Rackspace, as a service

Rackspace subsidiary Mosso this week relaunched its hosting platform as a pay-as-you-grow cloud computing service, which the parent company's SVP of strategy described as "the future of hosting."
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

Rackspace subsidiary Mosso this week relaunched its hosting platform as a pay-as-you-grow cloud computing service. There have been noises recently about hosting provider Rackspace's ability to compete with Amazon's EC2 service and similar cloud offerings. Mosso is its answer to those critics.

Briefing me on the announcement last week, Rackspace's senior VP of strategy Lew Moorman told me, "This is a very important strategy for Rackspace ... This idea has really blossomed into something we feel is the future of hosting — we really think it's going to bring something new to the market."

Rebranded as The Hosting Cloud, the Mosso offering brings cloud attributes to the commodity Web server hosting market. Web developers can select the server stack they want to deploy — including Linux and Windows (both on the same website if they want), plus higher-level components such as PHP, mySQL, Ruby on Rails, Microsoft SQL Server and IIS7 — and the Mosso system implements it on demand. Its slogan: "Code, load and go."

Once it's up and running, the site developer never again has to worry about scaling up infrastructure as traffic grows. The company says its cloud platform will "automatically configure and provision each layer of the technology stack in order to maximize performance so that web applications automatically scale as traffic surges."

Mosso's new pricing, announced on Tuesday, is designed to scale just as gracefully. The basic $100-per-month fee covers 50GB disk space, 500GB bandwidth and 3 million web requests per month, plus unlimited applications and email accounts within those resources. (Mosso customers who signed up prior to Tuesday are on a more generous package of 2000GB disk, 80GB bandwidth and 3 million requests). Any time a ceiling is breached, non-punitive scale pricing kicks in according to usage. Those prices are:

  • 50c per GB of disk space
  • 25c per GB of bandwidth
  • 3c per 1000 requests

The pricing gives site developers and Web 2.0 startups the perfect insurance against sudden success, and the inclusion of request-based pricing means there are no 'hidden' caps on consumption such as a ceiling on the maximum number of concurrent sessions or other tricks of the shared-hosting trade. The company says: "The newly added web request metric is more straight-forward, granular and outcome-based than other units and formulas used — in hosting, it's about as close to pay-per-use there is."

Of course the pricing isn't totally scaled from the bottom up as Amazon EC2 is, but the model of basic-package-plus-overage is pretty well-established in the mobile phone business and is easier to budget for than a totally pay-per-use model. Probably, a company that was finding its usage running above the ceilings on a permanent basis would start to investigate the cost of alternatives, but for average use below that level a flat fee is often attractive.

The Mosso offering also comes with live 24x7 support, which of course Rackspace sees as its trademark characteristic. This is in marked contrast to the community-based support offered by Amazon's EC2 cloud computing platform, but then that's a more of a raw computing platform than the dashboard-selected stack that Mosso offers. "The Computing Cloud is a higher-level service," Moorman told me.

The Mosso cloud runs out of one Rackspace hosting center at present, but the company plans to extend it across multiple centers in the future. Certainly Moorman indicated that the company sees Mosso growing faster than Rackspace's core business in the coming years.

Although Mosso started out two years ago as an initiative targeting the low end of the hosting market, its relaunch will now target larger enterprises too, taking it much more strongly into Rackspace's core market (the company pitches itself as "the IT hosting expert"). Early on, Mosso co-founder Jonathan Bryce told me, "we realized we'd executed on a grander scale than a platform for 1MB websites." (ZDNet's virtualization expert Dan Kuznetzky interviewed Bryce about the technology that drives Mosso back in November). Part of the pitch will be to enterprise IT teamseee giving them a means of provisioning servers to departmental users while still remaining in control of the overall solution.

That's a pitch that I've been hearing quite a lot of recently, as I mentioned in my previous posting, How to deploy to the cloud of your choice. Mosso's relaunch certainly helps validate the prediction I reported in that posting of a proliferation of cloud platforms, and opens up cloud computing to a new category of user. Indeed, I've arranged to set up a trial account myself (disclosure: Mosso is waiving the charges) as it sounds like just the kind of platform I'd been looking for to consolidate my various Web ventures. I haven't had a chance to start working on it, but as soon as I do, I'll report back on my impressions.

NOTE: this story updated at 3pm PST to correct an earlier misspelling of Lew Moorman's name.

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