Rackspace Extends Private Cloud Offering With OpenCenter

Rackspace, one of the original participants in the OpenStack project, has spent the last couple of years building a successful cloud business. Along the way, they’ve continued to contribute to OpenStack and even offer a streamlined installation process for people who want to “run like Rackspace” on their own hardware.

Today, Rackspace is announcing the next major release of their private cloud solution. This release offers high availability for OpenStack controller nodes, as well as official support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS for the host operating system. Rackspace is also releasing OpenCenter, a new graphical interface and API, to serve as the fabric of a private cloud installation.

OpenCenter, says Scott Sanchez, Director of Strategy for Rackspace’s Private Cloud, provides an orchestration component to private cloud deployments that is currently lacking. It utilizes Chef and a variety of “cookbooks” to streamline some of the basic OpenStack activities. OpenCenter, like OpenStack itself, is free software released under the Apache Software License.

Sanchez shared with me that Rackspace has performed more than 1,500 code pushes into their hosted private cloud last year. Each code push was backed by more than 8,000 unit tests to ensure functionality and avoid mistakes. All of this was done without customer interruption, which is mighty impressive. “We want to improve the cloud”, Sanchez said, “not impact the cloud.”

The goal of Rackspace’s private cloud download offering is to allow enterprise customers to enjoy all the same benefits from Rackspace’s engineering efforts, but on their own hardware in their own data centers. Sanchez says that Rackspace’s journey from being a traditional hosting company toward being a service provider is being mirrored by businesses and enterprises around the globe.

Most of the code that runs Rackspace Cloud is available for download and use today. Despite that, Sanchez says that many organizations still elect to have Rackspace manage their private clouds, even if they’re not using Rackspace’s servers. “25% of cloud is software and hardware,” Sanchez told me. “The other 75% is management.” Most organizations don’t have the expertise on-staff to successfully manage a complex private cloud solution.

When Rackspace launched their private cloud offering, they saw a lot of nibbles from organizations doing proofs-of-concept and other exploratory actions. By the end of 2012, private cloud adoptions were starting to accelerate; and Sanchez says that they’ve had a tremendous uptick in new customers thus far in 2013.

Even traditionally risk-averse organizations like banks and other financial institutions are flirting with Rackspace managed clouds. Sanchez wouldn’t elaborate on any specific details of the contract negotiations necessary to permit Rackspace staffers to access another organization’s hardware, but he did express surprise at the willingness of so many companies to open their firewalls and to hand Rackspace the keys.

The other surprising aspect of private cloud adoption, from Sanchez’s perspective, is how much of it is being driven from the top. “Visionary CIOs and CTOs are embracing the cloud, and bringing Rackspace in,” Sanchez told me. He says that Rackspace is seeing more organizations commit to the cloud with a willingness to “break glass” and really shake up the status quo of traditional IT.

Private cloud continues to be an interesting topic to follow, and there’s a lot happening in this space. The proliferation of free software solutions for private cloud is of particular interest to me. Rackspace could have kept OpenCenter and their other tools private, but there’s little long-term value to that decision. Instead, share it with the world and allow those organizations with sufficient ability to run with it on their own. For all other organizations, Rackspace is there to lend their expertise, and make a couple bucks along the way.