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What happens if your cloud goes away?

Less than three years after purchasing Slicehost, Rackspace is shutting it down. Is this a microcosm of what could happen to your cloud service?

The news that Rackspace will shut down innovative virtual private server hoster Slicehost, the original basis for Rackspace Cloud, has rattled its remaining customers, but it also raises a bigger question of what can happen when your cloud provider suddenly dries up.

In order to prepare for the next set of advancements in cloud, we will convert Slicehost accounts to Rackspace Cloud Servers accounts.

Mark Interrante, Vice President of Rackspace

As Slicehost isn't a major linchpin of the hosting market, many IT managers, despite expressing their confusion, are taking the demise in stride.

"Now I have an opportunity to re-compare different services," said G. Hussain Chinoy, an IT architect and contractor for the U.S. government.

He called himself a "light user" of Slicehost and said it had been a great service, as well as something he recommended to clients looking to dip their toes in cloud computing or virtual private server (VPS) hosting. Obviously, that recommendation is on hold as of now, but there are many other roughly equivalent services out there. He said he doesn't expect to get the run-around or surprise billing items from Rackspace, but it's a wake-up call for sure.

Chinoy said he appreciated Slicehost's elegant interface and easy-to-grasp billing model, which didn't have as many moving parts as the pay-by-the-drink models at Rackspace or Amazon Web Services.

"I figured Slicehost would be a more traditional business model of hosting on top of a cloud IaaS model, and therefore more stable (or is that familiar?)," he said in an email.

Slicehost users voice concerns, worries
IT professionals commenting on the forums expressed ire at the lack of detailed information about the plan. "I literally don't know how to setup a Cloudspace server and migrate my current one, as there doesn't seem to be any instructions at all," said one. 

Others worried that they would not be able to retain their current network addressing and would have to re-architect their entire virtual infrastructure, or worse, lose access to external services that had whitelisted particular IP addresses but wouldn't accept connections from a new, unlisted one.

For Slicehost customers, what had seemed simple, safe and reliable suddenly isn't; and the uniquely "cloud" aspect of it is the self-service, no-touch model. It may be aggravating beyond belief to get a call from a vendor saying they are canceling a product line; it seems profoundly unsettling in the cloud to get an impersonal notice by fiat.

"In order to prepare for the next set of advancements in cloud computing, driven by the industry changing shifts I mentioned above, we will convert current Slicehost accounts to Rackspace Cloud Servers accounts over the next year," said a communication from Rackspace VP Mark Interrante, posted second hand by a staffer.

Should cloud users fear outages and shutdowns?
This kind of poorly tuned approach to communicating with a customer base that is, out of necessity in the public cloud model, both self-selecting and largely anonymous, is proving to be a stumbling block for cloud. The recent AWS outage saw the cloud giant come under fire as much for its poor messaging and communication with individual customers as for the technical flaw.

Unsettling as it may be to consider, cloud providers and startups are inevitably going to dry up and leave users behind. What if Verizon decided to do the same thing with Terremark that Rackspace did with Slicehost?

Startups are always perilous for early adopters, and cloud is no exception. Cloud database platform company Elastra shut its doors last week, according to former CEO Kirill Sheynkman, who blamed the failure of the on his lack of direct involvement in developing the product.

Elastra was a much-heralded technology investment by Amazon in 2008. Enterprises looking at the product might have felt they were getting the implicit promise of a giant like Amazon, but in the cloud, it seems everything is ephemeral.

Since the original email and posting for Slicehost customers, Rackspace has added a migration FAQ to the Slicehost forums. Pricing, features and migration tools are addressed; users operating in certain data centers will be forced to move their hosting, as the St. Louis data centers have closed. Backup procedures and the API will change to Rackspace's and Slicehost DNS servers will also transition entirely to Rackspace’s environment over time.

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer at Contact him at

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