Our title today actually applies to one of the problems with using the cloud today (sorry, Eagles fans). Most major cloud providers today (Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, Amazon) use different cloud technologies that make switching from one to another a bit of a nightmare for users, who are required to rewrite much of their software to fit a competing cloud. That’s a problem, one dubbed the Hotel California problem by Jeremy King, CTO of Wal-Mart Stores’ e-commerce division, and quoted in the Sept. 6th issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.
Bloomberg predicts that within the next five years about 33% of companies using the cloud will switch providers to get lower prices or add more features, or to add another provider to get servers closer to customers, or for backup processes.
For these reasons, a big new story in the cloud provider world has been the rise of “container software” from companies like Docker, among several others. Container software serves the purpose of chopping up and isolating applications to make transitions from one cloud to another easier. About a dozen container companies are currently vying for space in this market. The goal is to help keep businesses from getting stuck with a single could provider whose service may not be in their long-term best interests.
Container software breaks up cloud code into separate pieces “each bundled with all the basic system software [they] need to operate independently of whichever plays host.” That in turn has the potential to eliminate an awful lot of code required for each new cloud operating system and platform. This is especially useful for apps that evolve into global hits with millions of users.
“Moving containers from one cloud provider to another is as simple as downloading them onto new servers,” notes Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.
Of course, a dozen market choices for selecting the right container software also has the potential to gum up the works, as companies seek to find the right horse to ride. “You could pick the wrong horse, just like VHS vs. Betamax,” notes David Linthicum, a cloud app creator and consultant.
To address this concern, industry groups have begun working on common standards. Microsoft and Amazon are leading the Open Container Initiative founded in June. (Microsoft publishes Microsoft Dynamics NAV, a core software offering of our firm.) Meanwhile, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation was formed the next month, which includes Google, IBM, Intel and others, and focusing on “orchestration software.” Each foundation is operating with a certain sense of urgency.
Amazon Web Services vice president Ariel Kelman says he’s not worried about a customer base that’s more capable of shopping around. “Our customer retention strategy is to delight our customers, not to lock them in,” he notes. Meanwhile, Linthicum thinks it will take two years for the groups to deliver their final standards, as the providers strive to make switching between containers easier.