Getting Started with the Cloud: Rackspace Open Cloud

Getting Started with the Cloud: Rackspace Open Cloud
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 Getting Started with the Cloud: Rackspace Open Cloud L Getting Started with the Cloud: Rackspace Open Cloud L

Rackspace needs little introduction to IT professionals even though it does not get the press accorded to Amazon.The hosting company turned cloud computing champion, the latest vendor we are reviewing in our ongoing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) Buyer's Guide, competes intelligently with Amazon by focusing on customer service and offering core cloud computing services. 

When you use the Rackspace cloud you will have access to computing and storage services, including hosted databases, as well as access to cloud file storage and the Akamai’s content delivery network. Rackspace was one of the co-founders of OpenStack, which it uses for its cloud infrastructure, so you can run the same platform in-house if you decide to move to a private or hybrid cloud.

Getting Started with Rackspace Open Cloud

It’s easy to think of cloud computing as a utility or commodity business but Rackspace is making us reassess that opinion. The company’s claim of “Fanatical Support®” might bring to mind images of your high school English teacher defining the term hyperbole but do not dismiss their commitment to customer service. 

When you sign up for an account, you will get a call within minutes from a support representative to confirm your order.  I was asked general questions (e.g. how will you use the cloud?) as well as specific concerns (e.g. why was my credit card billing address on the U.S. east coast but my accessing IP address was on the west coast?)  By the end of the call I felt like (1) someone was watching out for my interests at Rackspace and (2) I’d have someone to call if something went wrong.

After you confirmed your account you will have full access to the Open Cloud management console. When you create a virtual machine instance, you will specify which data center will host the instance, which operating system you’d like to use and how much RAM you will need. Rackspace has eight data centers in the U.S., U.K. and Hong Kong.   You can choose from 37 different operating systems, including a variety of Linux distributions along with Windows Server 2008 and 2012 options.  Your server can range from 512MB RAM and 20GB of disk to 30GB RAM and 1.2TB of disk.  You can save a copy of a machine image if you want to standardize configuration choices for different needs. 

You do not directly choose the number of virtual cores you get; those are assigned based on operating system and RAM size. On Windows servers this ranges from 1GB of RAM gettting 1 virtual core ranging to 30GB servers that allocate 8 virtual cores. Linux servers are managed differently. Linux virtual machines with up to 15GB of RAM get 4 virtual cores while Linux servers using 30GB RAM get 8 virtual cores. The number of CPU cycles provided to a virtual server is weighted according to the size of the server.

Once your image is created and active you can attach storage volumes. You have the option of SATA hard drive storage, billed at $0.15/GB/month, or solid state storage, billed at $0.70/GB/month.  Volumes are sized from 100GB to 1TB. You can easily attach storage volumes to servers in the control panel. If you want to store and have easy access to files you can use Rackspace’s Cloud Files services instead of or in addition to block storage.  Pricing for file storage starts at $0.10/GB/month with additional charges of $0.18/GB if you use Akamai’s CDN for high speed content delivery.

If you will be using a MySQL database with your application, you might want to consider running it as a cloud database. Rackspace deploys cloud databases to specialized infrastructure that includes high performance SAN storage and a dedicated storage network.  The service automates database deployment so you spend less time with configuration and patching issues. Pricing starts at $0.06/hr for 512MB databases and runs up to $0.40/hr for 4GB databases; 8GB and 16GB databases are planned by not yet available. 

If you would like even more help on the database administration front you can choose to use the Managed Cloud Database service which costs an additional $0.04/hr plus a flat $100/month account fee.   The same account may be used for managed support of other services, such as servers, storage, DNS, load balancers, etc.

Rackspace makes it easy to create basic monitoring checks, like ping or HTTP checks, for servers; the price for monitoring is based on the number of checks you create, the number of zones used, and the number of hours checks are active.

When you create a machine instance you will be provided with a root password. It is a good practice to change the root password and to set up public and private keys for SSH login. Instructions are available on the control console.

Dan SulivanDan SulivanDan Sullivan is an author, systems architect, and consultant with over 20 years of IT experience with engagements in systems architecture, enterprise security, advanced analytics and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail, gas and oil production, power generation, life sciences, and education.  Dan has written 16 books and numerous articles and white papers about topics ranging from data warehousing, Cloud Computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration, and text mining.

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