The Rackspace Cloud will begin practicing what it preaches and transition to OpenStack. The announcement is one of the first of many expected out of the OpenStack camp this week, as the developers and companies involved with OpenStack descend on San Francisco for a design summit and conference.

Starting May 1st, Rackspace will begin a limited availability program for the “next generation Rackspace cloud.”

Mark Interrante, VP of cloud products at Rackspace, says that the OpenStack components will work alongside Rackspace’s existing cloud offerings. The transition will be gradual, so customers who are already using Rackspace cloud won’t be moved right away. It will be a “nice, simple upgrade” when they do move, he adds.

The Next Generation

The platform includes several stable components from the OpenStack project, and a few pieces that are still being “incubated” for OpenStack and yet to be accepted into the main project.

For example, Rackspace will be deploying the MySQL-based Red Dwarf project for its Cloud Databases offering. Right now, Rackspace lacks a NoSQL option, though Interrante did note that Rackspace is a contributor to Apache Cassandra. This was followed by the standard “we have nothing to announce at this time,” but you can draw your own conclusions.

The control panel and dashboard that Rackspace is offering is not based on the OpenStack Dashboard (Horizon), Interrante says, because the company needs to integrate non-OpenStack services and offerings as well.

The offering will include a new block storage offering that allows “flexible volumes which can be attached or detached from servers” on standard storage or SSDs. Rackspace will also offer a networking product based on the Quantum OpenStack project, which is currently incubating for the Folsom release.

Pricing and Freedom

Pricing for the OpenStack-based products is the same as the pricing for its current solutions.

Which is also to say, Rackspace obviously isn’t trying to compete with Amazon on price. While it’s difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison, Rackspace’s prices generally run higher per hour than close counterparts on AWS. Rackspace also offers managed service with its servers at $0.12 per hour and a flat fee of $100 per month for an account.

The promise, of course, with Rackspace is that customers can move workloads between on-premise (private) clouds and Rackspace’s public cloud – or from Rackspace’s public cloud to another provider that offers OpenStack.

However, the devil is going to be in the details. When I asked Interrante about the prospect of moving workloads, he couldn’t say with certainty that it was possible between different installations of OpenStack. In theory, it should be possible.

OpenStack Kibble

While this might seem like the least surprising announcement in the history of tech, it isa significant milestone. While talking up OpenStack since summer of 2010 when the project was announced, Rackspace’s cloud offerings have still largely been powered by a different set of software. It was only a matter of time, but the fact that Rackspace is finally getting ready for a steady diet of its own dog food really does matter.

The stakes for Rackspace and the larger OpenStack community are very high. A lot of companies are going to be watching for reports on Rackspace’s OpenStack deployment. Rackspace can’t afford any outages or glitches in the service, lest the company color public perception of OpenStack as a whole.

This seems to be a pretty strong vote of confidence for the Essex release out of Rackspace. Whether the rest of the industry follows suit is another story. What do you think – is OpenStack ready for prime time?