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Summary:

There are clouds and then there are clouds, but Taylor Rhodes would argue that cloud is just one of several deployment models that will be around for a long time.

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Taylor Rhodes, who’s been Rackspace’s president for about a month,talked to us this week about his vision for the company. Here are a few key takeaways from this week’s Structure Show.

1: There are clouds and then there are clouds

Rackspace sees two components to cloud — the platform and the services which run atop that platform.  Rhodes characterized Amazon Web Services as a proprietary stack which customers use to run things for themselves.

Rackspace’s job is to provide the services and know-how to run applications optimally atop the platform — whether that platform is internal to the customer, Rackspace hosting, private or public cloud. “Cloud is another form factor, just as dedicated [hosting] is a form factor. We say it’s not just the platform but what runs on top and how much service you want atop that.”

Cloud is “excellent for many things but it doesn’t take away the work to make applications run right.”

Net, net, Rackspace is betting that there will always be customers who want to do-it-themselves atop someone else’s cloud. And there will also be customers who want to offload not only the platform aspect but the  high-end services and application work atop the platform.

2: Focus is key, but there’s more than one way to focus

Rackspace succeeded in its first decade because it had a vision and stuck to it, Rhodes said.  “We invented the managed hosting industry and pretty much stuck to our knitting,” he said. That’s not to say it wasn’t pushed to do other things. “Big customers would come to us us to take over our data centers and do desktop support … we stayed successful by saying no to those lures”

He acknowledged some of that focus may have been softened by the proliferation of cloud market hype, but vows that will end. “Our strategy in 2014 is returning to our roots as specialized focused player but one that offers business customers a range of options from dedicated hosting to hybrid cloud –with private and public cloud components.

“We don’t look at dedicated hosting as our old business but a killer feature of a hybrid cloud system,” he said.

3: The cloud opportunity is big, but maybe not big enough for all

With Amazon leading in public cloud and dipping its toe in private with the CIA and IBM, HP, Red Hat, Rackspace all pushing hybrid cloud vision, it’s fair to ask if there is enough paying work for for all these guys, he acknowledged.

“The market is a sorting mechanism over time. Clearly … the world won’t need 15 [clouds running at scale]  I don’t know if the right number in ten years is three or five or seven major players  but certainly early stages of seismic shifts in markets tend to have more players getting to a smaller set of player later.”

But there’s s much more here so listen up.  The guest segment starts at around minute 18; before that Derrick Harris and I gas on about Google App Engine’s Peter Magnusson’s surprise departure to Snapchat,  the OpenStack status quo and how new tools will let developers build artificial intelligence into their apps.

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Rackspace President Taylor Rhodes

Rackspace President Taylor Rhodes