of our cloud, and we collaborated with NASA on that code. So we are in the process of moving to that code because it's a whole new code base. We were going to re-factor our core code base anyway -- and now we're doing it in the open and we have an active project. We really believe that this year will be completely on the OpenStack code.

InfoWorld: And doesn't this require close collaboration with virtualization software providers?

Moorman: OpenStack supports -- gosh, I don't know, we're up to five hypervisors -- five or six, so Hyper-V, Xen, KVM, ESX, VMware, Oracle's virtualization. So you can run multiple virtualizations. We are a Xen server shop in terms of running our cloud, and for the time being we're pretty committed to that. But the truth of the matter is it is meant to be hypervisor-agnostic, platform-agnostic.

So over time, if it makes sense for us to use VMware or use Hyper-V, we'll have an option to do that. And certainly companies that want to run these technologies in-house can choose their hypervisor. We're getting great support from those players, and Microsoft has contributed to the project, Citrix is a major contributor to the project. These are open platforms that have open APIs that you can interact with. So OpenStack is meant to work well with all of them.

InfoWorld: Do you think the distinction between IaaS and PaaS (platform as a service) is blurring? Right now it's kind of hard to argue that Amazon is just IaaS, since they've incorporated so many extra services in there.

Moorman: I think it's absolutely blurring and I think it's going to continue to blur. So our load balancing service is out, our database service is coming, so these raw components are going to be there in every major cloud. And then, when you put orchestration around it, you really have platform as a service on the fly. And I think that is a model that we believe in. I think the integrated platforms, like Heroku and others have a place, and we love those guys and we hope they build on top of us.

InfoWorld: By a "place," you mean they're for experimenting and you're for the real deal?

Moorman: Well, here's the difficulty. I think the "magic platform" is what's very appealing to people. But these integrated platforms constrict you to using their stack in the end. And I think what ends up happening is we have a number of customers who have started on Heroku and have sort of moved over to a model where they can tweak it, adjust things, and get exactly the version of Rails they want and sort of add these modules. So the magic comes at a cost, which is it's a very prescribed stack, end to end, and I think that ends up causing issues. Whereas if you have an orchestration system, where you rope in this new technology, rope in that new technology, and make it all work seamlessly, that ends up providing a lot of flexibility. And I think that's a model that is very appealing.

But let me tell you something: I think Heroku and PHP Fog and some of these guys have done some really brilliant things and I think it's something to keep an eye on, and something that we're certainly watching closely. We want them to partner with us and build on top of us.

InfoWorld: What other development environments might you host?

Moorman: We're going to keep our options open. We want to make it easy to host all those applications. And once we have this full complement of platform services, like database and load balancing, it's going to make these platforms easier to host. There are people who are getting Cloud Foundry up and running on our cloud and making it happen, so we're going to learn a lot over the next couple months. We're talking to Microsoft -- they're eager to get Azure running with their partners.

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