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Rackspace: From managed hosting to cloud hosting

In an effort to wrap my mind around this cloud computing stuff, I watched the webcast of Rackspace’s cloud computing launch today, where the company laid out its plans to move from simple managed hosting provider to cloud provider extraordinaire, taking on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, and Simple Storage Service, or S3, in the process.

Rackspace’s plan centers on acquisition, partnership and expanding its existing Mosso Web hosting product into three broad offerings: Cloud Sites website hosting, Cloud Files storage service, and Cloud Servers virtual private servers.

On the acquisition side, RackSpace has acquired Jungle Disk, a cloud-based desktop storage and backup provider that has thus far relied on Amazon’s S3. It also acquired Slicehost, a provider of Xen-based virtual private servers (VPSs) that claims 11,000 customers and 15,000 virtual servers.

As far as new Mosso offerings, the new Cloud Files will come in at $0.15 per GB of replicated data, or if the data is distributed across a content delivery network (CDN), at $0.22 per GB. CDN capabilities come by way of a partnership with Limelight Inc.

Also as part of Cloud Files, RackSpace will partner with Sonian Networks to provide cloud-based email archiving starting at $3/mailbox.

Coming soon, Cloud Servers is Mosso’s new name for Slicehost’s VPS offering. Under Slicehost, the services starts at $20/month for a virtual Xen server with 256GB of RAM, 10GB of storage, and 100GB of bandwidth. “Slices” scale to 15.5GB of RAM, 620GB of storage and 2,000GB of bandwidth for $800/month.

When it comes to the Xen-based Slicehost — aka Cloud Servers — I should note that Mosso is a longtime VMware customer that has publicly pondered the viability of the relationship as it expands its services. It will be interesting to see whether this acquisition signals a break from VMware or whether it will continue to use VMware as the underpinning of its Cloud Sites offering. Rackspace, care to comment?

On another note, Slicehost is one of many hosting providers that use open source Xen as the basis of their cloud offerings. Presumably, it’s also the kind of company to which Simon Crosby, CTO of Citrix Systems Inc., referred when Citrix announced XenServer Cloud Edition and Citrix Cloud Center (C3) at VMworld 2008.

At the time, Crosby said that luring these hosting providers into Citrix support contracts was a huge priority. “Trivially, we looked around and found a couple hundred hosted IT infrastructure providers using open source Xen,” he said. “XenServer Cloud Edition is intended to win greenfield accounts but also to bring the open source Xen guys back home.” XenServer Cloud Edition boasts features like the ability to run Windows guests and commercial support.

One final thought: If any of you find this whole cloud computing thing a bit, ahem, nebulous, Lew Moorman, Rackspace’s chief strategy officer, made an interesting distinction between different types of cloud offerings. “Cloud apps,” Moorman said, are what we used to think of as Software as a Service (SaaS); “cloud hosting,” meanwhile, refers to pooled external compute resources. And of course, there’s cloud storage. Rackspace, it seems, will offer all three.

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