Rackspace officials want you to know that Rackspace is not a software company.
That the hosting company doesn't view its software as a major asset is obvious from its Web site, where the "Why Rackspace?" page cites support, uptime and expertise as the reasons to turn to its public cloud. But with the announcement this week that it plans to open-source its cloud platform, Rackspace's strategy has become more openly apparent.
Rackspace is a hosting company that is more interested in Fanatical Support -- the term it uses for its service-oriented approach -- than proprietary software.
When the company started up four years ago, it looked around for the right technology to use as the foundation for its cloud platform, said Jim Curry, Rackspace's VP of corporate development and director for OpenStack, the name of the open-source cloud initiative. But the right software didn't exist, so Rackspace took it upon itself to create it. But, stressed Curry, that doesn't mean the company ever lost sight of its mission.
Curry spoke to me Wednesday from OSCON -- O'Reilly's open source convention -- along with Jonathan Bryce, CTO of Rackspace and cloud and technical lead for OpenStack.
By building an open source community around its cloud software -- starting with OpenStack Object Storage, which is based on Rackspace's Cloud Files storage engine -- Rackspace is attempting to build some industry standards in a sector that needs them, but it isn't a decision that was undertaken lightly. Millions of dollars have been invested in the technology that RackSpace is open-sourcing, noted Bryce.
Of course, by easing the concerns of CIOs worried about the very real problem of vendor lock-in, Rackspace, the second-largest cloud computing provider, may make gains on the current number one -- Amazon.
Rackspace, said Curry, is always watching technology advances in the cloud world. As the company was considering the advantages of open-sourcing its cloud technology, some of its engineers took a look at components of NASA's Nebula cloud platform -- started by NASA two years ago -- that had been given back to the open source community. The code was good, said Curry, and Rackspace reached out to NASA to see if it was interested in taking part in an open-source cloud initiative.
NASA said yes, and the two organizations have already borrowed some of each other's pieces. Rackspace had already developed some components that NASA was just about to look into developing, said Curry. And Rackspace has borrowed some capabilities it didn't have from NASA.
Code for OpenStack Compute, a provisional computing engine based on technology from Nebula and Rackspace, will be available for free download in October.
NASA is one of more than two-dozen organizations that are participating in the CloudStack community, a group that Curry expects to grow quickly, as other companies continue to express interest. Major IT players like AMD, Citrix, Dell and Intel are taking part, but the list of participants also includes Cloud.com, for example -- provider of an open-source cloud platform. Rackspace, Curry added, will maintain its leadership role in the OpenStack initiative, but it is open to working with anyone.
Many of the OpenStack partners will take the advances and roll them back into their proprietary projects, thanks to the Apache 2 license, which allows them to do just that. And Rackspace has no problems with them using the cloud software it's developing in that way.
The point of OpenStack, emphasized Bryce, is to "accelerate the development of the cloud" with industry standards. Rackspace wants technological innovation to come quicker in the cloud, and believes that an open-source community is the best way to foster that. There's room for a lot of different approaches in the cloud, added Curry, and there will always be instances where specific proprietary technology is called for.How have people at OSCON reacted to the OpenStack announcement? "Why didn't someone do this sooner?" said Curry.