Rackspace President: Beware of Vendor Lock-in Through Application, Component Usage

Rackspace's Lew Moorman: "There's one big difference between consumer cloud services and the underlying platform: It's the fact that they're programmatically accessible. This is actually the root of the revolution of the cloud."

Rackspace President Lew Moorman, speaking at GigaOM Structure 2012 in San Francisco on June 20 on "Cloud Lock-in and the Myth of Open APIs," tackled a topic that's always lurking in the back of the minds of software developers and IT managers: vendor lock-in via platforms as a service.

Cloud application development, like most software, is all about the programming interfaces that are available for the job at hand. The big question is this: Can developers ever expect to have complete freedom of choice when deciding how to build an application for cloud deployment?

/images/stories/RackspaceLogo.jpgRackspace, as a refresher, is an Internet hosting company and one of the two backbones behind OpenStack -- NASA is the other -- that was launched in 2010 to provide a massively scalable open-source alternative cloud system to compete with proprietary Tier 1 IT hardware and software vendors. Some of them, including big names such as Dell, AT&T, Citrix, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Cisco Systems and some 75 others, have seen the options light and decided to join the project in order to bring more choices to their customers.

"I'm here to tell you that choice is coming, but that (through proprietary systems) this is not how it's going to come," Moorman said. "There's one main reason why. There's one big difference between consumer cloud services and the underlying platform: It's the fact that they're programmatically accessible. This is actually the root of the revolution of the cloud.

"If you think about the pre-cloud era, applications were isolated from the infrastructure. Now modern applications control the infrastructure. They interact with the infrastructure. They rely on its behaviors and specific features. This is why small teams have been able to build incredibly robust applications that scale and do things that were not possible without huge operations teams in the past."

/images/stories/Rackspace.Lew.Moorman.jpgHardware Has Become Software

What this all adds up to, Moorman (pictured) said, is that in the cloud era, hardware has become software. When one starts calling up Linux and Windows boxes via a cloud service, for example, it feels very much like traditional infrastructure except that it's faster and much more responsive, Moorman said.

"But the second phase is where things get more complicated, and this is when the fusing begins," Moorman said. "When you programmatically start to access the controls of the cloud, when your application stack reaches down into the cloud, they become one."

Moorman used the analogy of the banshee and the avatar in the movie "Avatar," because when the two were physically connected, they thought and acted as one.

In the last phase of cloud integration, Moorman said, is that once you're integrated into a cloud provider "it becomes very tempting to use proprietary features for those clouds. Amazon has launched a lot of great services here, like SimpleDB and Dynamo DB. But once you use these applications and these components, you are truly fused to that cloud provider."

Amazon SimpleDB is a highly available and flexible non-relational data store that offloads the work of database administration. Developers simply store and query data items via Web services requests, and Amazon SimpleDB does the rest. Amazon DynamoDB is a fully managed NoSQL database service that provides predictable performance with scalability.

More APIs Required

So, Moorman said, the development community is asking for APIs -- independent APIs. "Let's just clone the APIs, they're saying. It's an interface; if programmatic access is the issue, let's just make it one common language. This is what Netflix is asking for. This is why our industry is obsessed with API standards," Moorman said.

That's also why OpenStack is turning some heads. Being 100 percent open source, there's no lock-in to any one vendor. It's the common language everyone is looking for, Moorman said.

OpenStack's latest release, Essex, came out in April.

An added thought on APIs: Oracle tested its copyright control over open source Java APIs in its ongoing lawsuit against Google, which utilized them without acquiring a license to help build its ultra-popular Android mobile device operating system a few years ago. A federal court held May 31 that Google had done nothing illegal in copying the APIs because: a) techniques within the APIs cannot be copyrights; and b) Google's Android team did not purport to use "Pure Java" at any time.

People and companies defending open source APIs have never lost in copyright litigation.

Update on OpenStack

Here are some updated statistics on the two-year-old OpenStack project, which appears to be gaining momentum by the week:

  • 200,000+ software downloads have been recorded from the central repository, not counting the growing number of distributions from companies such as Canonical, Piston, Stackops and SUSE.
  • 200+ individuals from 55 different companies contributed to the latest software release, Essex, during a six-month development cycle.
  • There are more than 100 known OpenStack deployments, including AT&T, HP, Deutsche Telekom, DOE Argonne National Laboratory, DreamHost, MercadoLibre, Korea Telecom, NTT, Internap, Sony Computer Entertainment America, eBay's X.commerce, The San Diego Supercomputer Center and Telvent. About 40 have given OpenStack permission to post their logos and talk about them.
  • There are more than 180 participating organizations, including Rackspace, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Brocade, Canonical, Cisco Systems, Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, NetApp and Red Hat.
  • There are firm commitments from all major Linux distributions (Canonical, Red Hat, SUSE).
  • More than 20 different countries were represented at April 2012 Design Summit & Conference, and user groups and conferences have been organized across the globe, including Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Russia, South Korea and the UK.
  • In less than two years, OpenStack Design Summit & Conference attendees have grown from 75 people in July 2010 to 1,000+ attendees in April 2012.

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features and Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...