Defining the cloud Part 3: Open

Open

This may seem like an odd topic for the cloud, but I think it is important.  One of the questions I have been asked many times when discussing cloud solutions with customers is around portability of virtual machines, and interoperability with other providers.  This of course raises some obvious concerns for companies who want to make money building or providing cloud services and platforms.

We live in a soundbite culture.  If it can’t be said in 140 characters or less, we don’t really want to read it.  Hopefully you are still reading at this point, this is way past a tweet.  We like monthly services versus owning a datacenter, who wants to pay for the equipment when you can just rent it in the cloud.  More and more services are popping up to make it simpler for us to rent houses for a day or a few days, get a taxi, rent a car by the mile, or a bike by the hour.  There is nothing wrong with this, but we need to understand the impact.  What if each car had different controls to steer, what if there was no standard?  How could the providers then create services, it is all based on an open and agreed upon standard.

In order for the cloud to be truly useful, it must be based on standards.  This is where OpenStack is the most important.  Going far beyond just a set of API’s, OpenStack enables us to have a core set of features that are common to everyone.  Of course in order to make money, beyond just selling support for this, many companies choose to add additional features which differentiate them.  This is not opensource, but still based on the open framework.  For most companies, this still uses open standards such as the rest API, and other standards based ways of consuming the service.  Even VMware, perhaps the largest cloud software provider, uses standard API’s, and supports popular tools for managing their systems.

Open standards, open API’s, and standards based management features are critical for the cloud.  Of course everyone wants you to choose their cloud, but to be honest, most of us consume multiple cloud services at once.  I use DropBox, Box.Net, Google Drive, Skydrive, and a few other cloud storage providers because they all have different use cases for me.  I use Netflix and Hulu Plus because they give me different content.  Why then should business consumers not use some AWS, some Google Enterprise Cloud, some HP Public Cloud, and perhaps even some of the other smaller providers?  For the cloud to continue to be of value, we will have to adjust to the multi service provider cloud, and everyone will have to compete on the best services, the best features, and the best value.

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