Rackspace is leaping out ahead of VMware when it comes to helping VMware customers find their way to the hybrid cloud.
While customers wait for VMware to get its own cloud data centers into large-scale operation and further develop its vCloud Director software, Rackspace is offering to take VMware workloads into its managed service business and run them on servers using the standard VMware vCenter environment.
Rackspace Hosting already runs many VMware-based workloads in its managed service business, which is distinct from its Rackspace Public Cloud, an OpenStack implementation based on the open source hypervisors Xen and KVM.
Rackspace is encouraging VMware customers to make use of its new Managed Virtualization service by promising to run their VMware virtual machines on a vCenter host dedicated to their use and visible to their existing vCenter management console. In effect, VMware customers who sign up will be able to treat the Dedicated vCenter Server section of Rackspace's data center as an extension of their own data center. They'll be able to view their workloads in it through their own on-premises vCenter management tools.
[ Want more on Rackspace's reaction to VMware's hybrid cloud moves? See Rackspace Meets VMware Halfway On Hybrid Cloud. ]
To implement a true hybrid-cloud operation, however, will require an additional step. The hybrid cloud consists of operations in a private data center loosely coupled to related operations in the public cloud; the public cloud often serves the purpose of cloud bursting or scaling up when sudden demand presents itself. VMware recommends customers adopt the hybrid approach but says they will retain certain advantages if they adopt a VMware-based public cloud as opposed to Rackspace, Amazon Web Services or some other cloud supplier.
Under Rackspace's approach, a customer would migrate out of its Managed Virtualization service to get the elastic scaling and economies of scale of cloud computing; Rackspace will help the customer migrate into its Public Cloud, which does not currently run VMware's ESX hypervisor. The Rackspace cloud is based on OpenStack, whose default hypervisor is Red Hat's KVM; it also uses Citrix Xen Server.
Moving the customer's workload requires that it be converted to a different hypervisor, which would currently be Xen, said Nigel Beighton, Rackspace CTO for the U.K., in an interview. It would also require that workload to be managed under OpenStack tools. The customer would lose its visibility into the workload from the vCenter management console, Beighton acknowledged. The customer would also lose the ability to perform live migrations, something that the VMware approach to hybrid cloud seeks to preserve.
But there's work going on in the OpenStack open-source project to consolidate the VMware vCenter and OpenStack API sets so that one management tool could view workloads running in either environment. Beighton didn't care to predict when that work might bear fruit, but he said Rackspace is at work on a management interface that can work with both types of workloads. It will be ready sometime in 2014, he said.
Rackspace might anticipate the open-source project in producing such a combined interface, but Beighton said that wouldn't be unusual. Project participants often develop something for their own product line, then contribute it back to the community for general adoption, he said.
He said Rackspace already has "going on 3,000 customers that use RackConnect," an existing migration tool that manages the conversion between the VMware environment and the Rackspace Public Cloud. "They scale out their public-facing stuff to the public cloud. But when they want to execute transactions, they pull it back to the encrypted side of their private operations," he said. Domino's Pizza and Under Armour, the sports apparel retailer, are two customers using such hybrid operations, he said.
By establishing its Managed Virtualization service now, Rackspace is anticipating many customers don't need a public cloud service just yet. But they're thinking and planning for cloud operations in conjunction with their on-premises virtualized environments. And Rackspace is opening a door for them that will have a clear migration path behind it by the time they're ready to use it.
Rackspace is also refusing to concede that VMware, which is the clear market leader in enterprise virtualization, will also become the leading supplier of cloud services to VMware customers. Those customers can opt for an alternative, Rackspace Public Cloud, and probably one day won't have to sacrifice use of their vCenter management consoles to do so.