You want a cloud? What kind of cloud?
A public cloud, a la Amazon (AMZN) Web Services or Microsoft (MSFT) Azure that runs your applications on shared servers, storage, networking owned and operated by the cloud provider that you can’t even visit if you wanted to?
Or a private cloud that is dedicated to your company that you or your tech partner operate but gives you some of the flexibility and self-service capabilities that the public guys offer? A private cloud might mean that your HR department, for example, would ramp up computing power for certain jobs then switch it back off again as needed and pay the central IT authority as they go. How about a hybrid cloud that mixes the two?
Rackspace, (RAX) which perhaps more than any other provider lets you have cloud your way, is launching a sort of “cloud in a box” that puts servers, storage, and networking gear into an enclosure, ships it to the data center of your choice, and then manages it for you—all for a fee, of course, but a fee that is charged on an ongoing basis.
This offering uses OpenStack, the open-source cloud framework that Rackspace and NASA pioneered and is now backed by nearly every tech company (minus Amazon and Microsoft). OpenStack is set up to manage the servers, storage, and networking needed to run flexible IT infrastructure, aka “cloud.”
This offer might suit existing Rackspace customers who have geographical deployment needs beyond Rackspace’s own data centers, or companies that are sick and tired of managing their own IT. Rackspace is the self-proclaimed provider of “fanatical support” for both its own and third-party technology.
The new option involves Rackspace shipping out and installing at least two pieces of hardware where the customer wants them, and then setting them up and supporting them, said Darrin Hanson, Rackspace’s vice president of OpenStack Private Cloud.
Rackspace already supports its technology running in customer data centers so this cloud appliance idea is the next logical step. It means that Rackspace is actually delivering the computing, networking, and storage gear, preconfigured, pretested, and ready to go wherever the customer wants to run it (provided those facilities meet Rackspace’s standards on things like flooring and power).
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Last year Rackspace, which used to be all about selling and supporting its own private and public cloud products, got into the game of supporting customers who run AWS and Azure as well and this cloud appliance trend will probably continue with versions built to run VMware (VMW), Microsoft, MongoDB, and Hadoop, Hanson told Fortune.
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Whether Rackspace succeeds in becoming a sort of systems integrator to the stars depends very much on its pricing model and the quality of service it provides, especially in the OpenStack world, where there are dozens of options.