RightScale: Hybrid clouds on the rise

Like sex in high school

"The hybrid cloud is a little bit like sex in high school," explains RightScale CEO Michael Crandell. "Everybody is talking about it, but not everybody is doing it – except us."

After drilling down through usage statistics in its customer base, RightScale has figured out that across its user base, 87 per cent of the compute capacity managed by RightScale is coming from customers that span more than one cloud provider and more than one cloud type.

Of course, when you sell a management service that runs atop a cloud that is used to manage a hodgepodge of different cloud fabrics, as RightScale does, you expect for your customers to be on the cutting edge of mixing and matching private and public cloudy infrastructure. So this is not really much of a surprise.

The reasons why companies are deploying multiple clouds – even if they are incompatible – is a complicated issue, Crandell tells El Reg. But the fact that they feel they have to do so for performance, disaster recovery, latency, or cost reasons certainly plays into the hand of a company like RightScale, whose management tool is essentially a "super control freak" that rides atop the management APIs of the infrastructure cloud fabrics used to build public and private clouds, and tells them what to do.

"The simple conclusion that we have drawn on costs is that there is no simple answer on costs," says Crandell. "It depends, and it depends on a lot of factors, and every customer is different."

What is often the case is that big companies are now willing to try out a new application on a public cloud first – like Zynga does with new games it is unsure of – and then they move it to their private cloud when they have a better sense of what resources it will need. You may end up paying more by starting out on a public cloud if you already run a lean-and-mean IT operation, but you avoid the hassle of having to overprovision your data center and locking up a whole bunch of capital, as well.

The RightScale service is not just a monitoring and deployment tool, but is used to automate the operations of virtual machine (and soon physical server) images out there in the clouds.

The service is used to build dynamic configurations that assemble software stacks on the fly for different clouds, rather than using gold stack software images that may or may not be in synch for different clouds. If you build each image dynamically for each cloud, then you know you always have the right code, says Crandell.

The service also knows how to autoscale applications across infrastructure as their workloads rise and fall, and have all of the auditing, tracking, authentication, and cost-accounting features across the clouds that make a CFO's heart go pitter-patter.

The RightScale service can link into three cloud fabrics that are commonly used for building private clouds at this point: CloudStack from Citrix Systems, Eucalyptus from Eucalyptus Systems, and OpenStack, the open source alternative championed by NASA and Rackspace Hosting.

These three tools can be used to build public clouds, of course, and if you find one that does, then RightScale can plug in and assume control.

On the traditional public cloud front, where companies have their own proprietary infrastructure cloud tools and controllers, RightScale supports Amazon Web Services, Datapipe, IDC Frontier (a subsidiary of Yahoo! Japan), Logicworks, Rackspace Cloud, and SoftLayer.

Obviously, Microsoft's Azure public cloud is not an infrastructure cloud, but a platform cloud, and hence does not belong on the list. But VMware's ESXi hypervisor, vCenter console, vSphere extensions, and maybe even the competitive vCloud Director should probably be supported for both public and private clouds for RightScale to remain relevant.

Crandell shared more interesting statistics with El Reg about the RightScale biz, which was founded five years ago in the wake of the launch of Amazon's EC2 compute cloud.

For example, the free edition of the tool is now used by over 45,000 system administrators, who make use of basic server templates and hooks into the Chef software stack management tool to manage development environments or simple cloud installations. RightScale is privately held, so it is not about to give out its revenue figures, but Crandell said that over the past two years, the amount of revenue per customer that the company has been able to wring out of paying customers has grown by a factor of 2.5.

Moreover, the number of processor cores under management across all RightScale users has doubled over the past year, and the number of virtual server instances launched by the RightScale service is now north of 3.84 million. The time it has taken to add each successive million virtual servers under management has been cut in half, which is another way of saying that the amount of deployed infrastructure is riding a nice hockey stick curve. (The company says nothing about how many virtual servers have been retired, of course.)

RightScale standard edition has an initial setup fee of $3,000 and $500 per month after that; it's aimed at small groups deploying apps to the cloud that want to take advantage of autoscaling and other automation features that are not in the free edition. The premium edition has more monitoring and app onboarding, among other things, and has a $5,000 startup fee and costs $1,000 per month thereafter. The enterprise edition has all of the bells and whistles for wrestling with multiple clouds (either public-private or public-public) and does not have a list price – but RightScale tells El Reg that the setup fee is in the range of $10,000 depending on the complexity of the setup and a monthly fee of around $4,000. ®

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