During a phone call this morning, Rackspace Cloud President Lew Moorman flatly dismissed allegations that his company bought Anso Labs to gain extra power within the OpenStack community, and acknowledged that Rackspace is in talks with Microsoft about providing a managed version of Windows Azure. Rackspace has made the headlines twice this week — first for buying Anso Labs, a San Francisco-based consulting firm that helped NASA develop its Nova cloud-computing software and launch its Nebula cloud, then for topping $100 million in cloud revenue in 2010 — and Moorman addressed both in order.
On Anso Labs and OpenStack
The Anso Labs deal is very notable, actually, because Anso was the brains behind Nova, the computing software that runs NASA’s Nebula cloud and that comprises the compute component of OpenStack. Bringing it in-house likely will help improve the process of developing that technology, as well as the process of integrating it with the OpenStack Storage component originally developed by Rackspace. Issues arose, however, when someone started counting seats and realized that by acquiring Anso Labs, Rackspace now has 3 of 4 seats on the OpenStack governance board and 9 of 10 seats on the Project Oversight Committee. Because OpenStack is an open source community, such a sudden shift in power stoked fears that Rackspace bought Anso Labs so it could push its own agenda within OpenStack.
Moorman says there is “no truth at all” to these allegations. In fact, he added, the concerns are reasonable, and Rackspace will listen to them before, probably, suggesting changes to the governing board. “If we end up becoming a dictator in this thing,” he explained, “it won’t go anywhere.” That’s why Rackspace has yet to deny membership to any contributor or to reject anybody’s code. Further, he noted, that with major vendors such as Citrix, Dell and Cisco getting more involved with OpenStack, Rackspace wouldn’t likely be able to rule the project with an iron fist even if it wanted to. The “community is going to continue to hold us to account,” he said.
That being said, Rackspace does intend to make money off of OpenStack. It won’t do so by utilizing Anso Labs’ expertise to develop a Rackspace-only version of OpenStack or a premium version that it could sell to third parties, but Moorman said Rackspace is “working through” how it might offer support services to organizations deploying OpenStack. Anso Labs presents some interesting capabilities in terms of actual deployment support, Moorman noted, and there’s always Rackspace’s trademarked “Fanatical Support.” Another option he suggested might be selling Cloudkick’s monitoring and management software to OpenStack users. Rackspace will be “much more explicit” about its OpenStack support plans in the next month or so, but, Moorman clarified, adoption of the software is still its No. 1 goal, and Rackspace won’t compete too aggressively against its community partners.
On Driving More Cloud Revenues
Whatever money Rackspace is able to realize from OpenStack support will just be more padding on the “cloud revenue” line of its quarterly earnings statements. Cloud revenue consists of Cloud Servers, Cloud Files, Cloud Sites and Rackspace’s managed email offering (although Moorman said the former two drive it) and it topped $100 million in 2010. Moorman said Rackspace isn’t seeing any decline in interest for cloud services, and it only has plans to add more options to its cloud portfolio. He hinted at forthcoming PaaS and/or SaaS offerings, stating that Rackspace definitely will move up the stack, as well as bring traditional hosting services such as security and load balancing to the cloud. Surprisingly, Moorman also said Rackspace is “actively engaged” in talking with Microsoft about offering a managed version of Windows Azure, although there are no plans in place yet.
In the end, though, Moorman does think OpenStack will be integral to Rackspace’s cloud success, even though the company has done just fine without it. The reason is that he views cloud computing as an ecosystem-driven business, a theory bolstered by the growing footprints of cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and VMware. He thinks OpenStack can serve the role of the cloud’s open ecosystem, and that Rackspace will reap a goodly amount of business from being part of it. And there’s a lot of business to be had; referencing Guy Rosen’s monthly count of which cloud providers are hosting the greatest number of large web sites, Moorman noted that the top six cloud providers combine to host less than 2 percent of the top 500,000 sites.
If Rackspace emerges from what’s now a mini telco buying spree independent — a possibility that seems increasingly likely given its fast-growing business and penchant for making its own acquisition lately — it appears poised to finally make a run at Amazon Web Services. If not in users, in revenue, but not without a thriving OpenStack ecosystem.
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