Summary:

Rackspace is now offering official support services for the OpenStack cloud platform under the moniker of Rackspace Cloud Builders. Until now, companies wishing to deploy OpenStack-based cloud offerings had to either rely on community members for informal support or seek out third-party consultants.

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Rackspace is now offering official support services for the OpenStack cloud platform under the moniker of Rackspace Cloud Builders. OpenStack is the open source cloud computing project that Rackspace launched over the summer along with NASA, and which now includes dozens of contributing companies, far more developers and is on pace to be ready for service-provider-scale use next month. The Cloud Builders program offers three distinct services: training and certification, deployment services, and support and management. Until now, companies wishing to deploy OpenStack-based cloud offerings had to either rely on community members for informal support or seek out third-party consultants, so today’s news should be good news both for OpenStack adoption and for Rackspace’s bottom line.

I’ve asked Rackspace about this possibility before — most recently during a discussion with Rackspace Cloud President Lew Moorman — and it has always alluded to this possibility without coming right out and acknowledging that paid support was coming. But it makes perfect sense for a couple of reasons. For one, according to Jim Curry, general manager of Rackspace Cloud Builders, the business should be a boon to OpenStack adoption. Already, he said, the project heard from some companies that the lack of a formal support service was a primary barrier to adoption. In fact, he added, Rackspace has several beta customers for Cloud Builders that probably wouldn’t be anywhere near deployment without this level of support. OpenStack users, especially those deploying it for production use, want to ensure their infrastructures are optimally designed and that they have someone to turn to for support down the line. Internap, for example, relied on consulting firm Cloudscaling to help build its OpenStack-based cloud storage offering. As expected, Curry said Anso Labs, the company Rackspace acquired last month, and which was a major factor in building NASA’s cloud software and infrastructure, will play a big part in Cloud Builders.

For Rackspace, paid support is a way to capitalize on this demand and monetize a project into which it has likely sunk considerable resources, at least in terms of man-hours. The company’s cloud computing business contributed more than $100 million to Rackspace’s bottom line in 2010, and the Cloud Builders business could eventually become a big part of growing that amount even higher. I asked Curry if there’s any concern among OpenStack members about Rackspace reaping benefits from the project as the de facto, at least, official support arm for OpenStack, and he said there isn’t, at least as far as organizational members go. In part, this is because OpenStack deployments will require more than just the cloud software, so there’s the chance for every vendor with OpenStack interoperability to be part of the deals. Case in point: At this week’s Cloud Connect conference, Rackspace, Dell and Opscode will be demonstrating fully operational OpenStack deployments featuring the OpenStack software in combination with Dell’s OpenStack installer tool and Opscode’s Chef infrastructure automation software.

It’s all coming together for OpenStack in terms of technology and business model, so now we play the waiting game. The OpenStack Compute component should be ready for service provider use after next month’s design summit, and with formal support as an option, we should begin seeing more providers, and possibly some large businesses, coming online with OpenStack-based clouds. Then we’ll see how big this project can become, and how much money Rackspace can make by growing its cloud business beyond just hosting.

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