As I was listening to speakers at Structure Conference this year, something caught my attention and changed my thinking on cloud priorities. When IT decision makers are asked to rate the top challenges for cloud adoption, security always rises to the top. Security, security, security. At Structure, I heard something slightly different from Microsoft’s Satya Nadella “Security remains a top issue in cloud, but it isn’t just a cloud issue, it’s an issue for anyone with a network”. Security is a challenge IT faces the minute data is accessible from or moved over the network. It’s a global IT problem for a connected world. So let’s agree for a minute that security has the attention it needs and shine a spotlight on another major challenge that is holding back cloud adoption – interoperability.
The need for “openness” in cloud solutions is oft debated. What is an open cloud solution anyway? To keep it simple, I will focus on the need for interoperability. IT end users want infrastructure and services that are not only best of breed, but also that enable flexibility and choice. They want the benefit of meaningful innovation from multiple vendors with a foundation of interoperability for easier integration, simplified management and reduced costs. No matter how good technology is, most people don’t like to feel completely locked in to one solution or vendor (although Apple users appear to be immune from this concern). Interoperability isn’t about standardizing on one hypervisor or type of server, but allowing management across multiple hypervisors and heterogeneous environments. It’s not about the industry standardizing on one API (I am sure Amazon would offer up theirs), but about enabling compatibility and portability between environments. The IEEE’s CIO, Dr. Alexander Pasik, recently commented “To achieve the economies of scale that will make cloud computing successful, common platforms are needed to ensure users can easily navigate between services and applications regardless of where they’re coming from, and enable organizations to more cost-effectively transition their IT systems to a services-oriented model.” Whether someone is buying HW and SW to build a private cloud or looking to incorporate cloud services into their environment, interoperable solutions will help maximize the benefit to IT.
So I ask the question, is the industry incentivized to make this happen? We’re not there yet. Highly integrated solutions have long been a way for vendors to provide a controlled experience and comprehensive solution. Highly integrated solutions also capture more share of wallet for the vendor and lock customers in for future generations. The vendor fear is that disaggregating and opening up solutions will drive commoditization and therefore a loss of differentiation. We need that mindset changed. Standards based, interoperable solutions can both accelerate technology adoption and provide room for layered innovation and growth. For example, XML provided a common format for encoding everything from web pages to API’s which has in turn enabled unheralded innovations in applications. PCI Express standardized an efficient interface to open up a broad array of I/O device innovation from the industry. Regardless, we as an industry need to do what’s in the best interest of the IT consumer and drive the benefit of open, interoperable solutions for the cloud. I was pleased to hear Forrest Norrod, GM of Dell’s Server Platform Division, agree at Structure when he said “Open doesn’t end innovation, open promotes innovation”.
Interoperability, therefore, is my top issue to tackle for accelerating the cloud evolution. Even the security challenges we talked about in the beginning should be addressed with an open, interoperable approach. If you share my interest, lend your voice to the discussion and help shape the future of cloud solutions. Get involved in the Open Data Center Alliance, specify that solutions should be open/interoperable through purchasing processes or support industry organizations like the DMTF, IEEE or CSA who are working to drive standards into the industry.
For more of my thoughts on cloud, the industry and technology – follow or contact me at @RaejeanneS on Twitter.
(Guest post by Raejeanne Skillern, Director of Cloud Marketing for Intel. Throughout her 17 years at Intel, Raejeanne has focused on data center technology trends and has held multiple management positions in strategic, product and industry marketing.)