VMware and the Open Cloud Dilemma

Arthur Cole

For many in the enterprise industry, the issue of open systems vs. proprietary ones is a no-brainer: Open is always better because it fosters greater flexibility by reducing your dependency on a single vendor.

However, this kind of thinking falls victim to two unfortunate realities: 1) Open does not necessarily mean interoperable, and 2) there are many degrees of openness, not all of which reduce dependency on a single provider. And sometimes, even proprietary systems can prove to be quite flexible. For many years, Windows enabled many more third-party hardware configurations than Mac OS, even though few people would consider it an open platform.

Now, the drive to foster open environments has moved to the cloud, with the reasoning that only full openness can provide the kind of dynamic flexibility and broad interoperability needed to drive social networking, collaboration and next-generation data environments. But as I asked recently, is a fully open cloud really necessary? Or, more to the point, will the enterprise still be able to gain all the benefits it needs from the cloud even though its data environment does not share the same digital underpinnings as the rest of the world?

The issue is coming into stark focus lately as leading vendors draw up their cloud development agendas. IBM drew a round of applause earlier this month when it announced it would support OpenStack in all future releases. A few weeks later, that joy turned to disappointment when VMware announced that its new cloud service will be based on its own vCloud platform – the thinking being that vCloud will be better able to integrate with existing VMware virtualization environments within the data center. Users will still be able to port their data to services offered by other providers, but only those who use VMware technology.

If this were any other company, such an announcement would have been met with a collective yawn. But since VMware pretty much owns the virtual layer at just about every data center on the planet, it has tremendous influence over customers’ buying decisions. Still, it’s important to note that none of the top cloud providers – Amazon, Google and Microsoft, to name a few – have embraced OpenStack, and as The VAR Guy points out, even those that have, like Dell and Rackspace, can’t claim to offer instant, seamless compatibility with public or private OpenStack clouds, at least not yet. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that The VAR Guy counts VMware as one of his sponsors.

Of course, even if a proprietary VMware cloud is not necessarily bad for cloud users, does that mean it will be good for VMware? That depends largely on public reaction, and already the company is getting some serious blowback for its decision. According to Business Insider, both PayPal and eBay are said to be decommissioning tens of thousands of VMware licenses in their respective server infrastructures and replacing them with OpenStack-compatible software. If this were to catch on in the enterprise at large, VMware would face not only a threat to its new cloud service, but to vCloud’s very presence within private and hybrid infrastructure. Again, though, word of these machinations is coming from one Boris Renski, cofounder of an OpenStack consultancy named Mirantis and an OpenStack Foundation board member.

Supporters of open technology aren’t likely to be swayed by arguments that it isn’t, and never has been, all that it’s cracked up to be. And proprietary vendors aren’t usually accommodating to arguments that their platforms are not, in fact, the ultimate answer to all that ails the enterprise.

Ultimately, though, the cloud is no different from any other enterprise architecture in that it requires a number of hard decisions regarding deployment, interoperability and architecture. Every choice will have consequences, and it is up to IT to establish clear process and procedures for the cloud – and then make sure business units and individual users adhere to them.

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