​Cloud firm Rackspace ramps up Microsoft Azure support

It's already been offering support in its datacenters for private Azure clouds but now Rackspace is extending services to public and hybrid Microsoft environments.

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Building on long-standing Microsoft links, managed-cloud firm Rackspace today announced an expansion of its Fanatical Support range of services for the Azure cloud computing platform.

The company says it can now support firms with public, private and hybrid cloud environments built on the Microsoft Azure stack.

Last November, Rackspace joined the Microsoft Cloud OS Network and unveiled support in its datacenters for private clouds based on Microsoft's Cloud Platform, which includes Microsoft Hyper-V, System Center, Windows Server, and Windows Azure Pack.

In May, Rackspace followed up by unveiling support and managed services for Microsoft's Office 365 cloud-based productivity software.

"Earlier this year we started supporting Office 365, which allowed us to start supporting a single app outside our datacenters. Now we're supporting Azure in all its regions and in all its datacenters around the world," Rackspace chief Microsoft technologist Jeff DeVerter said.

"What that means is you'll be able to have Rackspace engineers and architects design, build, manage, maintain and monitor solutions built inside Azure or in combination between Azure and Rackspace in the same way we would support something inside Rackspace."

The expansion of support services for Microsoft Azure is consistent with Rackspace's managed cloud strategy established last summer, which aims to offer a hybrid portfolio across multiple cloud platforms, giving users a Rackspace support wrapper on top of any cloud provider they choose.

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"If you think about what this service is, it very much follows our managed cloud story - so taking infrastructure in a cloud and managing that for a customer. For the most part we've only ever done that inside our datacenters. This is the first time we're stepping out of this," DeVerter said.

Initially, Rackspace support services for Azure, which start with a $1,500 base entry fee followed by a series of cost tiers, will be available only to US-based customers but will expand to include firms in other regions later this year and early in 2016.

"The problem [customers] are trying to solve is where different departments are trying to take their traditional applications that they've either written or off-the-shelf products and make them run inside Azure. But they need them to run in a way that they can still be monitored, managed, maintained, have consistent OS builds and images and security that they have set for their enterprises. There's really no easy way to do that inside Azure itself," DeVerter said.

The services cover Windows and Linux virtual machines, Azure Active Directory integration and federation, SQL Server and SQL Azure on Azure virtual machines, Azure Express Route, storage and backup, and Azure Traffic Manager load-balancing.

"When you look at those things put together, it sure looks an awful lot like infrastructure as a service. Azure has a bunch of different capabilities - 84 different elements in fact. But we're obviously not going to provide support from day one for all of those," he said.

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"It's a collection of very powerful individual pieces of technology that have to be put together in a way that meets a customer's needs, whether that be security or identity. That's difficult for a lot of enterprises. So what we've built initially is an ability to provide support for infrastructure as a service, both native to Azure as well as hybrid between Azure and Rackspace."

Other Azure support features in Rackspace's plans for the next six months include Azure site recovery, deeper online service capabilities involving identity and Active Directory, and Azure mobility services.

"Supporting outside a Rackspace datacenter is a non-trivial task and certainly rocks the boat around here and around the industry. We've had a long-standing relationship with Microsoft since 2002. Our relationship is deep," DeVerter said.

"[But] when we launched our private cloud offering last November we realised it was only half an offering because true Microsoft cloud has capabilities that are both private as well as public inside Azure."

Businesses can buy Fanatical Support for Azure with infrastructure and support as a bundle. Alternatively, if they already use Azure infrastructure but want support, they can buy Rackspace managed services at a price based on infrastructure spend.

According to Rackspace, it has more than 300,000 customers worldwide and manages more than 30,000 SQL Server instances, with 500,000 seats of Microsoft Exchange and more than 85 percent of the world's hosted SharePoint licences.

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