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Vision for Rackspace Managed Cloud takes shape

Rackspace is casting a wide net with its growing cloud portfolio as it tries to bring its management skills to a range of complex use cases.

A string of recent product offerings shows how Rackspace intends to execute its vision for managed cloud.

Managed services have always been at the core of Rackspace Hosting's business model. In the past month, however, the company has introduced several new or updated products that build on its managed cloud mantra, including a big data service for its OnMetal Cloud Servers, an upgraded hybrid platform with improved security and scalability, and managed services for Microsoft and Google tools.

The most intriguing offering is perhaps the OnMetal Cloud Big Data Platform, a turnkey service for data scientists to deploy instances of Hadoop and Spark. Vendors such as GoGrid, Amazon and IBM also offer bare metal big data services, but Rackspace could be the first with a pay-per-use infrastructure as a service environment, according to James Staten, an analyst with Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, Mass.

"There are big data folks who feel hypervisors just slow down data analysis," Staten said. "For them, this is a big deal."

Rackspace's service is unique because it combines dedicated hardware, automation and a high level of support, said Michael Coté, an analyst with 451 Research Inc., based in New York City.

Hadoop and Spark have generated interest, but the question is how many people actually need that level of scale and service, Coté said. The software is moving away from the large, sophisticated early adopters who wanted to architect everything. Rackspace could find an angle if its prices are competitive and the product eliminates some set up and hardware upkeep challenges.

Rackspace must successfully e-configure Hadoop and Spark and anticipate features customers want and continue to make the big data platform run faster, Coté said.

Earlier this year Rackspace rebranded itself as a managed cloud vendor amid rampant acquisition speculation. But after fielding offers and ultimately deciding to remain independent, a clearer image of the company’s plan is taking shape.

These latest products are good predictors of what Rackspace plans to do with on-premises systems integrators and stack configuration as software moves to the cloud, Coté said.

"When Rackspace was first going on about managed cloud, I was waiting to see exactly what that meant beyond fanatical support," Coté said. "But … hybrid and DevOps are good examples of not just offering public cloud, they're offering consultative services on top of that."

Rackspace managed hybrid cloud

The latest version of RackConnect, Rackspace's hybrid cloud offering, provides the same level of cloud security that was previously only available on the dedicated side to manage traffic across platforms, according to Matt Shover, senior manager of RackConnect operations.

"This is by far and away the biggest way to get more customers using public cloud and enabling it in way that's going to jell with organizations' security policies or concerns," Shover said.

Following a series of public data breaches at major retailers such as Home Depot and Target, it's crucial to provide customers the next level of data security, said Ryan Bonifacino, vice president of digital strategy at retailer Alex & Ani.

The last thing the RackConnect customer wants is to become another example of security failures, so protection of customer information must be bullet-proof, Bonifacino said.

This is difficult at Alex & Ani because of the various means for collecting and utilizing customer data through a omni-channel approach that includes online, retail and wholesale operations with social media and programmatic marketing, but the latest hybrid offering goes a long way in alleviating those concerns, he added.

"The additional enhancements go above and beyond the minimum viable standards," Bonifacino said. "To put liability on a service provider -- that's the ultimate win."

Rackspace also removed the 500-cloud server cap on its hybrid platform by putting the security controls at the hypervisor level and avoiding the post-build automation previously required.

Hybrid cloud remains Rackspace's focus and the product remains sufficient, Staten said. 

"[Rackspace] actually has a legitimate public cloud platform, so while most of its customers use a mix of the public cloud and traditional hosting, it still has to remind folks of new features on the public cloud side," Staten said.

Rackspace Managed Cloud needs to improve its user interface and expand its hybrid service globally, but the company is one of only a handful capable of offering hybrid capabilities across multiple services and data centers, along with SoftLayer, and to a lesser degree GoGrid and Codero Hosting, said Phil Shih, an analyst with Structured Research, based in Toronto, Canada.

"Infrastructure is about so many different variables, so many checkpoints on your list," Shih added, "Rackspace is moving aggressively [toward] a longer list of services than these other providers."

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at

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