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Ubuntu creator warns businesses to be wary of cloud lock-in

Canonical and Citrix highlight the pitfalls of proprietary cloud computing

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Cloud infrastructure was always meant to be based on open standards, and organisations that choose to buy capacity from public clouds that only support one standard are creating problems for themselves in the future, according to Ubuntu creator Canonical.

“All the world’s biggest clouds are built on open source technology,” said Canonical's vice president Chris Kenyon in a keynote session at Cloud Expo Europe yesterday. “They’re not all built on open standards, but open source underpins all of the largest plans.”

Kenyon explained this is because open clouds are scalable, cheap and secure. He compared the evolution of cloud computing the the evolution of the internet, stating that although the web existed before open standards, it was the arrival of HTML that prompted the explosion of innovation that made the web what it is today.

“Lock-in is fundamentally a bad thing,” he said. “Beware of a cloud solution that’s fundamentally proprietary; beware of cloud solutions that are actually just virtualisation dressed up as cloud, they’re not the same thing – vCloud is not fundamentally where cloud computing is going over the next ten years; beware of cloud solutions that are only offered by one vendor, and beware of anything that comes from the high temple of lock-in: Oracle.”

Kenyon said the industry is moving towards a world where multiple public cloud providers will be competing on price, functionality and uptime. He pointed to HP's public cloud, which is built on OpenStack and will come out of beta this year, as well as Rackspace's plans to move its public cloud infrastructure to OpenStack.

In this new world, enterprises will be able to build against Openstack and buy burst capacity or backup capacity from a particular vendor; but if that vendor doesn't provide an acceptable level of service, the enterprise will simply be able to go elsewhere, he said.

“It’s a fundamentally different model from the one we have with Amazon today, which while exceptionally innovative, gives you lock-in to one vendor,” said Kenyon.

Damian Saunders, director for the Cloud Platforms & Networking Group at Citrix, agrees that proprietary technology is “toxic” in a cloud environment. Citrix also contributes to the OpenStack project, and claims that its CloudBridge product can provide effective IT management in an open source, hybrid cloud environment.

Saunders acknowledged that there is a place for proprietary cloud infrastructure within organisations whose existing infrastructure is based on proprietary technology from one main vendor. In this case, he said, it can often be a case of “better the devil you know”.

However, proprietary infrastructure is only suitable for building general purpose enterprise clouds. For large service providers such as Amazon and Rackspace, or for special purpose clouds such as Microsoft Office 365 and Betfair, the industry needs a more flexible solution, said Saunders.

Saunders expects the cloud market to divide, with open cloud vendors breaking away from their proprietary counterparts and turning their focus to building special-purpose clouds. As well as the delivering cloud services like Office 365, these purpose-built solutions will also enable enterprises to put high performance computing (HPC) in the cloud, and build new platforms to deal with Big Data.

Meanwhile, the general-purpose cloud providers will also have to continue using open technology, in order to adapt and change as the market grows. "If service providers running open source platforms realise they need to be one step to the left, all they need to do is write it," said Saunders.


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