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Friday, 24 January 2014 11:49

Open versus proprietary cloud: does it really matter?

Posted By  Graham Jarvis


Technology and business journalist Graham Jarvis interviews converged cloud infrastructure expert and CTO EMEA of VCE, Nigel Moulton, and asks him whether its matters whether organisations have an open source or proprietary cloud infrastructure.

There is an industry debate about which is the best architectural model to adopt when evaluating Cloud infrastructure: a truly Open systems approach or one that is more closely aligned to vendor strategies. The truth is that both approaches have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Customers seeking to use these solutions to form the backbone of their cloud infrastructure should therefore concern themselves with considerations that are based around the following definitions:

  • Private Cloud i.e. a set of compute, network and storage assets that you wholly own;
  • Public Cloud i.e. compute and storage services run and managed by a third party that you use to support your workloads and applications;
  • Hybrid cloud which is a model that leverages aspects of both Private and Public clouds.

In the context of Cloud, the business case for adopting one approach or the other shouldn’t therefore be about getting one over your IT Department by using the likes of such cloud giants as Microsoft, Google and Amazon. Instead it should be about how improvements in IT’s ability to serve the business - measured through strong ROI (Return on Investment) and uptime as well as reductions in capital and operational expenditure - are aligned with the aim of supporting the commercial goals and objectives of the organisation. Such ameliorations can then translate into a competitive advantage.

Addressing vendor lock-in and Private Clouds

Nigel Moulton, VCE’s chief technology officer for the EMEA region, observes the following differences “An open source approach lends itself to building out a Cloud environment in a very DIY fashion, and the advantages include an ability to highly customise the environment and select from a wide range of vendors and standards”, he says.

Conversely he points out there are some costs, manageability and timescale concerns associated with this approach, which he sees as its key disadvantages. Moulton therefore asks clients about the extent to which they feel that a vendor lock-in is acceptable versus an open source approach to building out their cloud infrastructure.

In comparison a vendor-centric approach is, in his experience, quicker to deliver, more standardised, and ultimately cheaper to own and manage over the lifetime of the asset. “It can also provide an opportunity to examine a vendor roadmap to ensure that you understand how your future requirements fit into the solution; you might want to influence the extent to which the vendor roadmap maps to your pace of innovation or change”, he explains.

The Role of Converged Infrastructure

Any Cloud infrastructure is made up of 4 key components that define the system: storage, networking, compute, and a hypervisor. Applications and workloads then run on this infrastructure.  For the infrastructure to be considered truly converged, a 5th component needs to be added:  management software.

“This software allows the operational management team to manage each of these components as a single, converged resource that is available to the business. In this case they can leverage the benefits of these solutions, such as being quick to deliver standardised, repeatable computing environments in conjunction with an open source approach to management,” says Moulton.

The disadvantage is that this approach cannot easily be applied to applications still running in the business where customisation has become a necessary evil. He comments that this emerges when legacy systems “cannot be retired yet and so they therefore need a customised support model.”

Workloads and applications

To determine what’s best for their organisations, customers also need to evaluate their applications and workloads to find out which ones can be safely moved to a public cloud, to a private cloud or a hybrid cloud. Moulton refers to the latter as being a bridge between the public and private clouds and helps an organization manage the flow of data between the different cloud infrastructures. This will also enable organisations to have some cloud bursting capabilities available whenever they are required, and he says that it has to be done in a way that will give “a high degree of management visibility to help control costs and to ensure that service level agreements are adhered to.” 

The front end and the back end of any business also have a differing set of requirements.  The front end tends to be categorized by a requirement for change, speed, excellence in customer service and agility that gives the business an opportunity to react positively to changes in the market. At the back end of the business the key concerns are typically about process, compliance and risk management.  All of these requirements can also be affected by regulatory frameworks, or the compliance requirements of a particular industry, region or country.  Concerns around data sovereignty may also arise now or in the future.

The Balancing Act

Open vs Proprietary? Private, Public or Hybrid? The industry is aligning around these areas and making a choice that best matches your business requirements of today whilst respecting the future needs and requirements can seem like a hard task.  The easier decision is around the mix of Private, Public and Hybrid environments, as the criteria are easier to navigate. In the context of regulation (which will require a Private approach) and also an understanding of the workloads and applications that you are running, Hybrid cloud models allow you to quickly blend the agility that running on Public infrastructure can bring along with the data security and compliance that you need. 

Building your Private Cloud environment using Converged Infrastructure solutions provides industry-defining levels of uptime married to the highest speed of deployment with the lowest overall cost of operation and management. Open vs Proprietary is less clear-cut, as the criteria are harder to navigate. A truly Open approach provides the widest palette to choose from, but at the expense of speed of execution, complexity and on-going higher operational cost, as a considerable amount of the intellectual property required to build, operate and maintain an Open systems approach lies with the resources who engineer them. 

By comparison today, very few systems are truly proprietary, and as an example the technology investors in VCE (EMC, Cisco, VMware and Intel) all support Open standards whilst also marketing and selling more vendor centric approaches that leverage technology investments they have made. In this regard, the advantages are typically around mitigation of risk, uptime, and the ability to create standardized, repeatable environments as they provide flexibility by leveraging a high degree of software automation. 

In Summary – does it matter? Probably not. Every organization that is considering Cloud will need to set a course based on some or all of the discussion points here. Ultimately, there will be trade-offs.  Simplicity versus complexity, speed of application deployment (because you have chosen a vendor centric route) versus longer deployment times because in an Open approach the level of integration required is higher. The extent to which you need to “spin on a dime”, the number of legacy applications that you are planning to retire, data security and integrity all will play a part in forming your opinion as to whether a vendor centric approach coupled with a Private Cloud versus a more open Public Cloud approach is right for you.

Hybrid solutions that marry the best of both worlds are popular right now, and that demonstrates the extent to which the notions of Open and Proprietary are becoming less rigid. As the industry continues to work towards increased levels of automation that will be delivered by initiatives in the SDDC (Software Defined Data Centre) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) fields then the standards will continue to evolve and provide opportunities for organisations to define competitive advantage regardless of the Cloud architecture decision they have invested in.

About Nigel Moulton

Nigel Moulton is the EMEA CTO at VCE, the Virtualised Computing Environment Company. He is responsible for the technology strategy of VCE in the EMEA area, working with counterparts globally, to ensure that the benefits of Converged Infrastructure solutions are broadly understood by both customers and VCE business partners alike. As a broad theme, Moulton shows how Converged Infrastructure drives greater efficiencies in the Data Centre, and demonstrates how organisations are able to move to business models that derive huge value from Big Data and analytics, delivering a better business outcome more accurately and more quickly.

Prior to joining VCE, Moulton was the EMEA CTO for Avaya a global manufacturer of solutions for Unified Communications, Contact Centres and Data Networking.

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