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Rackspace cloud extends OpenStack management to Red Hat

The Rackspace cloud model of managing others' resources extends to a fellow OpenStack vendor for the first time, with support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform.

Rackspace continues to press ahead with its managed services model -- and, for the first time, is doing so with a vendor operating on the same open source cloud software project it helped create.

Rackspace now offers a managed version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform. The San Antonio-based company has offered various public and private iterations of OpenStack since the project was founded more than five years ago, but this marks the first time it has hitched its wagon to a particular distribution of the technology.

Rackspace Private Cloud powered by Red Hat comes with a 99.99% OpenStack API uptime guarantee, and allows users a full-stack certified Red Hat private cloud offering -- from the hypervisor to the guest operating system to the application tier.

The companies co-engineered the reference architecture for a prescribed deployment into select OpenStack and Red Hat projects supported by Rackspace: Nova, Cinder, Neutron, Heat, Horizon, Glance, Keystone, Ceph, Red Hat Satellite, Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack and Platform Director.

Red Hat will provide testing, and maintain code paths and back-porting for users who don't want to follow the six-month upgrade cycle. Rackspace can provide the subscription services for new users, or existing Red Hat customers can carry them over.

Rackspace's OpenStack offering is more of a specific reference architecture and plug-in enhancements than its own distribution, so the company could argue the two aren't technically competing in this space. The partnership does, however, speak directly to the company's mantra of managed support, said Lauren Nelson, an analyst with Forrester.

"It reinforces this notion of support services and fanatical support, and what better way to show that than by offering support services with your competitor," she said.

There are OpenStack distributions for private cloud from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Mirantis, IBM and others. Rackspace is usually in the same conversations with potential customers, but it's usually selected for its managed services or, in some cases, because of minimal licensing fees. It made sense for Rackspace to eventually partner with one of the distribution providers, and it was a natural fit to go with the one that has the most "OpenStack cred," Nelson added.

Rackspace said the deal is unique because of its long history with Red Hat, and the company has no immediate plans to extend its management services to other OpenStack providers' offerings.

The partnership follows similar deals made last year to provide managed services for the two largest public cloud platforms -- Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

The collaboration isn't particularly surprising -- the two companies have contributed nearly a third of all OpenStack code and they've partnered for a dozen years in various capacities. At one point, Rackspace had more Red Hat-certified engineers than Red Hat itself, according to Rackspace.

Rackspace is quick to point out that OpenStack isn't a product, but rather a project and set of tools to deploy a cloud distribution. Highlighting the common pain points of complexity and hiring and retaining qualified staff that come with the do-it-yourself approach to the technology, Rackspace is framing its offering as "OpenStack as a service," and said the benefit for Red Hat users will be the ability to avoid all the pitfalls of managing these workloads.

Rackspace, which has its origins in managed hosting, has long trumpeted its so-called fanatical support. In 2014, the company backed off from trying to be a major player in pure public cloud, and has since shifted to refocus on managed services for both public and private cloud.

The Red Hat partnership was rolled out this week at Rackspace::Solve in New York, the company's one-day roadshow that highlights its latest offerings. Some managed hosting customers in attendance were still exploring the move to cloud with Rackspace, or had public cloud workloads with Amazon or Microsoft not managed by Rackspace. But the level of support Rackspace provides them served as enough of an incentive to at least explore expanding to more managed cloud services from the vendor.

Publishing company O'Reilly Media Inc. uses Rackspace for private cloud. It also has workloads on AWS and DigitalOcean, and it's a beta user of Carina, Rackspace's open source container as a service project. The prospect of utilizing Rackspace cloud for more of its disparate workloads is appealing, and though it primarily runs on Ubuntu, the notion of being able to use Red Hat compliments the potential portability around Docker containers, said Andrew Odewahn, CTO of O'Reilly Media, based in Sebastopol, Calif.

"As we look, particularly, to take this Docker-focused architecture out, that level of support that is the promise behind a lot of these things is something that [we] and a lot of other companies need to look at," he said.

The cloud market is moving from early adopters to the next wave of mainstream users who will require a higher level of services and support. Within this shift, second-tier managed services providers will try to position themselves as trusted advisors.

"[Rackspace] is setting its company up for where the market is going -- there's no doubt," said Michelle Bailey, senior vice president of digital infrastructure and data center initiatives at 451 Research.

With 25,000 second-tier providers in the market, including players such as Datapipe and Dimension Data, the competition will heat up as this shift takes place. Larger competitors, such as IBM SoftLayer, are trying to capitalize as well.

"The world of public cloud will be dominated by a few hyperscale vendors' cloud, so we firmly believe the money to be made is everything that sits on top of the infrastructure," Bailey said.

Rackspace has been clear about how it will use OpenStack, and the company recognizes that some customers are looking for more off-the-shelf, commercially supported tools from Red Hat, Bailey said. It's also a boon for Red Hat, because it gets its sales team in front of more enterprise customers.

"It's a really good partnership," she said. "It's more complimentary than competitive."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected]

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