RightScale cozies up to OpenStack, SoftLayer

RightScale is also developing new automation and auditing capabilities for its cloud management software

RightScale is adding OpenStack and SoftLayer to the list of cloud services that can be managed from its RightScale Cloud Management Platform.

The SoftLayer support is planned for the first quarter next year, and the OpenStack support will follow by the end of the first half, RightScale CEO and founder Michael Crandell said in an interview Thursday. That's a conservative estimate, he added, meaning the OpenStack support could come sooner.

RightScale sells tools to design, deploy and clone server environments in the cloud, and to manage and monitor those servers even across different cloud platforms from different service providers. Its customers include Zynga, CBS Interactive and Intercontinental Hotel Group.

Each cloud platform has its own unique architecture, for example the way its storage systems are designed, so RightScale has to develop a version of its software for each cloud environment. Today it works with Amazon Web Services, Cloud.com, Rackspace, Eucalyptus, Japan's IDC Frontier, and one or two others.

OpenStack is an open-source software platform, developed by Rackspace and NASA, and designed to enable service providers to architect their cloud services in a standard way, so that customers can move workloads among different clouds without being locked in.

Deployments are still at a very early stage but the software is backed by big names including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Citrix Systems, Cisco Systems and Suse.

Forrester analyst James Staten compared OpenStack to enterprise Java a decade ago, in the sense that it provided a common core for building Java application servers, but each vendor's implementation was unique, so Java apps were never quite portable as hoped.

One effect of OpenStack will be to make it easier for RightScale to adapt its product for many more cloud environments, because OpenStack clouds will share some basic similarities, even if service providers add extensions that make them not entirely interoperable.

But it will also make it easier for RightScale competitors such as CA and BMC Software, and smaller rivals such as Kaava and Abiquo, to compete.

"I think RightScale has a burden right now to try to move its road map forward as fast as possible and differentiate themselves, so they don't get run over by some of the bigger players," Staten said.

"The early lead gives them a lot more insight into how clouds actually work, so they're presumably in the best position to hold onto this lead," he added.

Indeed, RightScale is working on several enhancements to its management platform. On the road map for 2012 are new automation features, including the ability to automate many of the tasks defined in the IT administrators' "run book," which lists the procedures that are supposed to be followed when something goes wrong.

The RightScale platform can already perform many policy- and rules-based tasks automatically, such as spinning up a new server when workloads reach a certain level.

"This would be a layer above that and basically creating workflows," Crandell said.

If a database crashes, for instance, the software will be able to promote a slave to a master database, launch a new slave and begin the replication and backup procedure, all automatically, he said. Today, RightScale users have to trigger those steps manually.

There are countless scenarios covered by run books, and different companies do things in different ways, so RightScale will offer some basic procedures and let companies set up further automated workflows themselves.

It's also working on better auditing capabilities, for Sarbanes-Oxley and other compliance purposes, Crandell said. One of the benefits of the cloud is that it lets people fire up and tear down servers easily, but once a virtual server is gone there's often no record of who created it, how it was created and what it was used for.

RightScale gathers that data and will make it available with new tools and interfaces, so that companies can go back if they need to and see the creation and usage history of their servers.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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