The news all the long year customers of Slicehost were afraid of came into light few days back. Slicehost is being shut down somewhere in the next year time. All the current customers will get automatically converted to Rackspace cloud server and according to the press release and the FAQ Rackspace representative left on the Slicehost forums it will take just a simple button push to convert existing server from Slicehost ecosystem to that of Rackspace cloud.
Furthermore Rackspace representative is very vocal about all the new features this will bring current Slicehost customers with no price increase. He even go as far to tell the Slicehost customers that the prices for services at Rackspace will be lower for most of them. Too good to be true? It usually is. Let us dissect “the deal” to see what is really going to happen. Rackspace does use some kind of Xen based virtual technology (based now on Slicehost technology) stupidly dubbed by hosting industry- for dummies “THE CLOUD“. The cloud is nothing more than a virtual solution – this means running multiple operating systems each in their sandbox like environment under one or many virtually managed hypervisors. The same thing is VPS only on much smaller scale.
Crucial differences between cloud solution and that of VPS are in the management and services. While on VPS based solution the management is fairly easy and there are migration paths available they need virtual server down during the process, on the cloud based solution migration path usually has both instances running at the same time and when migration is over the end users do not notice anything changed (no downtime). Further on the management, cloud solution usually offers file storage outside own server virtual space and on the same physical machine (or machines). This is helpful if you have daily backups or you have ready to run production environments you have rolled up.
The services from the cloud offering range from multiple virtual email servers, mentioned centralized file storage, the ease of different setup and conversions and so on. Actually in the nutshell VPS is running on the same physical machine all the time and if you wish to migrate (or hosting provider does so) they need to shut it down and move it by copying virtual image. On cloud based solution in the nutshell there are multiple machines acting as one, dividing their resources between them so it is not always sure or possible to determine the actual physical hardware the virtual server is running on. This redundancy and sharing of resources is great for hosting provider because costs of running a virtual server for them are less and for customers the availability is higher. However buzzword is that cloud is miles better than VPS and this is the next big thing after sliced bread. This is wrong and misleading.
That out of the way, Slicehost has had its popularity boost because of:
a) excellent, lightweight and very intuitive control panel
b) excellent and on-the-point chat support with technical people all around the clock
c) excellent and very informative articles about server setup and configuration
d) very affordable prices and good usage limits
Move to Rackspace gives us ugly, unintuitive control panel missing some very good features from Slicehost panel (TXT DNS record for example – at Rackspace you need to call support to set something as simple as TXT record). Furthermore, it is unclear whether they are going to keep the chat feature let alone all around the clock one. Informative articles they are going to keep but probably bury under loads of advertising and “offers you should not miss“. Slicehost already lost price/value race to Linode and other competitors years ago (coinciding with Rackspace takeover) and usages on cloud are going to be good if you are lightweight customer. However which lightweight (or hobby) customer want to use corporate “THE CLOUD” for research, learning or hobby?