“Just wait a bit, because the cloud isn’t quite ready yet.” It’s an odd message for the CTO of one of the largest cloud providers to push in a keynote, but this is essentially what Rackspace’s John Engates told his audience at the Cloud Expo 2011 on Tuesday. Engates also took multiple swipes at a competitor, but surprisingly, that competitor was not Amazon, Salesforce.com, or any other large, public cloud provider. Rather, it was Oracle Engates dinged in slide after slide as being synonymous with old-fashioned, non-cloud, shrink-wrapped, legacy software.
In encouraging companies to wait on the cloud, Engates was specifically talking about software-as-a-service (SaaS), and acknowledging that the SaaS model isn’t ready to replace traditional software in the enterprise. But while the cloud is getting its act together at the SaaS layer, Engates is keen to talk companies out of re-upping on their existing multi-year contracts with the likes of Microsoft and Oracle; better to hold out as long as you can until you can make a clean break with the shrink-wrapped past and jump straight up into the cloud, Engates argues.
“You want to slow down the game, run out the clock and don’t upgrade your systems unless you’re going to cloud,” Engates told the audience.
Part of his repeated exhortation to his audience to avoid salesmen bearing contracts was undoubtedly a warning against getting locked into a subscriber agreement with Oracle. I asked Engates about Oracle’s Public Cloud offering, and what he thought of the company’s tiered subscription billing model. His response was the same as mine, which is that cloud, at least at the PaaS layer and below, is about metered billing, not tiered subscriptions and multi-year service contracts.
So what is the enterprise supposed to be doing while it waits for the flowering of an ecosystem of SaaS offerings that can take the place of Oracle in running mission-critical parts of a business? His answer, of course, is that businesses should dip a toe, or even a whole foot, into the infrastructure-as-a-service pool by either checking out Rackspace’s cloud offerings or rolling out OpenStack on some of its internal hardware.
Engates described infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) as a “bridge” between today not-quite-ready SaaS market and a utopian future where almost all software is delivered as a service. One component of that bridge is the public cloud, where companies can begin exploring the cloud with no commitment or up-front costs. For businesses with privacy and security concerns that preclude the use of a multitenant system, there are managed cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud options.
It’s no surprise that Rackspace is hoping to kneecap companies like Oracle by holding out the promise of better options just around the corner, because all Rackspace is offering right now is the infrastructure layer, so it can’t yet compete with an Oracle that offers the whole stack. And if its hoped-for vision of a SaaS ecosystem materializes atop OpenStack, then Rackspace can stay focused on IaaS and let that ecosystem take on the incumbents.
This need to cultivate a competitive SaaS ecosystem atop its IaaS layer is behind everything that Rackspace is doing right now, from the recent announcement of the OpenStack foundation to this week’s launch of Rackspace Coud: Private Edition.
If OpenStack is jockeying to be the Linux of the cloud, then Rackspace’s newly announced Rackspace Cloud: Private Edition could position the hosting company to be the cloud’s Red Hat. Rackspace Cloud: Private Edition, is essentially a distro of OpenStack that Rackspace will install and manage for you, either on your own datacenter hardware or on hardware that resides in a private corner of one of Rackspace’s own datacenters.
But the Red Hat analogy isn’t perfect, according to Rackspace CTO John Engates.
“I don’t know if we’re exactly like Red Hat,” Engates told Wired.com. “We want to offer services—we don’t want to sell software. Even though Red Hat doesn’t ‘sell’ their software, to get access to all their stuff you still have to pay them a license fee for a lot of the things that they add on top. But they’re not really managing your Linux for you; they’re just selling you a service contract around Linux. We’re actually planning to manage your cloud for you. We’re not putting a price on the software; we’re putting a price on the services that help people manage, patch, monitor, and upgrade.”
The Private Edition offering grew out of the efforts of Rackspace’s Cloud Builders team, which consists of the Anso Labs crew that originally developed the part of OpenStack that NASA eventually donated to the project. Rackspace acquired Anso Labs in February, and began doing one-off, custom deployments of Rackspace-like private clouds as part of its Cloud Builders program. The company then added other Rackspace talent to build the final Private Edition offering, where the basic pitch is that you either provide the private cloud hardware or rent it from Rackspace, and then Rackspace does the rest.
Rackspace can claim at least one partner at launch for RCPE—Austin-based MomentumSI, which will be stepping in to handle the “rack and stack” that Engates told Wired.com Rackspace doesn’t want to do. MomenutmSI will offer pre-packaged hardware for RCPE deployments, as well as consulting and other services that fill in any gaps in Rackspace’s offering.