Rackspace formally announced a program designed to target start-up companies as customers for its cloud computing products and services on March 11. Titled the “Rackspace Startup Program,” the strategy makes available Rackspace’s cloud computing offering to startups that are part of incubator and accelerator programs such as 500 Startups, TechStars, Y Combinator and General Assembly. Based on the understanding that Rackspace itself was a startup, the program offers customized guidance about deploying applications within a cloud computing environment alongside its Rackspace and OpenStack cloud resources. The program offers yet another illustration of divergences between Rackspace’s business model and that of Amazon Web Services. Whereas Amazon Web Services represents a pure product offering, Rackspace provides product enhanced services that complement its cloud offering with consulting services such as those recently formalized by its Cloud Builders service line. Dubset marks an example of a startup that uses Rackspace’s services to stream music and track and perform analytics on what gets played. In a note on Rackspace’s blog, Dubset reports that their “costs are low and we never have to worry about our Cloud Servers.” Alongside the release of its Startup Program, Rackspace also announced the availability of version 2.0 of its cloud computing application, Rackspace Cloud 2.0, which can additionally be accessed by iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The free iPhone and iPod Touch application enables cloud managers and development teams to access and transform their cloud computing environments while away from their desktop or laptop consoles.
Rackspace, Dell and Equinix have decided to launch a demonstration environment of OpenStack, an open source, Infrastructure as a Service cloud computing platform. The OpenStack demonstration environment is intended to entice customers to investigate OpenStack’s cloud computing facilities to the point where they subsequently decide to purchase service offerings that manage the process of building and maintaining a customer’s application environment in the cloud. Rackspace, for example, has a service offering called Cloud Builders that facilitates the process of transitioning a customer’s internally hosted applications into a cloud computing environment. Cloud Builders assists customers design and launch applications either within a public cloud analogous to Amazon Web Services, or a private cloud behind the customer’s own firewall within their own data center.
The OpenStack demo environment will be available in three locations: the Rackspace data center in Chicago, and Equinix data centers in Silicon Valley and Ashburn, VA. The platform will run on Dell’s PowerEdge Intel C based server technology, Platform Equinix, a delivery platform for data centers across the U.S., OpenStack’s open source cloud computing code and Rackspace’s Cloud Builders services and support. OpenStack began in October 2010 as a collaboration between NASA and Rackspace designed to deliver a scalable, open source cloud computing operating system. The project features OpenStack Compute and OpenStack Storage, which respectively provide services to provision virtual servers and deliver an infrastructure for storing terabytes and petabytes of data. Today, over 50 companies have participated in the OpenStack project by providing technical expertise, mindshare, capital and real-time application deployments from partners such as Dell, AMD, Intel, Citrix and Cisco.
The demo of OpenStack represents an important moment for Rackspace, one of the key leaders in the OpenStack initiative. With the release of Cloud Builders, Rackspace has elected to pursue a business model diametrically opposed to Amazon Web Services because it offers customers an array of services to complement its product offering. Amazon Web Services, in contrast, delivers a highly streamlined, flexible, inexpensive deployment environment and experience that explicitly eschews consultative sales and service offerings, with minor exceptions for its premium support customers. If successful, the demo of OpenStack should make Rackspace an even more attractive target for acquisition amidst a flurry of impending acquisition speculations following the recent purchases of Terremark by Verizon and NaviSite by Time Warner. Rackspace CEO, Lanham Napier, denies interest in acquisition conversations in favor of a continued policy of organic growth and revenue stemming from its own acquisitions, such as cloud computing developer Anso Labs in February of 2011. Rackspace also acquired Cloudkick, the cloud monitoring company, in December of last year.
With IT budgets increasingly stretched thin, CIOs in large scale enterprises are considering cloud computing because it offers an alternative to data centers containing expensive servers that need to be constantly maintained by expensive technicians and periodically replaced. Alongside IT hardware, electricity constitutes the other notable expense associated with data centers and represents a commodity that, like capital investments in equipment, stands to be decreased as a result of a transition to a cloud computing model of software delivery and development. In a cloud computing environment, subscribers pay only for usage of instances of a server and hence avoid both the capital investment in servers and the constant drain of power and ventilation required to maintain data centers.
Large enterprises additionally face the challenge of maintaining chaotic assemblages of hardware that have been acquired over generations and vary considerably depending on the needs of each business unit. Upgrading fleets of servers and machines represents a significant logistical and technical challenge that requires standardizing security applications over a wide range of machines and operating systems. A cloud computing model enables large enterprises to render their security policy uniform and scalable as its hardware needs change over time.
Cloud computing also offers opportunities for collaboration and innovation amongst geographically dispersed business units that confront technological challenges in sharing their work and methodologies. By using a cloud computing model that provides an interface to a set of shared resources, geographically disparate employees have the opportunity to share information and innovate through a common platform with standardized tools. Moreover, a transition to cloud computing frees up IT staff to drive innovation within their business units instead of dedicating resources to maintaining data center resources whose capacity has been increasingly utilized given the proliferation of automated, computationally intensive or web-based technologies. IT executives now have the freedom to collaborate closely with strategic business leadership to determine how best to utilize technology to foster innovation, shorten delivery cycles and decrease costs.
Factors that large enterprises need to consider when transitioning to cloud computing include the following:
• Cost savings (a demonstrated return on investment due to decreased costs for investment in hardware, space, ventilation and electricity)
• Visibility to the performance and processes of Virtual Machines (VM) enabled by technology known as virtualization that hosts more than one image or instance of a machine on a single physical machine
• Control over deployment of the cloud and the ability to edit settings, provision or cancel machines at will and deploy additional technologies
• Security considerations and the opportunity to standardize security software across a diverse range of machines housed in different business units, enabling a more robust, enterprise wide security policy
• Accounting concerns related to integration of cloud computing costs with the enterprise’s accounting processes
Additionally, the opportunity to foster increased organizational collaboration and innovation represents another factor to consider as large enterprises consider a transition to cloud computing by way of a more easily accessible IT infrastructure for exchanging ideas across different business units and geographically dispersed offices.
Despite the benefits of transitioning to a cloud computing for a large scale enterprise, executing the transition from a data center environment to a cloud based approach requires significant planning and strategic leadership. Security and system uptime remain the two issues most frequently cited by CIOs as deterrents to executing a cloud based IT strategy. For large scale enterprises, security and system uptime concerns can be most effectively managed by a robust governance process that takes responsibility for service level agreements, security, regulatory compliance and ensuring that the enterprise’s IT strategy is synchronized with the company’s larger business strategy. Robust governance processes need to be supplemented by a cloud strategy that spells forth how people, processes and technology will enable the transition to a cloud based model of computing for the organization.
Amazon Web Services has recently released Elastic Beanstalk and CloudFormation, two applications that automate the process of provisioning hardware resources and deploying applications on AWS’s flexible, inexpensive development environment. Introduced on January 19, Elastic Beanstalk automates the process of deploying an application on Amazon’s virtual servers once it has been written. Currently in Beta mode for Java applications only, Elastic Beanstalk manages the specifics of provisioning servers, load balancing and auto-scaling for unexpected spikes in the volume of traffic once an application is written. Elastic Beanstalk’s auto-scaling functionality scales horizontally by creating a clone of the original server instance, instead of vertically provisioning a larger server with a correspondingly appropriate memory. Developers retain the flexibility to over-ride Elastic Beanstalk’s auto-scaling features, in which case the application conforms to the scaling parameters indicated by the user.
Like Elastic Beanstalk, CloudFormation fulfills an analogous, but more ambitious function of automating application deployment. Launched on February 25, CloudFormation uses templates to automate creation of an integrated hardware infrastructure for an application containing multiple components. For example, CloudFormation takes the images, storage, security and messaging components of an application, understands their dependencies, and launches them in the right order using the template. In other words, instead of requiring a developer to write discrete scripts for each individual Amazon Machine Instance (AMI), CloudFormation gathers together certain parameters specified by a developer and creates one script for the requisite “stack” of Amazon Machine Instances of servers that collectively specifies elastic IP addresses, message queues, load balancing and auto-scaling. CloudFormation operates through JSON templates that are used to understand an application’s configuration parameters.
In his AWS blog post about CloudFormation, Jeff Barr uses the metaphor of cooking and baking to describe the application’s innovation and importance. While cooking allows for individual discretion and ad hoc changes to a recipe, baking requires precise combinations of ingredients that allow for cookies of the same taste and texture to emerge from the oven time and time again. In the same vein, CloudFormation enables developers to become bakers by automating the creation of complex systems. Moreover, developers may wish to create the same development environment a number of times, and instead of memorizing and repeating the execution of the same set of scripts over and over again, they can now use CloudFormation to automate and scale their development needs. Amazon released CloudFormation with templates for a number of open source applications such as Drupal, WordPress, Gollum and Joomla.
Amazon’s Jeff Barr put it as follows:
First, AWS is programmable, so it should be possible to build even complex systems (sometimes called “stacks”) using repeatable processes. Second, the dynamic nature of AWS makes people want to create multiple precise copies of their operating environment. This could be to create extra stacks for development and testing, or to replicate them across multiple AWS Regions….Today, all of you cooks get to become bakers!
Together with Elastic Beanstalk, CloudFormation goes a long way toward streamlining the process of deploying applications on Amazon’s EC2 environment. Despite Amazon’s lack of managed services, the 2011 first quarter release of both of these applications should render AWS more attractive to both small and enterprise customers alike.
Joyent is a cloud computing vendor based in San Francisco. Founded by David Young (CEO) and David Hoffman (Chief Scientist) in 2004, Joyent is an Infrastructure as a Service vendor whose business model targets large scale enterprises, particularly in the online gaming space. Joyent has created its own technology stack called SmartDataCenter that it either licenses to third party customers or uses to deliver cloud computing services directly to customers such as LinkedIn, Kabam and the Gilt Groupe. Unlike other cloud computing vendors, Joyent takes virtualization a step further than hardware virtualization by virtualizing its cloud computing operating system over a pool of hardware resources that guarantees applications access to hardware resources. Because Joyent’s cloud computing operating system is virtualized, every application that operates on its SmartOS platform has access to its entire fleet of servers, with the result that customers need not create procedures for provisioning additional server resources as necessary. Applications on Joyent’s SmartOS platform are de facto deterritorialized across Joyent’s collective pool of hardware resources.
Joyent’s website describes its application virtualization as follows:
The SmartMachine has been designed to be very transparent to the underlying operating system, Joyent SmartOS. SmartOS uses this visibility into the SmartMachine to provide all SmartMachines with as-needed access to a pool of all available resources on a single piece of hardware while still providing each SmartMachine with minimum guaranteed access to resources based on a pre-established fair share schedule. This transparency also allows the underlying operating system, Joyent SmartOS, to identify underutilized resources and use them to provide enhanced application performance management. In normal operating conditions, all RAM and CPU resources are either directly used by applications, or are being used by the operating system to optimize disk I/O and provide other performance enhancements to the SmartMachines.
Source: “Joyent: Application Virtualization Hosting”
Joyent’s claim here is that the virtualization of the SmartOS operating system on which all of its applications run enables it to maximize productivity by identifying “underutilized resources” that can in turn be deployed to enhance “application performance management.” A series of third party benchmarking tests by the IMS company claimed that Joyent SmartMachines, Windows Virtual Machines and Linux Virtual Machines outperformed its Amazon EC2 server counterparts. Specifically, the IMS company claimed that Joyent SmartMachine’s disk I/O, Linux Virtual Machine CPU and Windows Virtual Machine disk I/O were faster than the corresponding Amazon EC2 machine by factors of 14, 5 and 2 respectively. Everyone in the cloud computing space knows that benchmarking tests are notoriously difficult to appraise, but Joyent’s willingness to position itself directly against Amazon EC2 in both press releases and company webinars speaks volumes about its confidence to execute.
Joyent’s CTO Mark Mayo attributes its performance to its application virtualization design: “Most people have resigned themselves to painfully slow disk I/O in the cloud,” Mayo noted. “But these results demonstrate that they don’t have to settle for mediocrity. Joyent’s cloud architecture uses lightweight virtualization that doesn’t impose overhead on I/O, so SmartMachines are as much as 14 times faster than Amazon’s EC2 machines.”
Performance marks one of many factors to consider when choosing a cloud computing vendor, but the IMS Company’s results nevertheless beg the question of whether Amazon’s market share leader position has compromised the performance and speed of its EC2 product offering. Conversely, cloud customers will need to consider whether Joyent has the capacity to accommodate more and more enterprise customers that are likely to strain an infrastructure that already supports computationally intensive applications from customers such as Kabam, Social Gaming Universe and Neverbug Entertainment and ZooLife.
In a December 2010 article titled “Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service and Web Hosting”, Gartner positioned Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a visionary within its Magic Quadrant in the Cloud Computing Space. Within the “Visionary” category, Amazon was joined by GoGrid, CSC, Joyent and IBM whereas the “Leaders” box was occupied by Savvis, AT&T, Rackspace, Verizon Business and Terremark Worldwide. Gartner’s designation of AWS as a visionary was widely controversial given its first mover advantage in the cloud computing space, its dominance of cloud computing market share and the unparalleled depth of its features and functionality. In its critique of AWS, Gartner noted that Amazon lacked managed services that catered to the needs of customers who required customized management of data and applications that have been transferred to the cloud. Moreover, Gartner claimed that Amazon lacked colocation and dedicated non-virtualized servers, charged separately for items that are often bundled for free in the offerings of its competitors, and was fundamentally developer-centric, rather than enterprise oriented.
This article claims that Gartner’s criticisms about Amazon’s “lack of managed services” are misguided and reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of its business model and strategic objectives. On one hand, Gartner is right to claim that Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing service lacks managed services that provide enterprise customers with the personalized attention to which they have been accustomed when purchasing IT services from vendors such as IBM, SAP or Siemens Soarian. That having been said, Amazon’s cloud computing business model is designed to eschew the personalized attention specific to the procurement process and subsequent customized management of its cloud computing services. Amazon’s EC2 platform provides the most flexible, easily configurable, streamlined process for deploying software applications in the cloud computing space, today. In exchange for Amazon’s low pricing and array of applications for provisioning servers and associated applications with a few clicks of the mouse, enterprise customers will need to abandon the expectation that they will receive customized attention from their cloud computing vendor. Just as Wal-Mart bifurcated the department store experience into those stores that compete in price and those that offer customers personalized attention during the shopping process, Amazon intends the same in the cloud computing market: take advantage of its low pricing and bevy of applications for streamlining the deployment experience such as Hadoop, Elastic Beanstalk and CloudFormation, or go elsewhere. Gartner is right to claim that Amazon is fundamentally developer-centric, but it misses the reality that Amazon’s business model conflates developer-centric with enterprise oriented by providing large scale enterprises with unparalleled ease of deployment and application management experience. To repeat: for Amazon Web Services, developer-centric is enterprise oriented, but in a way that departs from the traditional model by which large-scale enterprises have been used to procuring IT services by receiving customized pricing, product demonstrations and walk-throughs for C-level stakeholders, negotiation about customized features and functionality, and customized management of services, post-signing. Instead, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, its CTO Werner Vogels and the rest of AWS’s executive team have thrown the ball into the court of C-level executives at the enterprise level and its development managers, daring them to take or leave the flexibility of its deployment platform and attractive pricing.
Our next postings will elaborate more on precisely how Amazon’s product functionalities and 2011 product roadmap simplifies and streamlines the development experience for large scale enterprises. We will examine Elastic Beanstalk, CloudFormation, its VMWare Plug-in, integration of Zeus Load Balancer and its premium support services in more detail.