Are Open Systems Inevitable in the Cloud?

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Few people would argue against the efficacy of open, interoperable systems. And yet market forces being what they are, a fully open IT universe has forever been hopelessly out of reach.

But as virtualization and cloud technology continue to encroach on isolated, proprietary infrastructure, are we approaching an era in which openness is not only desirable, but necessary?

First the news: Intel took a major step forward in opening up network infrastructure by its decision to give out its Open FCoE stack for free as part of the X520 10 GbE server adapter. The immediate effect this will have on the data center is a vastly stripped down Ethernet infrastructure. Having already received broad support from both hardware and software vendors, Open FCoE enables NFS, iSCSI and Fibre Channel to be carried over FCoE. This, in turn, allows enterprises to eliminate up to 10 1GbE connections per server, plus associated hardware and cabling, by bringing everything under the domain of a single FCoE-enabled 10 GbE link.

Intel executives say the move can help cut infrastructure capital costs by a third and operating expenses, namely power, by up to 80 percent. This is a major reason why the company has included it as a key component of its Cloud 2015 and Open Data Center initiatives.

A key question, though, is whether Intel and other companies heading toward open systems are doing this because they want to or because they have to, according to Andy Mulholland, CTO of business intelligence firm Capgemini. It's interesting to note that the vast majority of the Open Data Centre Alliance membership is end users from the banking, hospitality, engineering and energy industry, with not a single vendor serving on the steering committee. The fact is that as the industry transitions from an environment in which hardware and software platforms drive the applications and capabilities we need to stay productive to one in which business requirements dictate the underlying infrastructure, vendors will have no choice but to ensure their platforms are interoperable with the wider universe.

What's really needed is the equivalent of the enterprise service bus for the new global infrastructure that is the cloud, according to InformationWeek's Charles Babcock. Just as the ESB helped bridge the gap between application adapters and connectors, a cloud service bus could be used to foster universal connectivity using the Internet as a fabric. A company called Grand Central Communications tried this a few years ago, but the market wasn't ready then. Perhaps now that the cloud is upon us, necessity will prove to be the mother of invention yet again.

Predictions about an open source revolution have come before, only to fall flat in the face of cold reality. But the IT industry has never undergone such a profound change as the one it is experiencing now. If universal openness doesn't gain a strong foothold now, it probably never will.