Rackspace Finds the Future of Cloud Computing -- Give It Away

Last Updated Jul 19, 2010 8:00 PM EDT

Rackspace (RAX) announced a partnership with NASA and an open-source cloud platform called OpenStack. The concept is to give away a platform for private clouds, like a infrastructure-oriented Google (GOOG) Android. It's a smart move and one that will continue to twist arms of the enterprise-business-as-usual gang.

To date, cloud computing has become a focus of vendors that want to lock corporations into "their way" of doing cloud. Microsoft (MSFT) wants all-in on Azure. Amazon (AMZN) wants companies to use its services. IBM has its services -- and all of it is proprietary. No wonder. The vendors well understand the profit they can make from locking in customers.

So what does Rackspace, an outsourced infrastructure provider, do? It knows that large corporations will work with a combination of private clouds that they host themselves, and public clouds that essentially offer on-demand instant provisioning of resources. The company sees itself as a service provider, but understands that much of what corporations do, particularly as they warm up to the idea of having systems on a public cloud, will remain in-house. So why not enable potential clients to run a cloud on the same systems Rackspace uses itself? And between what Rackspace and NASA have both developed, it's something that will have substance:

  • fully-distributed file and media storage and delivery
  • scalable compute-provisioning engine for large-scale deployments
  • Apache 2.0 license, so companies can run the systems, build on them, or submit changes back into the open source projects
Rackspace and NASA put forward the argument that an open source approach is necessary as the only way to promote cloud standards and avoid proprietary vendor lock-in. Smart, smart, smart. Rackspace sets itself up to look like a reasonable hero and helps ensure that some number of large corporations adopt its software and then grow to feel comfortable to use Rackspace when a public cloud project is feasible.

Because both Rackspace and NASA have used parts of the software to power large-scale projects, OpenStack has a huge leap ahead of many open source projects, because potential users already know that it has worked. The effort has also gained important third-party support from the likes of Intel (INTC), Dell (DELL), and Citrix (CTXS). And making the software open source, even under the Apache 2.0 license, has no danger for Rackspace. What competitor would want to admit that it had used the company's software to drive its own cloud services?


Images: RGBStock.com users jdeboer, and mzacha, site standard licensing. Photo editing: Erik Sherman.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.