Rackspace's OpenStack Cloud: Where Does The Channel Play?

Rackspace launched its OpenStack open source cloud computing platform earlier this year to a great deal of fanfare and whispers that it could represent a major shift in the cloud computing landscape.

It's still early in the OpenStack initiative, an open source private cloud software platform through which Rackspace is opening up its Cloud Servers cloud compute and Cloud Files cloud storage code. But Rackspace is on the cusp of releasing the first major update -- and the first to include compute code -- to OpenStack since it launched in July. The October 21 release, code-named "Austin," will be geared toward developers and is designed to get them up to speed with OpenStack on a small scale of roughly 100 servers before the full multi-cluster, 1,000-server release in January.

At its Partner Leadership Summit in San Antonio on Wednesday, Rackspace outlined what role the channel will play in the OpenStack initiative and how partners can leverage the open source technology to launch new services and build a new revenue stream.

John Engates, Rackspace CTO, said partners can leverage OpenStack in several ways. They can contribute code, use the platform as a deployment target for client applications, add it on as a part of their software stack or launch consulting services around it.

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"If you're building for the cloud...you want to think about where that application gets deployed," he said, adding that OpenStack will be compatible with Rackspace's public cloud so partners could help their clients move applications between the OpenStack private cloud and the Rackspace public cloud.

NEXT: An Evolving Ecosystem

Other possibilities for partners include hosted private clouds and targeted verticals, where a solution provider could build a private cloud for customers in a Rackspace data center or another cloud provider's data center using OpenStack. OpenStack add-ons and plug-ins like billing engines or management tools are also a possibility as solution providers look to leverage the open source cloud play.

"It really is an ecosystem that's evolving," Engates said.

Christopher Rajiah, Rackspace's director of North American Channels, said OpenStack will give solution providers a new flexibility to leverage cloud resources, while data center VARs with clients that are evolving into the cloud can start by using OpenStack internally and use it as a stepping stone before migrating customers onto a public cloud platform. MSPs, Rajiah added, can also leverage it as a cloud service offering and write to it.

Rackspace Vice President of Corporate Development Jim Curry said OpenStack took the market by surprise and as potential users and partners warm up to it, it will make inroads in the channel.

"When OpenStack launched, it caused people to freeze up and look at it and try to understand it," he said. In the nearly three months since it launched, Curry said partners have shown interest and he expects strong traction come 2011's second quarter.

NEXT: Partners Weigh In

"It's a project, not a product," Curry said. "Somebody's got to take the code and make it work. Channel partners need to understand how to do that. We're giving them the hooks to plug it in; our goal is for them to take that to their customers."

And as OpenStack starts to take shape, partners are examining its potential within their organizations.

"It's another indicator of how serious they are about this channel community," said John Murphy, executive vice president at Thornton, Colo.-based solution provider Advanced Systems Group. Still, Murphy said he's waiting for the OpenStack platform to mature before he decides its place within his company. He added he wants Rackspace to "show me how this works" within his business before he signs on.

Meanwhile, the CTO of one large systems integrator in the northeast said that in the future OpenStack could play a role in helping solution providers seamlessly manage public and private environments; much like some integrators are doing with VMware's vCloud Director.

"We're going to have to help our customers whether it's vCloud Director or OpenStack, build APIs that tie back into their systems," that CTO said, adding that OpenStack is still evolving and it will be up to solution providers to help their clients understand what it means and where integration points are.

NEXT: Early Successes

Josh McDonald, technical services IT manager for HCSS, a Sugar Land, Texas-based construction software and services firm, said his company is currently running its software in Rackspace cloud environments and can see OpenStack coming into play in the future.

McDonald said he sees two potential avenues for OpenStack within HCSS: Utilizing its software and scalability with OpenStack or writing its own software on top of the OpenStack platform.

"If OpenStack takes off, cloud providers are going to be easier to work with," he said.

And so far, it appears OpenStack is poised to take off. Curry said more than 35 technology partners including AMD, Dell, Intel and dozens more, have signed on, and more are on the way. Many of those partners have contributed code to the initiative, Curry said. More than 2,000 patches and bug fixes have been submitted and 57 branches of code have been created on the compute side. Additionally, OpenStack supports multiple hypervisors, and will support more with the Oct. 21 release including Xen, KVM, UVM and VirtualBox.

"Its early success hit a vain of interest," Curry said. "It's a technology that someone can make a bet on."