Protecting Yourself from Cloud Provider & Vendor Roulette

David Linthicumwrote a piece today in InfoWorld regarding the coming wave of cloud vendor consolidation.  After CA’s acquisition of 3Tera, it’s natural to ask how you can protect yourself from having your strategic vendor acquired by a larger, less focused entity.  Face it, the people building these startups are mostly hoping to have the kind of success that 3Tera had — a reported $100m payday.  A lot of people are concerned with what CA will do with AppLogic – their general history with young technologies is not particularly promising.  If you are building a cloud, AppLogic is the heart of your system.  If CA screws it up (and I’m not saying they will, but if they do…), you’re pretty much hosed.

As I wrote in November, we will start seeing both consolidation and market exits in the cloud provider in the not too distant future.  So, whether you are building a cloud, or using someone else’s cloud, you need to have a plan to mitigate the all-too-real risks of your vendor going away or having a change of control event (e.g. being acquired) that results in a degraded capability.

If  you’re building a cloud (private or public), the primary way you can protect yourself is by selecting a vendor with an open source model.  If the commercial entity fails, you can still count on the community to move the product forward – or you can step in and become the commercial sponsor.  If the vendor gets acquired and the new owner takes the project in a direction you don’t want, you can “fork” the project (see Drizzle and MariaDB as forks of the MySQL project owned by Oracle as a result of the Sun acquisition).  Or, you can start with a community-sponsored project like OpenNebula that has a very open license (Apache).  It is highly unlikely that OpenNebula will go away anytime soon, and due to the licensing model there is no chance the a vendor will get deep control of the project.

AppLogic, in contrast, is not available in an open source model.  If you’re a 3Tera customer, you’re probably very nervous right now.  I’m sure that 3Tera and CA execs are making calls and customer visits to calm their customers now – but if they converted AppLogic to an open source model it would immediately give current and prospective customers a lot of comfort.  If you’re a prospect, you’re likely holding off until you know how CA will support AppLogic going forward. 

If you are making a cloud service provider decision, the challenge is more difficult.  Here you need to contrast the type of cloud (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) and a lot more factors come into play.  Cross-cloud application migration and federated cloud models are coming, but they are immature at best and only deal with a small subset of cloud deployment topologies.  Perhaps I’ll do a deeper analysis of this later.

Bottom line, you should think twice (or thrice) about basing your cloud solution on a technology based on a proprietary commercial license (sorry Reuven).  Vendor size matters less than you think.  It could be more likely that a large company might kill an unsuccessful application more quickly than the founders of the startup would.  The primary way to protect yourself is to stick with open source as much as you can.  It’s also typically less expensive to use open source.

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