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Rackspace's shift drives IT shop into Amazon RDS' arms

Amazon's database as a service convinced a large Rackspace customer to move all its servers to EC2.

Amazon Web Services' database offering tipped the balance for one Rackspace shop that plans to go all-in with AWS...

in the coming months.

Amazon's Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) will form the backbone of a new application in the works from social media management firm Sprout Social, Inc. in Chicago. The new application will allow companies to market their business via employees on social media.

With Amazon RDS, "it's just built-in that if one of [Amazon's] data centers dies or one of my instances dies, it just fails over to another instance automatically, within another data center," said Aaron Rankin, CTO and co-founder of Sprout Social. "So the fact that's handled for us frees us up from having to engineer custom solutions rather than focusing on building our product."

Rackspace Hosting also offers database as a service, but disaster recovery between data centers is not included with Rackspace's Cloud Databases. Rackspace Cloud Databases' server instances also do not scale as high as Amazon's RDS instances. Cloud Database servers are limited to 64 gigabytes (GB) of memory, while Amazon's database instances can scale as high as 244 GB and are less expensive. A Cloud Databases server with two GB of memory costs $0.12 an hour, while a similar Amazon db.t2.small instance is priced at $0.017 per hour.

"I feel at a disadvantage using Rackspace," Rankin said.

As it scales up the new app, Sprout Social will also move about 200 server instances off of Rackspace's Cloud Servers and into Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Sprout Social has been a Rackspace customer for years, but Rankin said recent strategy shifts on Rackspace's part have pushed his company toward AWS, where it already has about 40 instances.

"If we were solely being hosted with dedicated hardware, Rackspace would probably be a good bet, although there are more cost-effective options out there," Rankin said. "But frankly, Rackspace just isn't trying to compete in cloud anymore."

Rackspace has shifted its focus over the past year from competing with mega public cloud providers to being a managed services company.

"The cloud market has split into two segments -- unmanaged and managed," a company spokesperson said in an email. "Rackspace is focused on expanding its leadership position as the No. 1 managed cloud company."

And while managed cloud isn't for Sprout Social, other enterprises such as Marc Cuban Companies see a need for that type of cloud. Rackspace claims it currently has more than 300,000 business customers.

"Although managed cloud is not a perfect fit for everyone in the cloud market, we are seeing strong validation of this strategy through large customer wins like Tinder and analyst recognition in reports like 451's report on the Total Addressable Market for Managed Cloud," the Rackspace spokesperson said.

I feel at a disadvantage using Rackspace.
Aaron Rankin, CTO, Sprout Social

Rankin has also studied what IBM SoftLayer and Google Cloud Platform offer, but familiarity with Amazon's services influenced his choice. Familiarity is also a reason Sprout chose MySQL on Amazon RDS rather than Amazon's own MySQL variant, Aurora.

"We're happy with MySQL so we didn't have any driving need to try something exotic," Rankin said. While his staff can handle deploying MySQL on EC2, eliminating management tasks helped move the company's new application out the door.

"We already have plenty of other machines to manage, so not having a few more is attractive," Rankin said.

That's not to say AWS is perfect either, according to Rankin. It could streamline or offer better guidance on how to use its various configuration and management tools, he said.

"There are probably about 10 things that, if you look at the AWS products and services page, all have to do with configuring servers or deploying code," Rankin said. "It is incredibly confusing to know which one you should use when and why."

Amazon declined to comment.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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