When the cloud platforms of some of the biggest names in the tech industry start to loom heavily over your niche market, what do you do? If you’re Matt Bradley, vice president of corporate development and strategy, and his team at Rackspace, you diversify your strategy and hone in on innovative IT expertise, service, tooling, and automation. Rather than wage war with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or a myriad of cloud hosting providers in an attempt to become the dominant hosting platform, Rackspace has cleverly positioned itself as the leading “managed” cloud company. But what does that mean, exactly?
Back in the late 1990s, hosting a website essentially required owning at least one physical server, depending on the scale of one’s business. And with that, there had to be space in which to store the server. If it happened to be a large, multinational company, then you would probably need multiple servers and an abundance of space. This is where Rackspace comes in.
When then-CEO Graham Weston, a lifelong entrepreneur and real estate investor, realized that servers and server space could be rented out much like partitioned units in an apartment building, Rackspace’s initial business model was born. “Our position in the late 1990s was that we’d offer managed hosting without services and support,” Bradley recalls. “We would simply rent the customer the physical server. What happened was a lot of companies adopted this strategy, and at the same time, our customers would call us and say they needed help managing and operating its servers. Eventually, we realized there was a big business opportunity in actually providing managed services and support on top of physical servers.”
Rackspace’s model has now greatly expanded from solely leasing racks and physical space to being focused on providing specialized expertise, tools, and its dedicated customer support (known in Rackspace as Fanatical Support) for leading technologies developed by AWS, Microsoft, OpenStack, VMware, and more. For example, if a client is running an outdated version of, say, Linux, which could potentially lead to gaps in the environment’s security, Rackspace is there to notify the client and also to proactively address the issue. If a business suddenly has millions of additional hits to its web servers, Rackspace is also there to help scale the needs of the business to withstand this surge.
These services are available on three main platforms: conventional dedicated hosting, private clouds based on OpenStack and Microsoft, and public clouds such as AWS and Azure. “A big part of our positioning is that we believe in a multicloud world,” Bradley says.
In 2015, Rackspace went from being what Bradley referred to as a competitor to Amazon and Microsoft to collaborating with them and offering Fanatical Support for both public cloud platforms. “Now we say, ‘Hey, you can use Amazon Web Services or Azure—which has its own data centers, servers, and products—and we at Rackspace will provide and help operate it on a day-to-day basis,’” Bradley says. “So, when a customer has an issue, we’re there to help manage that environment.”
Bradley believes that platforms such as AWS and Microsoft Azure have significantly changed the cloud computing landscape with many direct benefits for consumers. “I would argue that the advent of public cloud is one of the biggest changes, obviously for businesses, because it has allowed them to innovate significantly faster with less time to market and fewer capital resources,” he says.
Before these technologies existed, a company would need to acquire capital equipment such as servers, find and lease storage space for the servers, curate a team of IT professionals, and focus time and resources on architecting the environment of the application. Now, a company can simply choose to use a cloud platform like AWS or Azure and have Rackspace experts help operate and manage its cloud environment.
Of course, Bradley is quick to point out that a business could still choose to undertake the task of management by itself, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be efficient or cost effective. “You can hire an internal team, train them, and do your best to retain them, but when they leave the company, you have to replace your talent,” he says. “Or, you can choose a managed cloud approach and leverage Rackspace, which has expertise and experience managing tens of thousands of environments and numerous platforms.”
Bradley explains that, for many businesses, IT is a 9-to-5 job, which can radically limit a client’s abilities to address issues as they arise in real time. Rackspace has an around-the-clock support structure so that customers can leverage Rackspace support teams at any time throughout the day.
While Rackspace is making tremendous strides in tackling the challenge of support gaps for the cloud, other obstacles, such as lack of data centers in certain geographic regions, still exist. According to Bradley, a business operating in every major international market may use AWS and Rackspace in some regions, but that business might still have to establish and use its own infrastructure in countries such as Russia, where cloud providers do not have a data center presence.
As the cloud grows in scale and sophistication, everyone around the world will effectively be able to access it. Microsoft and Amazon have built the base layer of infrastructure services and are starting to build platform technologies on top, such as automated machine learning capabilities, which will take data as an input and then automate an application environment. But someone has to manage the complex technology that allows this technology to work. Therefore, the question really becomes, “Who is going to manage your cloud?” Rackspace manages customers’ environments so they can focus on their core business.
As cloud cover expands to the point where its core utility is available in every country, says Bradley, more platforms, products, and services will be developed to suit an increased variety of application types. And as more applications move to the cloud, he says, businesses will be able to innovate more rapidly and meet the ever-refreshing needs of the consumer. “Those businesses will need a trusted, agnostic partner with expertise in a multitude of technology platforms to help them on their cloud journey,” Bradley says. And there’s no one better positioned to do that than Rackspace.