Rackspace adds Microsoft Azure to its cloud arsenal

In a move that caused confusion among OpenStack watchers, Rackspace this week announced that it would be reselling and offering its “Fanatical support” for Microsoft’s Azure cloud product. The company says it is not abandoning its OpenStack roots, however, and instead is merely both building on its existing Microsoft expertise and offering clients an easier road to hybrid computing.

The company will offer support for Azure in two ways; it will resell Microsoft services along with support, or customers who already have Azure through Microsoft can purchase support from Rackspace separately.  In either case, Rackspace will provide the same monitoring, patching, troubleshooting, and architectural advice the company provides for its OpenStack-based Rackspace cloud products. The move will also enable Rackspace to provide services in additional geographic locations where it didn’t have datacenters, such as Brazil, Europe, and the US west coast.

Although Rackspace is known for its lead in OpenStack (having been, along with NASA, a founder of the technology) the company has had a relationship with Microsoft for some time; for more than a decade it had been providing support for Microsoft products such as Windows and IIS, as well as Exchange, Sharepoint, and most recently, Office 365. In fact, the company has been supporting Microsoft-based private clouds in its data centers since late last year, according to ZDNet.

Like Google’s play to align with OpenStack, the substance is only part of the story; part of Rackspace’s strategy is to strengthen its hand in hybrid cloud computing. The move will start by giving customers the opportunity to choose between OpenStack, Microsoft, and VMware platforms; from there, Rackspace says that it will enable customers to “connect geographically from Rackpace to Azure”, according to SiliconAngle.

“This is giving customers that are deep in the Microsoft ecosystem a real choice,” Rackspace chief technology officer John Engates told V3. “They can run workloads on their own dedicated servers, they can run on Microsoft hosted private cloud here at Rackspace, or they can run on the Azure public cloud, and we can stitch that all together for them in the hybrid cloud scenario, built on the back of Rackspace expertise.”

The company will begin by enabling customers to tie their clouds together using Active Directory, the first Azure service enabled as part of the new product. Other services will come later, as the implementation progresses.

“There’s about 84 different products on Azure you can consume and that’s the challenge our customers are facing,” Darren Norfolk, Rackspace’s UK managing director, told Cloud Pro.

Michelle Bailey, senior vice president of digital infrastructure and data strategy for 451 Research, added, “It’s a myth that cloud is easy to implement. Self-service, instant-on will only get you so far, particularly for large enterprises. As customers more broadly adopt off-premises cloud applications and infrastructure, they face major issues of migration and integration with their legacy, on-premises environment. Add to this limited staffing expertise around cloud and limited IT staff time in general we already see customers looking for a trusted advisor to step them through their, more significant, phase of cloud adoption.”

Rackspace changed over from a commodity public cloud provider to a managed cloud provider last summer, citing high overhead in providing the company’s signature “Fanatical support”. So far, the move has been successful, removing the company from the race to zero in public cloud pricing.

The collaboration between Rackspace and Microsoft isn’t exclusive, however; according to CloudWedge, rumors are floating around that the company may begin supporting Amazon Web Services customers, and according to The New Stack, Microsoft has announced that it will be opening up Azure for other partners to provide managed support.

Rackspace will begin offering support for existing Azure deployments for US customers (regardless of data center location) immediately, with expansions into further services and regions throughout the year and into 2016 as licensing arrangements are finalized.

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