Platform-as-a-service is a battleground for companies that want to help customers build next-generation applications for deployment in the cloud. Cloud providers Red Hat, VMware, Microsoft, and others say their forms of PaaS will help development teams move closer to a DevOps-style of software implementation.
Rackspace is coming from the opposite direction, saying its support team has the ops expertise to help developers move projects toward worry-free development and deployment operations. Thursday, Rackspace announced DevOps Automated Service, which can provide automated operations on-premises, as a service from Rackspace, or as a hybrid operation.
In short, Rackspace is trying to extend its DevOps technical-support expertise to a customer's preferred site to automate development operations. That might be Xen or KVM virtual machines on the Rackspace public cloud, or it might be simply the virtualized part of the customer's own datacenter.
A customer using the service could have a small project that is near the jump-off point, where more teams will plug in to push various code modules to completion. Rackspace can provide replicas of the existing development environment and have additional teams up and running in 30 minutes, said Matt Barlow, senior manager of fanatical support at Rackspace, in an interview. DevOps Automation Service provides a development team with a way to rapidly augment its development infrastructure without taking on more systems management tasks.
[Want to learn more about how DevOps is a competitive factor? See Red Hat Takes On VMware For PaaS Crown.]
Rackspace uses open-source Chef for configuration management, capturing specifications and going to various sources to download open-source code, tools, or other modules, and assembling a system for a newly deployed software stack.
"It's hard to find and train DevOps talent," Jonathan Siegel, Rackspace product director, told us. DevOps Automation Services consists of the tools and practices that enabled Rackspace "to push code into production more than 2,500 times and run over 15,000 automated tests last year."
Using its own experience in DevOps at the Rackspace Cloud, a Rackspace technical support team will map and "then write code that automates the operation of the customer's infrastructure," said Barlow. In many cases, that infrastructure will already exist on the customer's premises.
"We create an environment for them. It could be any place -- on their premises, on our OpenStack cloud, or on their servers in our managed hosting business," said Siegel. It could also be a mix of the above. "We try to make every environment look identical."
The Rackspace service provides application monitoring, a key element of DevOps, so that operations personnel can give developers reports and feedback on how well an application is running. It uses New Relic, statsD, Garphite, or Cloud Monitoring to collect the information and supply the feedback.
The service also uses workflow automation tools to automate routine maintenance tasks using open-source Jenkins or Rundeck. It can aggregate logs from servers and other devices to look for patterns that represent slowdowns in performance or other anomalies. To do so, it uses logstash and other log file collection and analysis tools. It can add a caching service to a project through open-source Memcache or Varnish.
Rackspace learned there might be a market for such a service from its hosted services customers. For example, one customer asked Rackspace to expand its development environment by 500 servers; Rackspace experts spent two months learning that environment, then manually installed and configured 500 servers. The automated service could map the environment and configure 500 servers in about two hours.
"We help customers to stop manually configuring servers and adopt the automated practices they need," said Siegel.
Other appeals to developers come from the opposite end of the spectrum, with offerings of collaborative tools and automated development processes, as opposed to the underlying systems. Initiative on the PaaS side is coming from Red Hat, which is promoting OpenShift as the best place to develop Linux cloud apps, while VMware's Pivotal spinoff has been making headway among developers with its open-source Cloud Foundry. Online versions of both sit atop Amazon Web Services' EC2 and are thus platforms from which launching an application into the cloud is simply a given. From the start, Microsoft has used Visual Studio developer tools and SQL Server-compatible database services in its Windows Azure cloud to attract potential long-term enterprise users. In addition, there are independent software developers such as Apprenda, with a system to move customers toward a vendor-neutral development platform with broad deployment options.
If they succeed, new cloud applications are more likely to run in the Microsoft, VMware, or Simply Amazon cloud than on Rackspace. Rackspace is trying to obtain its share of the emerging cloud app universe by extending its expertise for DevOps to the location where customers need it, and then automating their development operations. Whether that location is a virtual machine on the Rackspace public cloud, or the virtualized part of the customer's own datacenter, it offers many potential future customers for the Rackspace Cloud.
Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek, having joined the publication in 2003. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld, and former technology editor of Interactive Week.
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