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Rackspace Cloud (Just) Now Moving to OpenStack

By Sean Kerner (Send Email)
Posted April 20, 2012


Rackspace is now offering OpenStack-based clouds to some of its user base. The move to OpenStack for Rackspace is not a surprising one; after all, Rackspace together with NASA founded the OpenStack project in 2010.

Why has it taken so long for Rackspace to offer OpenStack in its own public cloud? It's a question of capabilities and the maturity of the code base. The OpenStack Essex release came out earlier this month, accompanied by the news that IBM, Red Hat, HP, Cisco, Dell, Yahoo and AT&T are all now supporters of the effort.

"While the Nova project (OpenStack compute) had an awesome framework and a platform where we wanted to be long term, there were some capabilities we felt that we needed," Troy Toman, Senior Director, Software Developer at Rackspace told InternetNews.com.

Among the missing capabilitied was integration with Rackspace's own internal systems for billing. As well, the original Nova code lacked some abilities that Rackspace needed to resize a server up or down. Toman stressed that Rackspace was looking for feature parity from OpenStack with its existing cloud server solutions, which is something that now, at long last, has been achieved.

Looking beyond just feature parity, using OpenStack will provide operational benefits and features that go beyond what Rackspace already is delivering. Toman noted that as part of the transition to OpenStack, they are using the OpenStack Quantum networking project as well. With Quantum, Rackspace has more flexibility for delivering private networking capabilities into the cloud.

"It's a way to get the equivalent of a logical VLAN in the cloud that only you or your instances can attach too," Toman said. "That's a pretty core feature for people that want to build out more secure and robust cloud applications. It's something that wouldn't have been possible in our current generation product."

OpenStack Cloud Interoperability

Rackspace isn't the only vendor currently building an OpenStack cloud, as AT&T and HP (among others) have publicly announced their intentions as well. Though there might be multiple OpenStack public clouds, at this point it's not clear how interoperable the various vendors deployment will be in the immediate short term.

"In the Folsom timeframe, we'll be working on getting agreement on image formats and configuration, which are the biggest obstacles for cloud interoperability," Toman said. "How do I create an image in one OpenStack cloud and then upload it into another OpenStack cloud, and then how do the instances configure themselves?"

The next release of OpenStack, Folsom, is scheduled for the end of the year. While Toman noted that while interoperability might be possible using the OpenStack Glance image system today, there are multiple configuration options that make it a challenge.

Beyond OpenStack

The OpenStack project includes a dashboard known as Horizon. It's a dashboard that, in its current state at least, isn't enough for Rackspace to use for its own public cloud. Instead Rackspace has built its own dashboard called Reach that is tailored for the company's own environment.

"The majority of our cloud components are moving to an OpenStack base, but we have legacy products and all the dedicated products we offer," Toman said. "To tie that all together, Horizon wasn't sufficient to provide the integrated experience that we wanted."

Hardware

As Rackspace transitions to OpenStack, they aren't initially simply adding more workloads to existing server infrastructure. Toman said that the OpenStack deployment represents new hardware build-out for Rackspace, though it will not require building a new specific data center.

"Eventually, the existing hardware infrastructure we have running the current cloud product will be used for running an OpenStack-based cloud," Toman said. "But right now we're adding new equipment."

Toman didn't specify if there was a specific hardware vendor of platform that would be used for the OpenStack build-out. In terms of the bare-metal operating system, Toman noted that Rackspace is a big user of Debian Linux for its general infrastructure. For the hypervisor, Rackspace has a partnership with Citrix for the XenServer virtualization technology.

While the deployment of OpenStack is ongoing, Rackspace is actually using the Nova compute technology to deploy Nova.

"What that means is we have a private cloud within Rackspace that is powered by Nova, and that cloud spins up all of the control infrastructure for our OpenStack clouds," Toman said. "So we're dogfooding our own stuff and we're using a private OpenStack instance to run our public OpenStack cloud."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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