Why Your Cloud Needs A Pit Crew

Lots of companies out there will come out and sell you software, hardware or both to help you build a private cloud. It’s our opinion at Rackspace and the opinion of thousands of customers using our cloud solutions every day that OpenStack, by far, represents the best software for building a cloud. Our public cloud is powered by OpenStack and our private clouds are built using our freely available Rackspace Private Cloud Software. We use reliable and tested hardware in our data centers and help our customers architect and implement the same reliable, high performance hardware in their own data centers.

There’s no doubt that OpenStack software and high quality compute, storage and network hardware are critical to having a winning cloud – but it’s a small part of the total “cloud” equation. Here’s what I’m calling “Sanchez’s Law of Cloud Mechanics:”

Winning with Cloud = 25 percent Great Software and Hardware + 75 percent Great Operations

I’ve been speaking to customers and partners about this equation for a while, and recently (maybe because of the F1 madness in my home city of Austin) I had an analogous epiphany: racing. Here’s the same math as it relates to auto racing:

Winning the Race = 25 percent Great Car and Driver + 75 percent Great Pit Crew

If I gave you the best car in the world and the best driver in the world, and six warm bodies from the stands that read the manual about the car before the race, you would never win. The pit crew is working both on and off the track before, during and after the race. The folks in the stand see very little of the work that goes on, but it’s absolutely critical to winning the race. A majority of what it takes to win a race is done off of the track. Just take a look at this short list of what a pit crew does:

  • Pre-race strategy, planning and preparation to configure/tune/equip the car
  • Engineering like aerodynamic testing, fuel and tire modeling
  • Logistics, ordering, planning and supply chain management
  • Real-time monitoring and feedback to the driver of key vehicle, track and environmental metrics
  • Regular maintenance during scheduled pit stops – tires, fuel, performance adjustments – without unscheduled down time
  • Critical repair after vehicle damage during the race – every second matters to get back in the race
  • … and much more

The racing math is simple – without an amazing pit crew watching the vehicle and the driver, and doing the hard work before, during and after the race, you’d have zero wins. The pit crew that wins an F1 race doesn’t come from your corner oil change shop and work weekends on the F1 track as a part time job. These men and women spend decades working their way up. Maybe they start as the person that carries and changes the tires. Then they’re the person running big data-driven analytics on performance of a dozen different tire choices on 13-month asphalt in 57-degree weather with 31 percent relative humidity. This experience culminates and that person becomes the guy or gal making a critical decision that will affect the outcome of the race. This crew is the SEAL team of operations. Their dedication to behind-the-scenes excellence is why the driver can get in the car and perform his or her art and win the race.

This same mentality applies to running a cloud. The best software and hardware in the world won’t give you a winning cloud. You need an amazing group of cloud operators. It’s relatively easy to find cloud software and run it on some hardware. Your current admins are very likely not capable of running your cloud. Cloud is different. It’s never “off.” Scheduled downtime? Hah! Very few people have the tools, mindset or experience to effectively and efficiently operate a cloud, and you probably can’t afford to allow them to get that experience and expertise on your dime (like when your business critical app is down).

Rackspace is in the business of delivering Fanatical Support. We’re committed to delivering an amazing cloud outcome for our customers – in our data centers or yours. The (now not so) “secret” recipe is 25 percent Software and Hardware and 75 percent Operations. We founded OpenStack and helped it to become amazing software with a thriving community. But, we also learned the hard way what goes into amazing operations.

How did Rackspace become great at operating clouds? By doing it, at huge scale, across numerous data centers and continents for the better part of a decade. Fanatical Support is a culmination of experience and dedication that defines Rackspace and the 5,000 Rackers around the world who come into work each day to volunteer their best.

You can hire the folks from the local oil change shop to be your pit crew and hope for the best, or you can hire proven, experienced experts who live and breathe this stuff. Operations is our bread and butter, and doing it well is part of our DNA.

How badly do you want to win the race?

Questions or comments about this blog post? Let me know on Twitter @scottsanchez.


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