Rackspace debuts OpenStack cloud servers

After months of testing, Rackspace puts the first large scale OpenStack hosted deployment into operation

Following a four-month beta period, Rackspace has started offering its hosted servers and databases using the open source OpenStack suite of cloud software.

That OpenStack has been pressed into production use just two years after its launch, "is a great proof point for the maturity of the project," said Jim Curry, head of OpenStack at Rackspace.

Rackspace currently has over 180,000 customers of its hosted services. The company offers Windows and Linux servers, content delivery network services, and .NET and PHP hosting, all with associated management and monitoring services.

Starting Wednesday, when new customers log into Rackspace to requisition servers, they will interact with Rackspace Open Cloud services, which is based on the OpenStack Nova compute component. Rackspace has run the Swift object storage component of OpenStack for over 2 years for its Cloud Files storage service; it created the technology in-house and then contributed its code when it co-founded the OpenStack project.

Begun two years ago by NASA and Rackspace, the OpenStack project is an effort to create developa stack of open source software that can be used to provide IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) cloud services, either to customers or for internal use. The project rapidly gained popularity, attracting at last count the development efforts of over 3,300 programmers and 184 companies.

"When a customer signs up for a new cloud server, it will be powered with Nova cloud computing fabric. Historically, it has been powered using our legacy codebase," Curry said. Rackspace servers are priced from US$0.022 per hour (or $16.06 per month) for a Linux server with 512MB of working memory. A Windows server, with 1GB of working memory, starts at $0.08 per hour, or $58.40 per month.

Long-time users of Rackspace may not notice the switch to OpenStack at all, except for the fact they have been provided with a new control panel. Rackspace boasts that this control panel is easier to use, and provides more information. The OpenStack suite will allows users to provision resources much more quickly than they could have through Rackspace's previous console. An administrator can launch as many as 200 servers in 20 minutes.

Users can also tag servers, databases and other resources so they can be more easily identified and grouped. A searching capability has been added so users can search or filter by name, tag, IP address or some other identifier. The console also provides real-time status information about operational resources.

With the cloud service launch, Rackspace has also started offering instances of MySQL databases. The company claims that a single instance of this database can execute three times as many transactions as a similar offering from Amazon.

Rackspace is not alone in offering OpenStack cloud services. On Wednesday, Hewlett-Packard launched its HP Cloud Object Storage, also based on OpenStack.

Not everyone is so confident about OpenStack providing a competitive edge in cloud services, however. One customer found the Rackspace Cloud Files storage service slower than competing services, and attributed the shortcoming to OpenStack's immaturity.

"I'm skeptical that OpenStack is at the level it needs to be to provide for tier 1 storage," said Andres Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Nasuni. "We hope it can be as mature as Azure or Amazon, but right now this is an issue for Rackspace."

Nasuni provides managed storage services for its clients. To offer this service, it relies on cloud storage services, such as Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). The company routinely runs tests against the major providers of hosted storage as a way to identify the best providers.

In one of these tests, Nasuni compared transfer rates among Amazon S3, Microsoft Windows Azure and Rackspace. Testers moved a 12 TB block of data between different storage providers. They found that while it would take only 5 hours to move 12 TB from Rackspace to Amazon S3, it would take nearly a week to move that data in the opposite direction, from Amazon to Rackspace. Open Stack read and delete times also were slower than those of competing providers.

Such results might also apply to HP's offering, Rodriguez suggested. While Rackspace and other advocates praise the open source model for reducing potential lock-in, Rodriguez points to the slow transfer times as an example of how a service can discourage customers moving to competitors.

"This poor transfer-in performance gave rise to concerns within Nasuni about all the other clouds that are springing up based on OpenStack. It is hard for Nasuni's engineers to imagine that these other clouds based on OpenStack would perform better than Rackspace's Cloud Files, since Rackspace is OpenStack's premier reference implementation," stated the Nasuni report.

Rackspace disputed Nasuni's results, noting that Nasuni's tests were conducted during a Rackspace upgrade, when transfer times were temporarily slowed.

"Nasuni's tests were conducted during the brief period when Rackspace was implementing its hardware/software upgrades and the temporary rate limits were in place. As a result, we do not believe that the current Nasuni report reflects an accurate evaluation of Cloud Files or its performance in key areas such as data transfer rates, read errors and delete times," noted Scott Gibson, Rackspace director of product management, in a written statement.

Gibson also maintained that, after this upgrade, data rates for moving a 12TB block of data from Rackspace to another provider improved from one week to nine hours.

"We firmly believe that the cloud future will be around open and we think it will be significantly based around OpenStack," Curry said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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