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Rackspace Cloud Guru Says Service Trumps Technology

Jonathan Bryce opens up about the Amazon outage, OpenStack, and how he's come to be a cloud veteran at age 29.

Jonathan Bryce founded one of the first cloud systems. He and a partner left their jobs at Rackspace in 2005 and launched their cloud business, Mosso, the following year. Though they were outside Rackspace, the ties remained strong. Bryce's older brother, who recruited him initially, still worked there, and Mosso's cloud functioned on Rackspace servers.

In 2009, with Mosso beginning to be viewed as an alternative to Amazon's EC2, Bryce was brought back in house as a Rackspace employee, now in charge of what had been rebranded the Rackspace Cloud.

InformationWeek editor-at-large Charles Babcock caught up with Bryce May 9 at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, a UBM TechWeb event, to ask about operating a cloud architecture and the recent Amazon outage. Bryce refused to attack a competitor. Perhaps he was remembering the time in 2007 when a vehicle crash took out a transformer that controlled about half the power supply to Mosso. That and other experiences make him, at 29, a veteran cloud operator. Rackspace now operates 65,000 servers worldwide, though that number includes its managed hosting business.

InformationWeek: When did you get started in the data center services business?

Bryce: I started at Rackspace early on. My brother was one of the first dozen employees. He knew I liked computers. I did online operations, customer service, technical support, trouble ticketing, customer portal, everything we did facing the customer.

InformationWeek: How did you move into cloud computing?

Bryce: I was one of the founders of Mosso, with a co-worker, Todd Morey in 2005. Todd was graphic designer. We liked to build websites together. We did it in our spare time. We tried to push the envelope (and they knew how to host applications on Rackspace). We had access to free servers. We had started Mosso as a business outside of Rackspace and launched it in 2006. Then we rolled it into Rackspace.

InformationWeek: How did you pick a name like Mosso?

Bryce: Have you ever tried to name something? was taken. We went through thousands of names. We had to pick a name the night before (launch). We didn't like any names. We arrived at the name Mosso in desperation. Mosso is an Italian word in music, meaning play faster with more passion.

InformationWeek: Why did you start Mosso as a company outside of Rackspace?

Bryce: We knew it was new technology, that there would be problems. This was in 2005. We functioned as a Rackspace customer with a separate brand (even though Mosso servers were in a Rackspace data center). That kept things simple.

InformationWeek: How did that work out, going back inside?

Bryce: We started with the Cloud Sites application hosting system, then [added] the CloudFiles storage system. You have to do it in a cost effective way. Store cloud files at 15 cents a GB. That was our second product. We were going to add a virtual server system. Then Rackspace acquired Slicehost, a company in St. Louis with a bunch of software like EC2--server start/stop, assign IPs; the stuff you need to do was all done. [It was] virtual servers versus physical servers at Rackspace.

InformationWeek: You said you knew there were problems with new technology. What did you think of the Amazon outage?

Bryce: Obviously it was something painful to customers. Everyone who uses technology realizes that technology fails. Anyone who runs anything like this will have issues. It's important how you communicate to customers so they are informed, so they can design systems that will survive ... In the long term, the Amazon outage will have no impact.

InformationWeek: Could that happen at Rackspace, a two- or three-day outage?

Bryce: Could it happen to Rackspace? The honest answer is, it's the same kind of technology, so who knows. We've had outages before. We set systems up so they are isolated, but they are also very complex, and things go wrong. Amazon Web Services' track record is very good. It was a dramatic outage that impacted a lot of people. But these big outages contribute a smaller portion of the total of lifetime downtime.

If you go through all the details, it was a random failure that cascaded. You think you've architected the system so that it protects itself. But even RAID arrays can go down on the managed hosting side.

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