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Summary:

Now Rackspace is positioning itself based on performance, not support. Which is a big shift for a company that’s touted fanatical support since it’s birth.

Rackspace CEO Lanham Napier.

Rackspace built its managed hosting and cloud businesses on its promise of “fanatical support” above and beyond what people could expect from, say, Amazon Web Services. But it’s pulled back on that messaging and is now pushing performance, performance, performance. One indication of that is its recent announcement of new high-performance cloud servers.

But there’s more:  In a letter sent to customers on November 4,  Rackspace CEO Lanham Napier  drove the message hard. He wrote:

 Our goal is more than just providing you with the fastest architecture — it’s to help you perform at the level that your users and your business demand. Architect faster, build faster, deploy faster, test faster, and of course run your applications faster.

He pointed readers to this Rackspace page for more information. The letter came out a few days after Napier published a blog post hinting at the shift to come.

It’s important to point out here that many third parties — including customers — said Rackspace’s devotion to customer support was no joke.  Dan Belcher, co-founder of Stackdriver said he witnessed one Rackspace marketer out-and-out refuse to promote a new service until its support metrics improved

David Mytton, CEO of Server Density, agreed that this change sounds like a big deal: “Fanatical support has been Rackspace’s entire value proposition from the beginning.” His take is that Rackspace is trying to position itself against AWS, which doesn’t have a great reputation for high performance, particularly disk I/O.  And, he noted, upstarts like Digital Ocean are gaining traction by offering SSDs and very quick instance launch times by default.

Rackspace didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Update: In a statement emailed Thursday night, Rackspace CMO Rick Jackson said:

“Fanatical Support is built into the DNA of Rackers and always will be. The ingredients of our Fanatical Support continuously evolves and expands to meet our customer needs. With the launch of Performance Cloud Servers, we now provide customers with even greater performance through hybrid computing, optimized for open technologies that preserves our customers’ freedom of choice, all backed by our award winning Fanatical Support.”

Other providers like Verizon are also positioning their  clouds for performance too, to eliminate the noisy neighbor problem that plagues shared environments.

Clearly, AWS heard those concerns around performance. On Thursday,  it announced several new bigger, faster SSD-backed instance types to address performance issues.

At any rate,  we’re early in the cloud computing era, but it looks like the battle ground is shifting from basic blocking-and-tackling to power and finesse.  Or maybe it’s just that AWS has built up such a tremendous lead in the market that everyone else is just fighting to stay relevant.

Note: this story was updated at 10:26 p.m. PST November 14, with Rackspace comment.

  1. Problem is, the Rackspace new “Performance Servers” still offer very low performance; especially when taking their cost into consideration.

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  2. Barb,

    Nice article.

    I find the RAX evolution in thinking pretty interesting. It also validates our own view on the market.

    They’ve evolved from “virtualization and cloud is hype” to “we are not a commodity cloud and do not compete with AWS” to “we compete head on with AWS, and are high performance for large scale out users”.

    The launch and relative success of the OpenStack project has really helped them. I’m sure that looking in the rear-view mirror, they are quite pleased about that decision. AWS remains as formidable a competitor as ever, though.

    Good for them, and welcome!

    At Internap (and previously Voxel) we’ve always believed that performance is key. That’s why we offer a bare metal cloud product (most popular with large customers who are super sensitive to performance). That’s why we wrote MIRO in 1996 – and it still underpins all our offerings.

    Performance is more than the speed of your instances, though. Performance comes from flexibility – being able to create the perfect infrastructure fabric for your application. That fabric might mean mixing colocation, bare metal compute, and virtualized compute. Even better if you can do that with a single provider, with a single API, and a single pane of glass.

    That’s performance, but without compromise.

    I’m glad to see more visibility about performance in the cloud. People talk about how AWS has dropped their pricing dozens and dozens as time. As far as I can tell, they’ve only dropped their prices by an average of 30-50% over the last 6 years. According to Moores law, they should have and could have done better. I think that point gets lost in the hype.

    AWS launching their new SSD instances so quickly after RAX launches their performance cloud is too cooincidental. Let’s give RAX some credit.

    It’s still early days even though sometimes the media (the “clouderati” in particular) sometimes act like its “game over”, and that competing even tangentially AWS is suicidal.

    Best Regards,

    Raj Dutt
    SVP Technology, Internap
    Founder, Voxel

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