“The one thing we’ve heard [from businesses] is that people need a commercial entity to back an open source project,” Collier says. “Free and open source is great and all, but they want someone they call when they run into problems. Rackspace is the natural company to do that.”
Rackspace announced it’s support plan for OpenStack cloud installs today, Cloud Builders. Here’s the quick summary:
- Rackspace is starting a new line of business to support uses of OpenStack beyond its own data centers, “Rackspace Cloud Builders.” This support would be anything from training, helping setup clouds, to high level escalation of problems with those clouds.
- They purchased Anso Labs, creators of a core part of OpenStack and a cloud services company, to help seed this business. Rackspace expects the team to be 30-40 people this year, but draw on the 3,000+ support staff in the rest of Rackspace.
- Rather than displace other companies who are looking to build businesses on OpenStack, Rackspace would like to be the “third level” support for these folks and others. As Mark Collier put it, “we’re not trying to be Accenture or anything like that.”
- Momentum around OpenStack continues to be strong as gauged by “big” community members (such as Cisco, Canonical, and Dell) as well as the features road-map (pulling in more hyper-visors, upping storage limits, and providing more networking options). Indeed, RedMonk is asked about OpenStack frequently, both by users and other vendors.
- In addition to Rackspace’s new team, they’ve put together partners: Opscode, Dell, Equinix, Cloudscaling, and Citrix. Presumably, these folks will help build and service the various clouds (private and otherwise) being supported. See below for an example of that between Rackspace, Dell, and Opscode.
For an introduction to OpenStack, see this RedMonk interview with Rackspace’s Jonathan Bryce (there’s a full transcript if you prefer):
Cloud Body of Knowledge
As part of this new business, Rackspace will be generating a lot of material around best practices, architectures, and other “documentation” and practices for running various types of clouds. I asked if that would be “open,” to which the answer was more or less “yes,” or at the very least, “that’s a good idea.”
RedMonk fields a lot of inquires around cloud best practices and experiences, so there’s obviously a hunger for it. Keeping this material “open” versus close-to-the chest (as big consulting outfits would do) would be very beneficial to Rackspace: the more OpenStack-based clouds there are out there, the wider the pie for their support offering. Additionally, being the “owner” and (potentially) “biggest user” of OpenStack would have plenty of benefits to Rackspace even if they didn’t monetize support.
OpenStack Installer, Dell-based clouds
Building a hyperscale cloud requires a different mindset (we like to call it “revolutionary”) compared to a traditional enterprise virtualized infrastructure. This means driving a degree of simplicity, homogeneity, and density that is beyond most enterprise systems.
The core lesson of these large systems is that redundancy moves from the hardware into the software and applications. In fact, the expectation of failure is built into the system as a key assumption because daily failures are a fact of life when you have thousands of servers.
The Dell, Opscode, and Rackspace offering is the launch of a beta program for OpenStack clouds, based, of course, on Dell hardware (they’re actively seeking people to do PoC’s). As Dell sums it up: it’s an “OpenStack installer that allows bare metal deployment of OpenStack clouds in a few hours (vs. a manual installation period of several days).” In addition to using, of course, OpenStack, Dell is looking to use Chef for not only the on-going automation (“configuration management,” if you prefer) and initial setup. Their nicely detailed paper on the topic sums it up:
The most obvious challenge for hyperscale is the degree of repetition required to bring systems online (aka provision) and then maintain their patch levels. This is especially challenging for dynamic projects like OpenStack where new features or patches may surface at any time. In the Dell cloud development labs, we plan for a weekly rebuild of the entire system [Try that on your traditional data center, where changing anything once it's in production is a frightening task. -Coté].
To keep up with these installs, we invest in learning deployment tools like Puppet and Chef. Our cloud automation leverages a Chef server on the Admin and Chef clients are included on the node images. After the operating system has been laid down by PXE on a node, the Chef client will retrieve the node’s specific configuration from the server. The configuration scripts (recipes and cookbooks in Chef vernacular) not only install the correct packages, they also lay down the customized configuration and data files needed for that specific node. For example, a Swift data node must be given its correct ring configuration file.
Additionally, these bootstrapped clouds use Ganglia and Nagios for monitoring, and the overall architecture goes on the proscribe networking and storage configurations.
While this offering is clearly built on technologies and good domain knowledge, whenever you see the word “beta” and a call for Proof-of-Concepts, you have to be aware that the offering is very early. Essentially, they’re looking to move into much more road-testing of the setup. As Dell’s Joseph George put it, “The code base has evolved enough for telcos, managed service providers, and hosters to start testing.”
This adds yet another method of cloud to Dell’s cloud portfolio. Giving people maximim option for building clouds makes sense for Dell, who’s motivated to do one thing: move hardware. While having lots of options can be confusing (should I get a Eucalyptus, OpenStack, VMWare, Joyent, or some other based cloud?), at the moment it’s better than the alternative of not being technical enough or just choosing one stack. Still, in the near future, Dell will need to stream-line, or at least do a lot of hand-holding to the answer, “what type of cloud should I build?”
Rackspace, of course, would just like to see more people using OpenStack. They have a rare, genuine interest in seeing people use their open source software without trying to up-sell them to commercial offerings. Certainly, they want to provide paid support for some, but they at least don’t speak in the traditional terms of “conversion rate”: how effective are we at making money off stuff we freely give away?
For Opscode, there’s two angles: getting more use of their open source Chef which brings both (more) legitimacy and also hopeful conversions to their commercial offering, the SaaS “Opscode Platform” (hosting your configuration management in the cloud). Many operations oriented people still can’t wrap their heads around putting IT management in the cloud (“what if the network goes down?!”), but there’s a certain appeal to the near-statelessness that you could achieve for managing a (private) cloud with this whole setup. Meanwhile, some are taking that leap, like Rhapsody and 3,000 others who’ve signed up (there’s a free option for 5 nodes of less) to use the Opscode platform.
- Dell’s Rob Hirschfeld covers “Crowbar” (the project name for the cloud installer) in his blog: “One of my team’s significant lessons learned about installing clouds is that current clouds are more about effective operations than software features.”
- Timothy Prickett Morgan wraps up the Dell angle over at The Register, along with a cataloging of other Dell cloud offerings included the much wondered about Microsoft Azure cloud partnership.
- For more on the Cloud Builder partnering angle and opportunities, see Andrew R Hickey over at CRN.
- Julie Bort covers the news and spends some time on the Eucalyptus competitive angle.
- Rackspace’s Cloud Builders overview a la blog.
- Check out Dell’s white-paper on bootstrapping clouds – it’s got plenty of nice, strident cloud statements (like the one quoted above, essentially telling enterprises they need to change how they manage hardware) and just enough technical detail to flesh out a 15 page paper.
Disclosure: Rackspace, Dell, Opscode, Eucalyptus, VMWare, and Cloudscaling are clients.