Why signing up with Rackspace was a disappointing experience


[Update – I wrote this at the end of a long and frustrating day, and got the tone completely wrong, I was way too grumpy. Normally I wouldn't revise, but since it ended up on HN, I'll add this note. I'm still living in awe that I can rent a hundred machine cluster for $10 an hour, for me that's better than a jet-pack]

Today I needed to create a Rackspace account, so I could help out a non-profit I'm supporting. I've long been intrigued by the idea of a cloud host with support as a key feature, especially after the poor experience I had when my Amazon load balancer died. That left me glad to have an excuse to try out Rackspace, but after going through signup I was left distinctly unimpressed. There wasn't anything major, but there were several aspects to the process that were jarring.


They require the password to have a mixture of upper and lower-case letters and numbers. This is a cop-out, they should be testing for general password strength rather than inflicting arbitrary rules like this. It's not a massive coding task, and it's also odd to see them passing the plain text passwords back to the server for checking, rather than doing it client side. The page is https (though with warnings on Chrome about untrusted content) so it's not a major flaw, but it's poor fit-and-finish. It did fill me with fear that they might be storing my password as plain text though, especially when I discovered they send root passwords for your boxes through email!


You also have to pick a product on the account creation page. This is odd, but what was worse was that it's at the top of the page and gets unchecked when your password fails their rules. This meant I still couldn't submit the form after I'd changed the password to comply, and there was no feedback as to why the submission was failing. Again, a minor but irritating missing detail.


After all that, one of their employees has to give me a phone call before I can start creating servers. It felt very old-fashioned, and meant that the self-serve aspect was gone. Amazon does something similar, but has it all automated, giving me a pin I can put in, a much smoother experience. I had to stop progress on exploring the service and wait for a call, and of course when it came I was in a meeting, so I couldn't answer it. Later in the day, I called back the number they emailed me, got the general customer service line, had to sit through two repetitions of options, none of which appeared to apply, until I finally got a real person. He took some details, and had to forward me to an on-boarding specialist. I waited for a few minutes on hold, and then he had me confirm some basic details about my credit card number and address.

I was waiting for the reason they did this as a call with a human. I wasn't even calling from the same number I'd given them, so caller ID wasn't giving them additional confirmation. I thought they'd try to wow me with a sales pitch at least, or sweep me off my feet with an insistence on answering any questions I might have, but it was just a polite data-entry conversation.

Shared Server Images

This one's more of a missing feature than a user experience problem, but it contributed to my grumpiness. My goal with the non-profit is to set them up with a server containing some useful software, a mixture of open source tools built by me and others. The installation process for all of these packages is a multi-page document, taking a fair amount of time. On Amazon, I'm able to do this once and build a shared AMI, making it public so anyone can use the system. It looks like on Rackspace I'll have to go through the installation process for every account that wants to use the system, since they only support server images within a single account. It's clear from comments on that announcement that I'm not the only one looking for this, but there's still no ETA on the feature.

I'm really hoping I'll see the advantages of Rackspace's approach now I'm signed up. If it was a phone company or bank, I'd just sigh and move on, but I had higher hopes for a Zappos-like experience. My first three complaints could all be solved with some fairly simple tweaks to their processes, a bit of Javascript and some Twilio. As it stands, though Amazon's not perfect, their sign-up process actually gave me a lot better user experience.

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