The vast majority of enterprises that I talk to believe that the natural end state for cloud computing is a hybrid one. This means a combination of public/private/IaaS/PaaS/SaaS depending upon the needs of the business and the economics of the situation.
Not surprisingly, this has caused legacy vendors to engage in large-scale cloud washing in an attempt to remain relevant in modern infrastructure and application development conversations. However, the other (and often less noticed) impact of embracing a hybrid vision is that “pure play” public cloud platform vendors begin claiming that their service can also be run privately. In most cases, this is equally disingenuous. How can you tell? If you try to download their ‘private’ offering, you’re typically asked to call or email them for more info. That’s usually a red flag.
As it turns out, it’s pretty tough to build software that is designed to be both offered as a service by a vendor and runnable directly by end customers. The reasons are both product and business related.
On the product front, building a platform to be operated directly by an enterprise means embracing two customers – IT Ops and Developers. These constituencies have different needs, requirements and concerns. It also means testing and enabling the operation of your platform on the nearly infinite variety of enterprise infrastructures, not just a carefully curated set of public IaaS providers. If your mantra is ‘NoOps’, you’re clearly not focusing on requirements for operators which makes running and maintaining your platform nearly impossible as a practical matter. As a case in point, Microsoft has largely abandoned the Azure appliance for the masses and instead embraced a strategy of attaching Azure public cloud services to Windows Server which is already operated by thousands of enterprise IT shops worldwide. It’s also why I feel that VMware will eventually leverage its large vSphere install based to advance Cloud Foundry in the enterprise.
While difficult, product challenges can be overcome with time and resources. On the business front however, operating a service for profit and selling software are just two completely different business models. While at Microsoft, I never worried about COGS when building enterprise software until we started building and operating large scale public services in which case it was the only thing that mattered with respect to profitability. Perhaps more importantly, as a cloud software vendor, one of your top goals should be to enable partners and customers to create public/private/hybrid services from your offering. If you’re going to sell arms and also engage in the war (and hope to win on both fronts), this creates a natural tension in your ecosystem. Microsoft has acknowledged and understands this inherent tension and is taking steps to enable partner success by actively helping hosters differentiate their offerings from Azure IaaS. How this will play itself out with VMware and Cloud Foundry without multiple vendor forks is still unclear. The ecosystem there doesn’t even think this is a problem.
Bottom line – it’s hard to deliver a genuine hybrid cloud solution and that’s true whether you start on premises and move to the public cloud or vice versa. Inevitably however, it’s what enterprises want.
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