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4/15/2013
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Rackspace Launches Global OpenStack Expansion

IaaS provider will enlist partners to add Rackspace data center locations around the world, strengthen competitiveness with the likes of CenturyLink Savvis, Verizon Terremark.

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Rackspace, as it currently stands, is a set of data centers in the U.S., Hong Kong, London and Sydney, which still leaves it in the junior league compared to the facilities operated by Amazon Web Services, Google, CenturyLink Savvis or Verizon Terremark.

But Rackspace is about to become a much larger, interconnected chain of cloud data centers. It's launching an effort with telcos and other partners to build out more Rackspace and OpenStack-branded cloud facilities.

The goal isn't to add to a list of local data centers, like the ones that were quickly isolated, then knocked off the air when Hurricane Sandy hit the Middle Atlantic last year. Rather, it plans to build a chain of interconnected data centers that can give customers backup and recovery or disaster recovery services in a different geographic area. With connections already established, it can also provide a quick migration route out of one facility and into another, if both are architected and operated similarly.

"The goal is not to just enable more individual data centers but a federated network of them," said Jim Curry, senior VP and general manager of Rackspace Private Cloud, in an interview.

"We've been asking ourselves, 'How can we ensure a worldwide network of OpenStack cloud data centers,'" he said. Rackspace was a founder of the OpenStack project with NASA and remains a major contributor to it.

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As a $1.3 billion company, Rackspace is not in a position financially to build out a string of modern, new facilities, which can cost $200 million or more per site, on its own. It operates three data center in the U.S., in Dallas, Chicago and Northern Virginia, as well as three internationally. There are no additional data centers in the planning stages at the moment, Curry said.

Rackspace doesn't expect to have trouble finding partners to invest in its experience in providing OpenStack cloud services, Curry claimed. "We've had a constant stream of requests that we do this for the past seven years," he said. Rackspace will initially select one or two partners and aim to get new facilities in operation this year, operating under both the host company and Rackspace brands.

"The initial launch will be modest. We want to make sure to get the first two or three done correctly. Next year we'll continue to scale," he added. For a company to be in the infrastructure-as-a-service business, it's necessary to compete on a worldwide level, he added. "Amazon is consistent experience" each time it opens another data center, giving customers already familiar with it a location and facility into which to expand their own operations, Curry noted.

"We are working to build a global alliance ... We are working to provide a consistent experience for all Rackspace users," he said. After the initial two locations come online, it will seek to expand the number that it authorizes and helps build as it gains experience working with partners.

Rackspace needs partners to address a weakness -- intercity and inter-data-center communications, or networking expertise. That would suggest a telecommunications company would be among its first partners. Curry wouldn't name a target partner but he didn't disagree: "We can work with partners that know a lot about communications," he said.

Rackspace may also be watching the growing competition from telcos already in the IaaS business. The Savvis cloud service was acquired by CenturyLink in 2011, and its executives lead CenturyLink's administration of cloud services. Savvis offers a data storage, backup and recovery service across more than one data center.

Verizon acquired Terremark in 2011; Terremark executives led Verizon's entry into cloud services. Both telcos have strings of 50 interconnected data centers around the world, though they haven't necessarily built up the level of IaaS in each one to the same point. Looking at the telcos' ability to spread services across many centers may have been a spur to the Rackspace move.

Acquisition by CenturyLink gave Savvis access to CenturyLink's 207,000 miles of fiber optic networking. SavvisDirect IaaS is hosted in data centers in Washington, D.C., and Santa Clara, Calif. It's also currently expanding into London. By mid-2013, it expects to offer the service from Singapore and Hong Kong. CenturyLink is the third largest telecommunications provider in the U.S.

AT&T was also early to market, offering its own Synaptic Compute Cloud from multiple centers.

"We're in discussion with a number of very large telcos," said Scott Sanchez, Rackspace's director of strategy, in an interview. "Our discussions kind of cover the globe -- they're taking place on all continents," he said.

"We'll do maybe two this year. Next year, the number might be more like six," he said.

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