I’ve heard a lot of positive things about Rackspace’s Cloud Servers so I decided to sign up and test them out. I was specifically looking to test server provisioning times, the resizing process, and the overall performance of the server. Along the way, I stumbled upon their iPhone app which allows you to create and manage cloud servers. The sign up process is painless. I entered some information, waited for a phone call for verification, and was on my way in about 15 minutes.
The Control Panel
The Control Panel is where you go to manage your cloud servers or cloud files service. Immediately upon logging in, you are presented with an at a glance view of your account activity since your last billing date. There is also a Getting Started tab which provides some basic information on how to begin using the service. At the very top of the page are links to the cloud status, knowledge base, forums, tickets, and live chat. If you need to contact Rackspace, their numbers for the US and UK are also listed at the top of the page.
Deploying Cloud Servers
To begin deploying cloud servers, navigate to the Hosting section, select Cloud Servers and Add Server. The next screen presents you with three tabs – Linux, Windows, and My Backups. On the Linux tab, there are 14 different flavors of Linux. You’ll see at the very top of the list is RedHat Enterprise Linux. Note that there is an additional $.03 usage fee per hour. If you need a Windows instance, there are five to choose from: three are 64bit, and two are 32-bit. Similar to the RHEL instances, these instances are priced slightly higher due to licensing costs. Below is the server size selection screen. You can choose from 256MB of memory and 10GB of storage all the way up to 15.5GB of memory and 620GB of storage. Rackspace suggests using their Cloud Files service if you need additional storage.
The deployment process can take up to three minutes per Linux instance and up to six minutes per Windows instance. An email confirmation is sent out with the login information and the IP address of the instance. It’s a good idea to go ahead and change that password after the server is deployed.
Since I wasn’t able to select CPU resources for my instances, I was curious to see what was assigned to the server. I grep’d the model from /proc/cpuinfo and saw that my Linux server had four AMD quad-core Opteron 2374 processors at 2200 MHz each. The processors didn’t change when I resized the server to a larger instance.
The next thing I wanted to test was throughput to the local disk. I created a zero byte file 1GB in size and ran a few rsync tests to another directory on the same partition. The average throughput was about 45MB per second for five separate tests. When I resized my server from the 256MB version to the 512MB version, the throughput jumped to an average of 90MB per second for the same five tests.
The next test was network bandwidth. To test the speeds, I uploaded a 1GB file from my Linux host to my ftp site. The average network throughput was 1.6Mbps. Transfer speeds on the private network are near 1Gbps between my Linux and Windows servers.
By default, backups are disabled but can easily be enabled from the Control Panel. Note – Backups are only available for Linux-based servers, not Windows. After you enable backups, you can create a schedule for daily backups and weekly backups. You also have the ability to kick off ad-hoc backups. A very cool and pretty useful feature is the ability to use your backup as a template for a new server deployment. Once you have your server and applications configured and then create a backup. When you need to deploy more of the same server, choose the My Backups tab from the image selection section. This is ideal for environments that need the ability to scale their environment out very quickly.
Another method of managing your Rackspace Cloud services is to use their iPhone app which is available for download in the App Store. In order to use the iPhone app, you need to generate an API key. To generate the key with the Control Panel, select Your Account – API Access – Generate A New API Access Key.
Provisioning New Systems
Rackspace makes it very easy to choose an operating system from their Add Server section…unless it’s a Windows box. All of the Linux operating system names are pretty short and fit on the screen. Since the app doesn’t do landscape mode, the name of the Windows instances are cut off. It’s a bit of a pain because you don’t know which version of Windows to select. Of course the easy way to fix this is to not use Windows. However, since that is probably not an option, maybe the folks at Rackspace can fix this in a future app release.
Here are some of the screen caps of the iPhone app:
Provisioning times are just as fast with the iPhone app as they are with the web control panel.
You can also use the iPhone app to perform some basic management of your cloud servers. Let’s say you are on the road and an app on your cloud server becomes non-responsive. You can use the iPhone app to initiate a soft reboot of the server. If that doesn’t work, you can also initiate a hard reboot.
You can also resize the instance from within the iPhone app. To resize the server from within the Server Details , tap the Flavor section or the Resize Server section and select the desired size and then tap Save. Note – You cannot resize the Windows instances.
Below the Resize Server section is the Reset Server option. I thought this would restore the server to its original state when deployed, but when tapped it asked me to reset my password.
For a full list of features and more details, click here.
Overall, the Rackspace Cloud Servers are pretty solid. The control panel is intuitive and well organized plus they offer a large variety of cloud servers with several configuration options. The features that stand out to me are the resizing capability of Linux systems, the iPhone app, and the ridiculously low price. Speaking of ridiculously low prices: all of the cloud instances used for this research cost about 2 bucks!