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The world of cloud is increasingly an open one. There's a variety of platforms all claiming to have some degree of openness.
The world of cloud is increasingly an open one. There's a variety of platforms all claiming to have some degree of openness. But what does open mean in this case and what are the implications for customers who want to avoid vendor lock-in? Will the cloud ever be truly open?
If you wanted evidence of the importance which the open source community views cloud computing, note that several open source cloud computing platforms exist, each vying for a similar piece of the market.
CloudStack is perhaps the best-known, providing VM management capabilities to enable private clouds. Previously a Citrix product, it has recently been taken over by the Apache Foundation for further development and to increase its openness. Additionally, it is being aligned to Amazon's APIs, thus enabling access to a large swathe of tools and services.
It is not alone. Open source Eucalyptus recently also made a similar announcement regarding its eponymous cloud platform's support for Amazon. OpenStack, which has support from a number of hardware vendors, is basing its public cloud support around Rackspace's services.
With such a wide range of options, is there any chance of vendor lock-in? Open source vendors argue that openness avoids lock-in, that their offerings are based on open standards, and are urging cloud providers to use and adhere to them, rather then re-inventing the wheel. And on the face of it, this claim holds water.
However, basing your private and public cloud management on one of the platforms inevitably generates its own inertia. Start customising a standard package to meet your precise needs means that soft lock-in is unavoidable. Yes, five years down the line you could switch cloud management packages but would you want to ditch years of experience and customisation and start from scratch?
Proprietary hardware vendors come into this too. They support some cloud management packages and not others, so a cloud management platform needs to support your mix of hardware, which will narrow your options.
Is this all moot? A key question is whether lock-in is a major concern. It depends in part perhaps on your sourcing policies, but mainly whether the technology does the job. Neither VMware nor Microsoft are open but their hypervisors have been adopted wholesale as the underpinnings of private clouds. What's more, Red Hat, the most successful open source company, is keen to talk about open source but keener to talk about its products' business benefits, suggesting that this message resonates with its customers.
So can the cloud ever be truly open? It's unlikely, given the volume of investment already made and required in future to develop new products, and the interests and numbers of existing proprietary hardware and software vendors. The question is: how much do you care?