The march toward cloud neutrality

At the Google Cloud Next 2017 conference this week, cloud service providers (CSPs) professed much love for the partners they’ve finally acknowledged are critical to their success in the enterprise. After all, convincing independent software vendors (ISVs) to host their software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications on a cloud is one thing. Getting IT organizations to host enterprise-class workloads on a public cloud requires a level of hand holding that CSPs themselves are not willing to provide directly.

Based on hard-won experience, however, enterprise IT organizations are wary of being locked into a platform. In that light, the most significant announcement at Google Cloud Next was a pledge by SAP to make its HANA in-memory database available on the Google Cloud Platform. SAP already makes HANA available both on a cloud it manages that runs on the IBM Cloud service and on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure clouds.

By making its core database platform available on multiple clouds, SAP is trying to foster an approach to hybrid cloud computing that spans multiple public and private cloud platforms. In effect, SAP is also pursuing a neutral approach to cloud computing in which every cloud platform becomes equal to the other.

Software vendors encouraging cloud neutrality

Of course, SAP is not the only enterprise software vendor with this idea in mind. Marklogic CEO Gary Bloom expects that just about every ISV that serves the enterprise will pursue a similar strategy. The key to cloud neutrality is to not allow the software being deployed in the cloud to use proprietary application programming interfaces (APIs) that lock customers and IT service providers into a specific cloud. Few customers will want to dynamically move workloads between clouds, but they are likely to want to develop an application and deploy it in another cloud. Customers are also wary of costs spiraling out of control when monthly fees for a particular application workload start to exceed the cost of deploying that application on premise.

Longer term, Dell EMC is betting that before too long applications will be able to automatically recognize what type of cloud platform they’re running on. Dell EMC effectively expects enterprise IT organizations to force software developers to level the cloud playing field.

The impact on managed service providers

Cloud neutrality should prove crucial from a managed services perspective because the less locked in a customer is to a cloud platform, the more likely they are to rely on a third party for managed services. Just about all the CSPs are aggressively selling managed services they deliver around their infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings, as well as a broad range of services based on software delivered via a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering. MSPs obviously have a vested interest in reserving as much of the IT budget allocated to managed services for themselves.

Cloud computing has expanded the opportunity for MSPs as the number of application workloads that need to be managed become more distributed than ever. It’s unlikely 100 percent of those workloads will wind up running in a public cloud any time soon, though, and that’s okay. In fact, the more distributed those application workloads become the more demand there is likely to be for external expertise to manage them.

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