Pick The Lock-In: OpenStack Or Proprietary Cloud Solutions?

The selection of proprietary solutions versus more broadly based OpenStack solutions has emerged as one of the great debates of cloud computing.

OpenStack is an open-source Infrastructure-as-a-Service project through which cloud solutions are developed using open-source code through an Apache license. A variety of vendors participate in the OpenStack Foundation, which oversees the initiative. By contrast, other vendors are coming to the table with proprietary solutions that are arguably more tightly integrated, but also establish an environment of customer lock-in.

"Architecture is rapidly becoming a commodity," said Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat, which has placed its bets on the overall open-source movement. "The channel can derive massive value from what they can put on top of that architecture, if the partners can accurately assess the best ways to deliver that value through the various component parts."

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Whitehurst sees OpenStack as the antidote to customer lock-in by virtue of the fact that the offerings of multiple vendors can be far more interoperable than is typically possible in proprietary environments.

"With all these different vendors delivering offerings based on compatible code, how can it do anything but resolve the issue of customer lock-in?" he asked.

But despite the multivendor approach, some solution providers acknowledge that OpenStack can lock down customers in its own right.

"The cloud is a very sticky product," said Bob Keblusek, senior vice president of business development at Sentinel Technologies, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based partner. "When someone is on your cloud service, they've made a very significant commitment, and it's very painful to switch. If it's good enough and reasonably priced, customers will usually just keep going. I think OpenStack helps you to more easily explore other options, but I do think there's still a significant amount of lock-in."

But Keblusek is otherwise bullish about OpenStack's chances of success.

"We are currently running OpenStack in our cloud today," he said. "It is something that we wish was further along and had more vendors committed to it. But there are some very strong vendors already involved. So I'm very optimistic about it, but time will tell."

Meanwhile, Chris Mullins, a marketing director for Alert Logic, a cloud security solution provider based in Houston, described lock-in as a "euphemism for the massive inconvenience of moving to a different service."

"The more sophisticated buyers and the larger enterprises are very aware of the possibility of cloud lock-in," Mullins told CRN. "So we are seeing a number of mature enterprises look toward a multicloud strategy. Whether that is through multiple platforms or whether it's deploying on an open cloud platform, the outcome that they are trying to achieve is the same."

At this point in time, most of the solutions based on OpenStack are geared toward the SMB, rather than the enterprise.

NEXT: So Where's The Road Map?

"Enterprises are starting to take a look at OpenStack as a potential solution," said Sentinel Technologies' Keblusek. "But I have yet to really see a significant deployment at the enterprise level."

According to Gregg Pruett, general manager of Meridian, Idaho-based CompuNet, OpenStack is often ideally suited to smaller companies, as opposed to larger, more established players with extensive IT investments.

"You'll see it in the SMB and you'll see it in customers where some young kid coming out of college wants to make a name for himself by saving the company money," said Pruett. "SMB customers will be very aggressive about getting into the cloud, and they do not have a legacy to deal with, whereas the enterprises tend to be very risk-averse. They have to protect what they have, and they cannot be as aggressive."

Pruett went on to explain that one of the downsides of OpenStack is that the multivendor aspect of the strategy eliminates the likelihood of a cohesive technology road map. This, he said, can make it much more difficult for channel partners to map strategies.

"Not having a comprehensive road map is absolutely an issue," he said. "The road map is going to be extremely important as time goes on because customers will often want to move more quickly than our ability to see over the horizon."

Pruett's observation about road maps makes perfect sense to Keblusek.

"The lack of road maps is definitely a consideration," he said. "It is definitely something you want to look at, in terms of your ability to develop long-range plans. But the saving grace about OpenStack is that you don't have to have the exact same stack; you just need compatibility among the stacks."

At the end of the day, customers will rely on their channel partners to help them navigate the decisions regarding OpenStack or proprietary solutions, said Mullins.

"It's all about maximizing value to the end customer," he said. "So if you want to survive, you have to make sure that you're adding value on top of whatever services you are reselling. VARs need to take a close look in the mirror and acknowledge their ultimate value to their customer."