As policy discussions on the 'Cloud' unfold in Washington, Brussels and around the world, last week's Red Hat Summit in Boston, where more than 2,500 developers and software leaders gathered from around the world, focused attention on open source and the 'Cloud.'
A key message from that Summit for policy makers is that the 'Cloud' is the natural evolution of IT enterprise architecture, and its growth is user-driven. The 'Cloud' is valuable and useful to consumers, businesses, and our innovation system because it enables a variety of business models, it makes possible a multi-vendor approach, and promises an 'open' platform that allows developers and enterprises to own and manage their delivery directly to end users. As the news reports below indicate, this promise is at risk, and the evolution of the 'Cloud' could simply be a repeat of the 1980's style 'lock-in' computing model, in which case, the result would be higher costs for users and barriers to innovation.
From Forbes.com (Red Hat CEO Whitehurst: Don’t Be Tricked into Cloud-based Lock-in, 5/3/11, excerpts):
Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO of Red Hat, argues that the CIO’s greatest challenge is to make sure that with the cloud, choice grows rather than shrinks. He believes the next 24 months will be crucial in determining if the cloud becomes an open area in which most of the value goes to customers or a closed shop where the vendors reap most of the benefit.
"While it’s true that the cloud is more flexible than the proprietary hardware and software stacks of prior eras, subscribing to one vendor’s proprietary architecture for the cloud will vastly reduce that flexibility,” Whitehurst argues. “Lock-in will drive costs much higher and overwhelm the savings achieved through technical efficiency,” says Whitehurst.
The original and essential value proposition of the cloud is to turn as many computing resources as possible into commodities that are available on demand. The value of the cloud lies in the fact that tasks that used to require an enormous investment in proprietary hardware can now be accomplished cheaply on commodity hardware that may not even be owned by the organization using them. But now, the cloud is in danger of becoming too commercially valuable to vendors. The economics of lock-in threaten to overcome the economics of efficiency.
In the past, the CIO dictated the expectations their users had for what technology could do,” Whitehurst says. “Now, Google is every CIO’s competitor. Google has set the expectation levels their users have about the cost of technology, the richness of the experience, and how fast and functionality is added. So you’re a CIO, and you have users saying, ‘Wow, I have all this huge business value. I know Google does this for free, and with rich content. Now I need this from you.’”
This is where avoiding lock-in becomes crucial. The apps and tools users need may be mobile, on premise, in the cloud, or everywhere at once. It is vital that they are built in a such a way that they can be deployed according to user needs, not vendor dictates.
And so we must step back and ask ourselves: Is the point of the cloud that we continue our victory of standardization that leads to choice, or is the cloud going to become the next proprietary platform?
Whitehurst says, “By using an agnostic approach to the cloud, ... the benefits will accrue to the enterprise and not to the cloud providers.”
See also: Red Hat CEO: Keep cloud open or go back to 80s-style computing, ZDNet, May 3, 2011.