Channeling the Cloud

Cloud Portability: Here Are Your (Non-Microsoft) Options

From Cloud Foundry to OpenStack, more vendors are promising portability to customers who don't want to be tied to Microsoft's cloud.

If your customers are looking for public or private cloud solutions, the obvious choice as a Microsoft partner is the Windows Azure portfolio of services and Redmond's System Center infrastructure management platform.

While those offerings might suffice in many scenarios, there are other customers who don't want to be locked into the Microsoft cloud stack. They want portability, and that's driving a number of collaborative efforts aimed at reducing lock-in to a specific cloud platform.

None of these initiatives promise ubiquitous interoperability, but they all aim to provide portability among clouds. Also, all of the current options are still works in progress.

For example, the VMware Cloud Foundry effort just celebrated its first anniversary last month. Like Windows Azure, Cloud Foundry is a Platform as a Service (PaaS), and VMware has successfully recruited partners ranging from services providers to ISVs who are building PaaS-based services and private cloud solutions based on its stack. Cloud Foundry last month demonstrated the deployment of an application to four Cloud Foundry-based clouds. Each took only a few minutes and didn't require code changes. Cloud Foundry also open sourced Bidirectional-streams Over Synchronous HTTP, or BOSH, a tool to facilitate the deployment and management of instances to Cloud Foundry. So far it has received support from VMware for vSphere and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Speaking of Amazon, many customers would like the option of moving their AWS instances back on-premises or to another cloud provider. To date, AWS hasn't made that an easy proposition, though it has provided links to datacenters via its AWS Direct Connect offering. Another option for AWS interoperability came in March when Amazon agreed to let Eucalyptus Systems, a popular provider of a cloud infrastructure platform, license the widely used Amazon Machine Instances (AMIs).

The most widely endorsed cloud open source effort is the OpenStack Project, targeted at providing interoperable cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Founded by NASA and Rackspace Hosting, OpenStack now has 155 sponsors, and 55 active contributors and adopters including AT&T, Canonical, Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Opscode, Red Hat and RightScale. OpenStack aims to let users move workloads between different public and private clouds. At its core, OpenStack provides an alternative to Amazon, not interoperability with it -- though that could change if Amazon throws its hat in the ring. Also, critics say OpenStack isn't ready for prime time.

Perhaps the most vocal critic is Citrix Systems. Citrix last month pulled its support for OpenStack in favor of CloudStack, which Citrix gained last summer when it acquired In its bombshell announcement, Citrix said it was disappointed in the progress of OpenStack but didn't rule out future support. CloudStack aims to achieve interoperability with Amazon.

Suffice it to say that when it comes to portability, there will be a number of options. Each will have some degree of lock-in for the foreseeable future, unless you back multiple horses.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.