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8/26/2013
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Rackspace Challenges VMware With 'Host Anywhere' Strategy

Not every VMware customer wants a VMware public cloud, says Rackspace CMO and former VMware exec Rick Jackson. That's where Rackspace comes in.

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Rick Jackson is the former chief marketing officer at VMware. His exit was one of several earlier this year that seemed to say there was a mass migration going on from what had been one of the Silicon Valley's leading companies. His followed on the heels of VMware CTO Steve Herrod's and co-president Tod Nielsen's departures.

Then, on the other hand, there had been regime change, with Pat Gelsinger coming in as CEO for Paul Maritz. Smart people don't always wait around for the new boss to discover you're closely associated with a high-profile failure of the previous administration, the vRAM pricing foray, and Rick Jackson was one of those smart people.

"I was the one most nervous about the introduction of vRAM," he recalled in an interview in the hang-out space on opening day at this year's VMworld. The user group event got underway in San Francisco Monday. As VMware's chief marketing officer during VMworld 2011, "I was concerned about how such a move was going to be publicly perceived, and I said so."

[ Want more about Rackspace? See Rackspace Challenges VMware For Hybrid Cloud Users. ]

That made it nearly inevitable, he guessed at this point, that when it came time to choose a speaker to present vRAM, "I drew the short straw." Jackson offered the explanation of how VMware was instituting charges based on the amount of vRAM a virtual machine used -- a defacto yardstick for the size of the VM. A storm of protest followed from customers who saw it as a way to charge more for the same product line, although Jackson notes in retrospect relatively few customers were immediately affected by the change. Two months ago, Jackson showed up as chief marketing officer of Rackspace, to the consternation of those who believe business executives should never leave and join a competitor. That certainly never happened to Microsoft, Google or Amazon.com, heaven knows.

Now Jackson is busy fashioning a new marketing message for Rackspace, the sometimes beleaguered originator of OpenStack cloud software and first large public implementer of it. Rackspace has touted its "fanatical support," but Jackson would like to enlarge upon its past positioning.

A conversation that he currently has with VMware's customers -- he knows a few -- is that VMware has been great for virtualizing existing workloads in the data center, resulting in more applications on each server and a consolidation of servers in the data center. Rackspace understands the need to do this and will even assist customers to send their workloads to its new vCenter Server part of its managed service business. It also operates a vCloud Director-compatible environment, so customers who wish to move from the managed service into a public cloud may do so with no change of virtual machine format or management tools.

But, Jackson adds -- and it's a big "but" -- many VMware cloud users are not looking to find a public cloud vendor who merely duplicates the same environment with the same pricing structure found on-premises. They're looking for the elasticity and economies of scale that characterize public clouds as offered by vendors such as Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine and Microsoft Azure.

Jackson said he'd had an in-depth conversation with one Monday at VMworld who was using VMware internally but opting for Amazon Web Services as its public cloud vendor of choice.

So Jackson is positioning Rackspace as the cloud vendor who will host your workload initially in whatever form you wish, including as a legacy system resident on a look-alike VMware environment. It can migrate it into a vCloud suite environment or it can move it into an OpenStack cloud running on open-source KVM and more cloud-like economics.

"By the end of 2014, there will be more OpenStack clouds than any other kind," predicted Jackson, and he means by that there will be both service providers and numbers of workloads under OpenStack that exceed the competition. Considering the head start that Amazon Web Services enjoys, it shouldn't be too hard to judge how that prediction pans out. But Jackson is serious about what he's saying.

"What's fascinating to me is that Rackspace has a different approach than most vendors are talking about. It will help you get your application, or parts of your application to the public cloud," and serve as the platform for new applications that will connect to it, he said.

Many cloud applications will run in virtual machines as the most efficient way to use a host server. But if efficient database operations are your goal, Rackspace will provide that part of the application with a bare metal server.

Rackspace is being pragmatic, not dogmatic, in getting its customers to the advantages of cloud computing. It's emphasized OpenStack because it's noted for its contributions to the project. But it already has a history of hosting VMware workloads and it will be happy to guide them on their own migration to the cloud, he said.

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