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CTO discloses Rackspace cloud plans, challenges for 2016

Rackspace CTO John Engates talks about Rackspace cloud plans for 2016, as well as broader issues around addressing the talent gap and workload portability.

After a shaky 2014, Rackspace regained its footing and went all in on managed cloud this year, with container services...

and big moves in the form of partnerships with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

SearchCloudComputing talked to Rackspace CTO John Engates about the company's cloud strategy for 2016, including further commitments to managing multicloud environments and to its OpenStack private cloud, as well as more features around security and big data.

What are the big themes we can expect from Rackspace in 2016?

John Engates: One of the major things we embarked on in 2015, and will continue to aggressively pursue in 2016, is multicloud managed cloud. Another area we've invested in, and will continue to, is the idea of data services for platforms like NoSQL, Hadoop, Cassandra [and] MongoDB -- emerging data platforms that often require experience the companies don't have.

John Engates, CTO at RackspaceJohn Engates

Private cloud is another area we're excited about and continue to grow. OpenStack has become the standard by which companies measure everything else, and really, it becomes the one most people look to for embracing private cloud -- even if that falls under multicloud. There are no purists just picking one cloud; they often have multiple initiatives. It's just really the way companies are getting to the cloud. There's no single strategy, and often times, it's multiple strategies all executing in parallel. Different divisions are working at different paces, and that's an area where Rackspace is really in a good position to help.

And, finally, security: It's the overarching challenge that many companies are facing with cloud or anything in it.

Can we expect more Rackspace cloud partnerships in 2016 similar to what we saw this year with Amazon and Microsoft?

Engates: We'll go where our customers ask us to go. Rackspace has always embraced the standard open platforms in the market. Amazon is by far the biggest and most influential with customers. Azure is doing well, which it should.

As far as other clouds, I don't want to speculate which ones we [will] look at or where we [will] go next. There are other options out there; it's just most companies have enough going on with one or two to keep them busy.

We don't hear as much about Rackspace's public cloud anymore. With other vendors constantly coming out with new services, how do you keep Rackspace Public Cloud a viable option?

Engates: We've really mastered hybrid cloud, whether it's bare-metal and physical servers, or hosted private cloud like OpenStack. That is something that is unique and valuable to customers on the cloud journey, as they continue to operate in a certain context.

Having VMware next to our public cloud, we see a lot of companies making that transition. They're also building and testing out OpenStack private clouds because of familiar characteristics. We have lots of customers using it, almost like an entry point.

I don't necessarily think our strategy is to try to match Amazon or Microsoft on features. We're carving out what our public cloud is great for -- where it resonates and where to use it -- and part of that is the multicloud strategy. There's not going to be a company that chooses just one cloud.

There's not going to be a company that chooses just one cloud.
John EngatesCTO at Rackspace

If people are using your public cloud as an entry point to OpenStack, does that mean your private cloud is a bigger business or priority for Rackspace?

Engates: I wouldn't say bigger. It's just one area where OpenStack as a platform seems to resonate. When you look at the companies offering OpenStack, consuming OpenStack -- the private cloud is the area where it's really successful. So, when we talk about what we're managing beyond just public cloud, it's really just an area that is building steam and something we can add a lot of value around.

One of your predictions for 2016 is there will continue to be a talent shortage, even for vendors. What's your advice for an enterprise operating in Middle America trying to hire and retain skilled employees?

Engates: We've actually been a company that has had to do it ourselves. We're not based on the East Coast or the West Coast. In some cases, that can be a positive, because you're not competing with everyone else. At the same time, there's the reverse problem that there is less talent to be had. It's one of the reasons we created the OpenStack Innovation Center with Intel, and other training for onboarding new talent and creating the talent ourselves.

Many companies are not in the same position to do that ...They might also want to embrace some open source projects. It's a great way to engage a talent base. People love to see their work put out there, and OpenStack has been a big win for us in terms of attracting developers.

Giving employees new ways to learn is a huge way to retain talent. You have smart people, but if you say, 'Work on this project for the rest of the foreseeable future,' it has a way of boxing them in. Most smart people want to grow their skills and capabilities.

Hybrid IT and multicloud deployments became a big focus in cloud this year, but we still haven't achieved one of those early promises of cloud -- portability. Do we get closer to that in 2016?

Engates: Containers actually are the first time we have an opportunity to enable those customers to move workloads more easily. But the truth of the matter is once a workload is placed somewhere, they don't want to move it if they don't need to move it.

At the same time, they do end up working with multiple clouds. Their next initiative might be built by a third party with expertise on Azure, or it may sit on AWS. Another might be built by someone in-house on OpenStack, so you end up in a multicloud world just by the fact that multiple applications are springing up in different locations.

You either need people with experience on all those platforms, or building tools that can work across all three and help with the governance of all of those. People don't want to have lots of different platforms looking different, so they want to bring them under one architectural view. We have lots of tools that integrate with those capabilities and give customers a single view into a lot of that, and a lot of the burden falls on Rackspace to manage the day to day, so, ultimately, customers don't have to do as much to get the benefits and reap the reward of cloud.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at tjones@techtarget.com.

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