Some people like to do everything themselves. To manage their money, they open an online brokerage account and spend a lot of time researching investments and portfolio theory. To maintain their cars, they change their own fluids and filters and tires, and devote many hours to reading manuals and ordering parts. But investment vehicles and motor vehicles alike get increasingly complex. At some point, most busy, successful people — and busy, successful businesses — find it wise to focus on what they do best and let specialists do the rest. That’s a big part of the appeal of what we at Rackspace call managed cloud.
What is managed cloud? It starts with the simple truth that every cloud has to be managed by someone. Like your retirement savings or your car, it doesn’t manage or maintain itself. So every business faces two main options:
a. It can do everything itself. It can hire and train experts to perform all the complex tasks required to manage cloud infrastructure and tools and application stacks. Or it can manage and mediate among multiple providers: say, one for multi-tenant cloud infrastructure and a second for single-tenant servers or VMware in a colocation facility, and a third for support.
b. It can employ a trusted partner to manage all or most of its cloud.
Option B is managed cloud. It’s a service that allows businesses to tap the power of cloud computing without the pain of becoming an expert in everything. Companies that use managed cloud can focus on their core business — on building great applications and other new products, and landing new customers. They can stay fast and lean, rather than having to swell their payroll with large teams of ops engineers and system administrators and other experts to manage IT that doesn’t differentiate their company.
A managed cloud provider like Rackspace offers its customers big economies of expertise. The provider’s engineers manage not only the customers’ computing, storage, networks, and operating systems, but also the complex tools and application stacks that run on top of that infrastructure. These include the latest databases and ecommerce platforms, as well as DevOps automation tools. Managed cloud allows each customer to choose which IT functions it wishes to manage in-house, while leaving all the rest to its service provider.
Managed cloud services include, at the infrastructure level:
At the application and tools level, managed cloud services include:
One good way to frame managed cloud is to describe the major alternatives to it:
1. Unmanaged Cloud. Here, the customer rents access to infrastructure — often from a big provider like Amazon, Google, or Microsoft — and takes on all the burden of managing that infrastructure, as well as all the tools and apps that run on top of it. Customers who choose this option often get lower infrastructure prices than they would get from a managed cloud provider — along with higher total costs for hiring more engineers, supervising those engineers, and overprovisioning to avoid contention for resources on multi-tenant infrastructure. (For a closer look at some of the hidden costs of unmanaged cloud, check out our recent post on “The Cloud Warning Label.”)
2. Multiple Providers. Some customers rent cheap infrastructure from one or more providers and then hire one or more providers to support that infrastructure. This option can deliver savings on infrastructure unit costs, but those are usually offset by higher support costs. Multi-provider arrangements often prove difficult for the customer to manage, with fragmented systems, no clear accountability for results and no single “throat to choke.”
3. Outsourcing: The largest enterprises sometimes outsource all or most of their IT operations to a big systems-integrator like IBM, HP, or CSC. These arrangements allow the customer to focus on its core business, but are very expensive. Big outsourcers also tend to move slowly. It can take weeks to change part of the customer’s configuration. More enterprises, and the developers who are pushing innovation within those companies, are finding that they can move more quickly and cost-efficiently by shifting new applications away from their outsourcers and toward nimbler, less-expensive managed cloud providers.
Rackspace is the No. 1 managed cloud specialist. We find that the managed cloud approach is appealing to more and more companies, large and small, that want to focus on their core business. As a wise person once said, focus isn’t about what you do; it’s about what you don’t do.