Rackspace switched on its OpenStack-powered cloud on Tuesday, making the end of a two-year journey and the beginning of the long struggle for relevance to the cloud-enabled enterprise.
The availability of OpenStack-backed Cloud Databases, Cloud Servers and a Control Panel for US customers (a UK launch is slated for the 15 August), gives developers access to a range of rentable infrastructure based on the open-source OpenStack system.
"There's a significant customer base out there that wants mobility, [that] wants multiple clouds," Nigel Beighton, Rackspace's vice president of technology, says.
Of course, the success of Rackspace's cloud is contingent on broad industry adoption, as there's very little point in having an open standard if there are no other clouds to be open with. Yet, as of today, the only other production cloud based on OpenStack technology is HP's Public Cloud, though this service is understood to have proprietary elements as well.
What Rackspace is banking on is that other service providers — telecommunications companies, web hosts, online software companies — will not want to take on the vast cost of competing with proprietary cloud leaders Microsoft, Amazon or Google, Beighton says, and will instead split development costs with the hundred-plus companies contributing code to OpenStack.
"Anyone who's trying to get into cloud, it's an arms race," Beighton says. The OpenStack model allows Rackspace, HP, NTT Telecom and other major open-source cloud backers to "take it in turns to be at the front" of technology development, he adds.
However, as OpenStack is an open-source, community-led project, Rackspace has had to develop and contribute large amounts of code to it to make it production grade, such as some of the elements of the revamped cloud control panel.
Along with this, the shifting alliances and partnerships of companies involved in the code could cause problems. For instance, the 'Quantum' networking component of OpenStack was primarily developed by Silicon Valley's network virtualisation darling Nicira, which was subsequently bought by VMware — raising concerns about the software's future development.
Beighton acknowledges that "it's a double-edged sword when depending on open source".
However, if the success of Linux on servers is anything to go by, Rackspace has a reason to be confident about OpenStack.
"You can't afford to have the future locked into the big [proprietary] giants fighting," Gustav Maskowitz, a cloud product engineer at Rackspace, says. "Can we have a cloud era without open source? No."