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Rackspace CTO: Open Rack Is Nice, But We Like Our White Boxes

Rackspace has emerged in recent years as one of the premier data center and cloud providers in the U.S. All that compute power is delivered by way of servers — servers that Rackspace needs to buy.

In a conversation with InternetNews.com, Rackspace CTO John Engates explained that server hardware isn't a differentiator for his company, even as they seek to support the Facebook-led Open Compute initiative.

Engates noted that Rackspace is competing further up the stack than just server hardware, and it's not necessarily a matter of having the best technology, since many providers will have the same technology. As such for Rackspace, the competitive differentiation is about support, Rackspace knowledge and operational excellence.

Rackspace today is a key part of the Open Compute effort that was started by Facebook last year. Open Compute aims to standardize data center hardware for the modern era of hyperscale cloud computing.

At the recent Open Compute Summit hosted by Rackspace, a new standard called Open Rack debuted. Open Rack changes the size of a standard data center server to 21 inches, up from 19 inches. The idea behind Open Rack is to improve data center efficiency and server density.

While Rackspace is an active participant in Open Compute today, that doesn't mean they are in a big rush to embrace Open Rack immediately.

"We probably won't replace anything that is in place today until its lifetime is done," Engates said. "But if we go out and build a new data center and if that design makes sense for us, we'll certainly adopt it."

Engates stressed that Rackspace is not "religious" about design — rather they just want to adopt the most efficient and flexible design possible. He added that Rackspace isn't necessarily going to take everything that Open Compute is doing and adopt it verbatim.

Rackspace is not likely to simply take a plain vanilla Open Compute server and use that in their designs either. Engates said that Rackspace will inject its own needs and requirement into the mix.


Since Rackspace doesn't differentiate based on hardware, whitebox servers have been part of their server strategy since 1999.

Engates noted that some customers like having a brand name server and the additional manageability features they might bring. Most customers, however, don't care what the label says on the box.

When it comes to the cloud, the physical servers are all abstracted, making the actual hardware brand even less relevant. That's why Rackspace has embraced a whitebox strategy in the cloud, which is something that Engates expects to continue.

White box doesn't mean that Rackspace refrains from buying servers from Dell and other recognized server vendors. Engates said that Dell and HP as well as other server vendors have all created divisions to deliver the equivalent of a whitebox model for commodity server hardware.

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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This article was originally published on May 17, 2012
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