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The Right Tech for the Cloud

Interview with RightScale CEO Michael Crandell

By James O. Grundvig Created: November 8, 2011 Last Updated: November 13, 2011
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The cloud did not happen overnight—it emerged in 1995 and slowly gained its place in the consciousness of IT enthusiasts. Its growth is now accelerating for commercial use, and the 2011 Cloud West Expo, which starts in Santa Clara, CA on Nov. 6, could be a culmination of the cloud paradigm.

Cloud computing, which refers products and services based on the Web, is quickly becoming standard for the technology industry. The last decade produced early pioneers and adopters of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), notably Amazon with its cloud datacenters, salesforce.com, 2000 startup Boomi (now Dell-Boomi) for migrating legacy systems to the cloud, and VMware, serving the virtualization middleware market.

The cloud also brought the rapid ascent and growth of RightScale, a cloud management firm founded in 2005 with headquarters in Santa Barbara, CA. RightScale will hold its own two-day conference side-by-side with the Cloud West Expo. Interestingly, RigthScale will announce the top three winners of its ServerTemplate Contest, the “authors” who developed their own RightScale ServerTemplates.

In an earlier meeting with RightScale CEO, Michael Crandell, on October 6 in New York City during the RightScale/Rackspace cloud conference reception, Mr. Crandell explained that server templates, “as the name implies—provide a template for the functions a server performs.”

“A given template gets re-used many times by different individuals and departments within an organization. It behaves the same each time it’s launched,” Mr. Crandell said. “This creates a consistent, reproducible workload. Contrast this to, say, the common problem today of machine image sprawl where there are dozens or even hundreds of versions of a workload floating around in an organization, and it’s nearly impossible to tell what runs in each one, let alone guarantee that it conforms to corporate standards.”

Once designed, RightScale ServerTemplate also come “cloud-ready” and can be used on various cloud service providers such as Rackspace Cloud or Amazon Web Services, and other cloud platforms such as Cloud.com or Eucalyptus. The RightScale ServerTemplate seems to provide a way to standardize the “Tower of Babel” effect of disparate resources and services from back-end server operations used in many industry sectors, such as the construction industry, for instance.

Interview with RightScale CEO, Michael Crandell

Mr. Crandell (MC) agreed to a follow up interview with myself (JG) to explain the rise of his company, what it does and how it benefits customers, and the future of the cloud.

JG: How could the broken architecture, multidiscipline, diverse culture of the construction industry, which has been an IT laggard for decades, benefit from using RightScale, while migrating to the cloud?

MC: Using RightScale to power workloads in a managed cloud environment gives any company cloud-ready solutions that are architected for cloud infrastructures, and can be run with the push of a button.  It’s easy to try a pilot project for a particular application at very low cost to prove the value. Any industry struggling with broken IT practices, as you describe, will feel like they’ve walked into IT paradise in the cloud!

JG: What are the gains against inefficiency the cloud model will offer to SMEs, corporations, and complex business networks, such as global supply chains?

MC: The elastic nature of allocating cloud resources brings several key benefits: Resources when you need them, without waiting; No long-term commitment, meaning you can relinquish those same resources when not needed; Paying for only what you use; Businesses gain both agility and cost-savings in the cloud model.
 
JG: What are the RightScale ingredients for “…creating successful cloud architectures for use with scalable applications” beyond multi-tiered architecture” as stated in the RightScale white paper, Building Scalable Applications in the Cloud?

MC: Other ingredients include a library of cloud-ready solutions in our MultiCloud Marketplace (app store in the cloud), automation of system administration tasks ranging from scaling up and down, to failure handling, to fleet-wide updates, and architecting for disaster recovery, that is, business continuity in the face of outages.
 
Founded and launched between two economic bubbles—the 2000 dot.com burst and the 2008 fixed income meltdown—RightScale did not only managed to forge on, but grow during the downturn. Was it a combination of will, vision, and fortitude that enabled the young company to grow and scale, where other tech firms retrenched?

JG: What challenges did the new company face heading into the steep economic decline of 2008?  

MC: We were raising money right at the height of the 2008 crash, and managed to succeed because the fundamentals of cloud computing don’t change based on the macro-economic environment. The fact that the cloud makes business IT both more agile and cost effective has been a boost to the business during tough times.

JG: What was the inspiration for founding RightScale?

MC: It was the fledging cloud paradigm. We were convinced that it’s a better architecture and business model, and that it would spread and be adopted by many providers and by companies internally.
 
The explosion of mobile

Ever since Apple opened its app store for the iPhone and allowed programmers from around the world to develop software applications for the ubiquitous smartphone, the cloud offers both the capability to scale in terms of storage, and the ability to access and transfer data from mobile devices. The once decentralized work environment is now connected in the cloud, enabling collaboration.

JG: How is RightScale’s SaaS used or deployed in mobile devices and mobile apps?

MC: Almost all mobile applications utilize some back-end infrastructure “in the cloud” to power them. We have many customers who use RightScale to manage that back-end infrastructure for mobile apps. In addition, there are iPhone and Android apps for running the actual RightScale dashboard from a phone or mobile device.

JG: What are the future growth prospects for RightScale and are their new areas that the company is targeting in terms of product or SaaS deployment?

MC: RightScale will benefit from the continuing explosion of cloud computing, which is growing at a fast CAGR (compound annual growth rate). We continue to add support for new cloud service providers and private cloud platforms as well as partner ISV (independent software vendor) offerings in our MultiCloud Marketplace.
 
JG: What are your thoughts on the Cloud?  

MC: Cloud is no longer a trend or a fad; it’s a requirement. Companies can no longer avoid it. They must decide when and how best to start leveraging it. For developers, this means accelerated adoption. At the same time, the lines between PaaS and IaaS have begun to blur as well as those between public and private clouds. What we’re going to see in the future is simply just the “cloud” being adopted by companies, without the need to qualify it as public, private, or hybrid. The various ways of accessing cloud architectures through IaaS and PaaS will become more and more mixed, offering more and more power to developers.

From the interview with Michael Crandell, it appears that early adopters of the cloud ecosystem will benefit more from embracing the new IT business requirement that is the “cloud” than the holdovers of legacy systems.

James O. Grundvig is a writer based in New York City.




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