A Horde of Hosts : the TH Interview with John Engates, Rackspace

With over 30,000 servers and 12,000 customers, Rackspace is one of the biggest hosting providers in the world. Big companies can be slower to take environmental initiatives - they are aren't running all these boxes off of solar, for example - yet when they do make a move it usually has a bigger, longer lasting impact. TH recently had the 'tunity to interview John Engates, CTO of Rackspace, to see what they were up to.

Hi John, can you explain what Rackspace does?

In its simplest form, we offer managed hosting; this is an offering whereby companies look to outsource their hosting solutions.

Rackspace Managed Hosting delivers enterprise-level managed services to businesses of all sizes. Serving more than 12,000 customers in eight data centers worldwide, Rackspace integrates the industry's best technologies for each customer need and delivers it as a service via the company's award-winning Fanatical Supportâ„¢. Through trusted relationships, Rackspace serves as an extension of its customers' IT departments, enabling them to focus on their core business.
The average replacement cycle for hardware is two to four years - what is your timespan? Do you have any plans to extend it?

Rackspace replaces hardware as customers order new hardware or as their contract ends and they leave the company. Rackspace does attempt to recycle that gear as long as is reasonably possible. They don't have a mandatory replacement timeline, so they use it as long as possible.

The average CPU utilization for hosting is absurdly low, often as low as 10 percent... do you have a number the CPU utilization of your equipment? How does this compare to the industry standard?

Don't have specific numbers, but the nature of Rackspace's business (production managed hosting services) lends itself to generally higher utilization than typical corporate datacenters.

Do you use virtualization? What if any advantages for the environment do you see in using this technology?

Rackspace does not currently have a virtualization offering, but plans are underway to announce one in Q4 2007.

While virtualization may offer a few advantages to the environment, it is important to point out that in the long run, virtualization does not provide significant environmental advantages. Virtualization does enable IT managers to add more servers (applications) on to fewer machines, reducing the amount of hardware needed and power consumed. Reducing the amount of hardware can certainly cut cost, but virtualization simply allows a server's CPU to run at a higher utilization. And the higher the utilization of a server, the more power it consumes. The additional power cost from virtualized servers will offset any savings created by purchasing less hardware (as hardware is relatively cheap.)

From an environmental perspective, what are the advantages of going with a managed hosting provider? Any disadvantages?

Service providers like Rackspace have the scale and resources to develop their own management tools, and Rackspace creates multiple efficiencies and reduces costs for its customers.

On a related note, Rackspace recently announced a "green" data center. The new facility will provide capacity to add more than 40,000 servers to support Rackspace's growing customer base; it will help to reduce Rackspace's dependency on fossil fuel. Slough Heat and Power, which will supply the Rackspace data center with the required power, does not burn coal and instead uses clean wood chips and fiber fuel, both renewable, biomass energy sources. In the process, material is shredded and converted into small, odourless cubes, which are then combusted to generate electricity, hot water and steam for local businesses and residents.

What is your take on free software - do you use it? Overall, do you think the total cost of ownership (TCO) of free software is less or more than commercial packages?

Rackspace uses open source software, but it's not all free. They do pay maintenance fees for the Linux software they deploy. Even open source software that doesn't require a maintenance fee is not really "free." The costs of maintaining a free software environment may be slightly less expensive than the commercial alternative, but there are pluses and minuses to either, so Rackspace always recommends looking at your pool of talent and choosing the software based on who is going to be operating and maintaining it.

Gartner predicts that energy will account for 50 percent of the typical IT budget in the next few years. Do you agree with this number? How does managed hosting/green grid initiatives help to reduce this number?

Rackspace is seeing projections in their datacenter models that tell them that those numbers are not at all unrealistic. Managed Hosting will help reduce the cost when compared to a typical corporate datacenter. Rackspace can negotiate better power arrangements and they have the scale to implement more efficient technologies than most typical IT datacenters would be able to accomplish. Rackspace also has the scale to have people on staff thinking about efficiency on a full time basis. Their participation in Green Grid is an example of their commitment to driving efficiency in the datacenter. Rackspace believes it will improve efficiency and potentially help offsite rising energy costs.

What is the future of managed hosting? Will we see more or less hardware consolidation in the IT industry, and what are the biggest drivers for these changes?

Rackspace sees the future of managed hosting as 'All IT is hosted,' meaning more and more companies will need more than just there website hosted. They'll need solutions like email and internal infrastructure hosted with a provider like Rackspace. Rackspace feels if it is not your core business, if it's not revenue-generating, then you are wasting time, money and manpower supporting it internally when you can let companies like Rackspace host it better and faster.

The biggest drivers for changes like hardware consolidation lie in better technology. Virtualization obviously has its pros with more applications running on fewer servers, but as the servers in general improve, they will be able to run more applications before using virtualization.

Tags: TH Interview

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK