When looking to make a strategic cloud decision, organisations can generally follow one of two ideologies: closed or open.
Traditionally, major software technologies have gained traction because an emerging market leader made initial adoption easier. Once a technology matures, the industry generates open alternatives that offer increased flexibility and choice, resulting in an open alternative that quickly catches up to and often surpasses the capabilities of its proprietary predecessor.
Once an organisation has made a significant investment in a technology, the complexity and effort needed to move a given workload onto a new system or platform is often substantial. Switching costs, migrations to new or updated software or hardware platforms, and the associated risks may result in the ubiquity of large, monolithic and complex ERP systems—not because they offer the best value for the organisation, but because migrating to anything else is unthinkable.
These are critical considerations today, as many organisations are making their first investments in cloud technology and preparing for the disruptive shift in how IT is delivered to both internal and external customers. Early adopters are already realising how important it is to be able to control their own destiny, knowing that the innovation that comes with open technologies can bring dramatic change.
It is incredibly important to understand and reflect on the virtues of an open system. This is the vision behind the open cloud movement, and it is now a reality that is helping thousands of businesses gain agility and enjoy the benefits of the cloud without limiting their choices in the future.
Adopting any technology has risks, and moving toward open source software is no exception. Let’s look at some of the considerations of adopting a new platform:
Technology can change quickly. Some technologies that used to lead markets are now completely extinct; others are used only because there are no other choices. Remember dBase III, COBOL and WordPerfect? When a technology is supported by a vibrant community, it has a much lower probability of becoming obsolete. Compare this to the alternative of being driven by a single corporation following a single business strategy.
Availability of skills
CIOs are challenged to find quality talent in areas like network security, virtualization, disaster recovery, storage and other areas. A technology that is more familiar to a broader staff is easier to adopt and to use properly. Open technologies allow CIOs to redirect the skills of their employees across different kinds of development areas. There is no such thing as an over-skilled or over-staffed IT organisation.
CIOs may cringe when it is time to renew multimillion-dollar software licensing contracts. But the real pain is when that software is no longer sufficient and does not meet current business needs. Legacy technology can often be so entrenched into a company’s processes that the option of rewriting and switching to a different, better platform is desirable, yet incredibly expensive and laborious.
Open platforms provide an option to build to a standard that allows for vendor flexibility. This provides the freedom to switch vendors if or when a particular vendor is no longer meeting business needs or has unfavourable pricing or support services.
One of the challenges of a single-vendor strategy is the need to align with the architectural choices of a single vendor. An open cloud gives IT the opportunity to choose between multiple implementations of a technology— for example, spinning or SSD drives, automation versus customisation, burstability versus predictability. In addition, an open cloud allows an organisation to adopt a multi-cloud strategy.
Business model flexibility
The cloud is an enabler of innovation—not only in the way it is being consumed, but also in the way vendors are offering it. An open cloud empowers IT to choose the right pricing, support, service and deployment/delivery models: Should my workload be hosted on premise or off premise? In a public cloud, private cloud or both? Should it stand alone, or does it need to be integrated with dedicated or virtualized infrastructure? Simply put, there are more implementation choices in an open cloud. A proprietary public cloud from one vendor is unlikely to be the right answer for all customer needs.
Similar to the architectural flexibility concept, vendors evolve a given technology guided by their own point of view and their profit interests, making decisions that will impact the future of a platform. For a technology as broad, complex and rapidly changing as cloud, it is hard to imagine that a single vendor has the knowledge, expertise and vision to make all the right decisions for the future of a platform.
In the open cloud, innovation is born by the efforts of multiple contributors. Companies like Cisco, EMC, HP and IBM are contributing their knowledge in their respective areas of expertise, such as networking, storage, high performance computing and others. Other companies making their own private cloud investments are also contributing their innovations to the open cloud movement, as are thousands of individual contributors. The cumulative result of these activities is an open platform, available to anyone, that has been and continues to be designed by the brightest minds in the industry.
Mark Randall is managing director of Rackspace Australia.