An Open Cloud, But Not a Universal One

Arthur Cole

Is it really happening? Are we on the verge of a truly open cloud?

It’s getting harder to remain cynical about such a possibility given some of the more recent developments, even though there are still many interpretations as to what “open” really means.

Still, IBM’s announcement earlier this month that it would support OpenStack in all of its cloud platforms can only be viewed as a net positive for those who feared that the cloud would fall prey to proprietary technologies over time. By joining other top providers like HP, Red Hat, Cisco and Dell, IBM is sending a strong signal to the rest of the industry that there is more to gain by joining the open cloud movement than by bucking it. And as enterprises of all sizes look to integrate multiple cloud services with private and hybrid infrastructure, support for a common architecture from leading technology vendors and service providers makes it that much easier to circumvent many of the integration and management challenges that tend to arise.

Clearly, IBM’s support is a key development for cloud providers like Red Hat, which have turned to OpenStack as the primary means of weaning enterprise clients away from well-heeled rivals like Amazon. The company recently released a new management interface, OpenCenter, designed to help enterprises make their internal infrastructure more cloud-like. The system provides a single GUI for private cloud management and deployment, as well as an integrated API for managing OpenStack controller nodes, which should improve up-time and lessen the risk of placing critical business operations on the cloud.

The other significant development in the open cloud movement is Microsoft’s decision to join the Open Data Center Alliance. The ODCA approaches cloud and data center issues more from a user perspective, but it shares much of its membership roster with the OpenStack community, making it likely that Redmond will foster OpenStack compatibility in the near future, possibly including the Azure cloud. Already, Microsoft has welcomed rival platforms like Linux into Azure, as well as key third-party software tools like MongoDB and CouchDb. As well, Microsoft has warmed up to open source frameworks like Apache as it seeks to accommodate Hadoop and other Big Data-oriented services.

It is important to note, however, that openness in the cloud is not universal, at least not yet. Developers like Eucalyptus are devising their own open platforms, leading to a war of words over whose solution is “more open.” Eucalyptus touts it compatibility with Amazon and the fact that it provides free courseware and training as it seeks to draw in more professional-level development. As well, there is the Cloudstack platform championed by Citrix, which also supports the AWS API.

Having all these different flavors of cloud openness is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. True, the cloud is seen by many as the basis for wide-ranging collaboration and social media services, but at heart it will serve as an extension of the largely proprietary infrastructure that the enterprise has already built for itself. In that regard, a unified cloud ecosystem is all that is needed, regardless of whether it is open to third-party developers.

An open cloud, then, is a good way to ensure a vibrant mix of platforms and services, which in turn will drive productivity and business agility, but it is not a make-or-break requirement for the cloud industry as a whole.

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