The Ongoing Cloud Debate
As discussed in Rack Level Architectures and Hyperscale Operations, the top challenge facing IT organizations is finding a way to simplify operations. Legacy designs cannot keep up with growth trajectories, and too much time and money is spent keeping the lights on. The cloud discussion for the last couple of years has been that you can build a private cloud in-house, go to a Public Cloud service, or have a hybrid model, which typically is a split of applications between pubic and private rather than any federation of resources. Amazon is the gorilla invading the enterprise, but an “all in on AWS” strategy is not advisable. CIOs realize that AWS is but one arrow in their cloud quiver. One notable option to provide cloud-like attributes while maintaining corporate control is the Rackspace Private Cloud initiative that delivers an in-house option built on hyperscale architectures and operating principles.
Rackspace Private Cloud
When Rackspace launched its Public Cloud solution based on OpenStack in the Spring of 2012, large customers asked for help in building the “same solution onsite”. Rackspace had been consulting with customers, creating one-off solutions, sometimes hosted, but often on the customer premises. Rackspace delivers its private cloud offering as open source software that is freely available (no licensing costs). The free software(available here) has been downloaded more than 6,000 times, including by a majority of the Fortune 100. Rackspace has helped more than 100 companies build private clouds based on this architecture. Companies can build and support the environments themselves, or for “what you would typically pay for licenses” Rackspace can support the environment.
It comes with two options for support, one where Rackspace runs the solution and the other where the customer runs the environment. Note that with both options, Rackspace support is remote; the customer will support an SLA for replacing/repairing failed or broken components. Since OpenStack runs around failures, operations are greatly simplified. Rackspace’s goal is to allow customers to “just use” the infrastructure, rather than having to constantly work on optimizing it; the cloud architectures from the largest operator of OpenStack are given away for free.
Building the Substrate for Cloud
The operational model is not the only difference between the hyperscale public clouds and enterprise IT environments. In general, enterprises buy feature-rich hardware and software, while the mega-cloud providers purchase commodity gear and use Open Source software. Rackspace Private Cloud allows customers to choose the hardware that IT is comfortable with, although it does recommend shifting towards solutions built for density rather than for specific features. While a proof of concept can be run on existing/legacy equipment, production roll-out is typically deployed into “greenfield” environments with new applications, while existing applications can be added down the line. A major shift for most enterprises is that Rackspace’s architecture starts with Ubuntu as the OS with KVM for virtualization rather than VMware. Rackspace has built a reference architecture partner program that includes NetApp and EMC storage and Brocade and Arista switches. While these partnerships are a smart move for the suppliers, Rackspace is also helping to drive customers towards commodity gear. Rackspace has built prototype Open Compute servers and can help customers adopt OpenStack Cinder for storage. Popular initial deployments for this solution are for Web-scale applications that are transactional in nature, for instance for banks or media companies. Rackspace has found that deployments using a small number of servers tend to move to Public Cloud services, while larger environments go private. Some customers create zones where they can have geographic coverage through a mix of public and private deployments.
Action Item: CEOs and CIOs know that they need to shift spending a majority of the IT budget from “keeping the lights on” toward innovation. Offerings such as Rackspace Private Cloud give organizations a path to rapidly transform operations with flexibility of the underlying hardware. While converged infrastructure solutions are designed and hardened for mission critical applications, users must to be sure to 'seed' such private cloud deployments with applications that fit the web architectures.