Cloud

How your company can survive the multicloud lock-in mess

Every large cloud provider uses proprietary services to keep customers on their platform. However, there is a way to solve this problem.

Many software vendors are seeing their businesses eviscerated by the cloud, as companies elect to build their futures within others' data centers. The key to surviving this transition to cloud, however, isn't retreat: It's to embrace more cloud. Or clouds, as the case may be.

It's a multicloud world

This is a key insight highlighted by Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady in How to Compete With the Cloud. While the industry has (wrongly) talked about multicloud as a future filled with applications happily bursting from cloud to cloud in search of cost and performance advantages, the real multicloud future is all about lock-in.

SEE: Learn Cloud Computing From Scratch (TechRepublic Academy)

As Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud seek competitive differentiation, they're building services (e.g., AWS Aurora, Microsoft Azure Cosmos, etc.) that are found in only one place. Sure, you can move data between clouds: As Heptio founder Craig McLuckie has declared, moving data between clouds "is technically easy to solve...[with] a semi truck full of hard drives." But you can't easily swap out an AWS-specific service for a Google-specific replacement.

As O'Grady explained in detail:

While the proprietary cloud implementations may offer superior performance characteristics and lower setup friction, they come with the obvious and unavoidable caveat that the software is tied to a single platform - users are unlikely to be able to run Aurora for PostgreSQL on Azure or Google, for example. Such proprietary services serve as a means of differentiation between cloud providers. This makes them, by design, non-options for multi-cloud strategies. And even the vanilla implementations of open source projects-as-a-service come with an overhead: the user interfaces and APIs will differ from platform to platform.

Some companies will pledge their allegiance to a single cloud, similar to Microsoft shops that committed to the Redmond giant's operating system ecosystem.

Your lock-in is my opportunity

This intransigent problem of multicloud lock-in, however, provides an opportunity, O'Grady reasoned. "Software vendors...that can offer a product on premise or across multiple clouds comparable to what they might get from those cloud platforms natively can mitigate the service disadvantage they face while simultaneously introducing a competitive differentiator - one unlikely to be bridged by cloud platforms - into the mix." SEE: Red Hat: The cloud needs an OS, and OpenShift is just the thing (TechRepublic)

One company that has embraced this vision is Red Hat, which has turned its OpenShift product into a "cloud OS" of sorts that gives developers a consistent application interface across disparate infrastructure, whether in-the-cloud or on-premises. No, Red Hat can't homogenize a Google machine learning service so that it runs on AWS, and it doesn't try to. Instead, it attempts to provide an application platform above the infrastructure (and cloud platform-specific services) layer.

Other companies will follow suit. Google and Microsoft can compete with AWS head-to-head for cloud services. Everyone else needs to figure out a particular angle. But, given the mega-clouds' need to silo services as a moat to hold customers in, those vendors with multicloud strategies for bridging those silos stand to make money the mega-clouds simply can't.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/shutter_m

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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