Cloud Turbulence: Feature Creep Means New Clashes in the Cloud Market

Jun 5 2014, 3:18am CDT | by

As cloud services mature and add features, they increasingly overlap, signaling heightened competition in both the consumer and enterprise markets. Smaller cloud players must be nimble and adaptive to avoid getting trampled.

The cloud is the latest battleground of the tech titans across the spectrum of enterprise and consumer business, but maturation, a desire for market hegemony and technology evolution naturally lead to new features and that means formerly disparate services are encroaching upon one another. The last week has provided two great examples.

First, Amazon released the AWS Management Portal for vCenter, a plugin for VMware’s omnipresent (at least in the enterprise) vCenter management software, which surveys show has a penetration rate among big companies north of 60%. vCenter management software allows companies to migrate virtual machines to EC2 and manage them alongside private cloud vSphere resources. If it wasn’t clear from the product title, this quote makes clear Amazon is taking a shot squarely aimed at VMware’s core business and nascent vCloud Hybrid Service (VCHS) (italics added):

If you have invested in learning VMware and have trained on virtualization tools like vCenter, the portal lets you leverage your experience, while benefiting from the infrastructure, APIs, tools, and ecosystem that AWS provides. As you gain experience with AWS, you can use the portal in combination with other AWS tools, like the AWS Management Console and the AWS CLI, or even migrate to using those tools in place of the portal if you decide that it no longer meets your needs or if you move off of using VMware is the future.

VMware unconvinced of Amazon’s intentions

VMware’s response, in the form of a lengthy blog post by CTO Chris Wolf demonstrates that the company both recognizes the threat and takes it seriously. After some introductory fluff about the benefits of hybrid cloud strategies and a unified management platform, Wolf gets to the point by offering a litany of shortcomings in Amazon’s product: it’s hard to move workloads back and forth, you can’t use existing software licenses, it doesn’t provide software automation for both private and public clouds, it doesn’t enforce enterprise security and policy across clouds and it doesn’t work with other third-party VMware plugins. Wolf’s closing argument is clearly directed at enterprise CIOs and IT pros, not the developers, startups and new tech businesses that are Amazon’s bread and butter:

Whether you are strategically aligned to VMware or not, you should demand consistent management, third party integration, and a common API that spans all hybrid cloud deployment scenarios. Don’t be fooled by basic management that is tactically useful today but can lead to increased lock-in down the road. The cloud service broker has to be multi-provider -– vCloud Automation Center is today and has been for some time. Beyond that – the hybrid cloud platform should enable provider choice and seamless third party integration, regardless of where a workload is deployed. Deciding to run a workload somewhere else should not require a massive migration effort along with massive costs.

In sum, as The Register aptly points out, Amazon is offering a Trojan Horse designed to wean users from the friendly confines of VMware’s ecosystem. Like all Trojan’s, it’s a gift with unintended consequences that once in the front gate can make life very difficult for IT and mean later switching public cloud providers exceedingly complicated. Amazon is betting that its market dominance, rich feature set and a convenient, familiar administrative interface will be enough to win devoted VMware customers. VMware is counting on strategic-thinking IT execs to consider the long term implications of embracing an alternative cloud.

All’s not quiet on the consumer front as Apple retools iCloud

There’s an equally compelling battle brewing among consumer cloud services that got much more interesting this week as Apple unveiled a series of enhancements to its core operating systems and iCloud platform at its Worldwide Developer’s Conference. By adding iCloud Drive, CloudKit and app extensions Apple addresses long-standing complaints about its incomplete cloud services and mobile operating system.

With Drive, iCloud becomes a full fledged cloud filesystem accessible from iOS, Mac OS X or Windows (but unsurprisingly, not from Android), just like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. By simultaneously announcing significant price cuts, down to 99 cents per month for 20GB and $3.99 for 200GB, Apple essentially matches Google (which charges $1.99 per month for 100GB) and significantly undercuts Dropbox.

iCloud will also be much cheaper than Box, but there are a couple reasons its CEO Aaron Levie is anything but worried. First, Box is moving up the food chain from being a provider of raw storage to that of an enterprise content management and collaboration platform. Indeed, it’s IPO S–1 filing spells out the strategy:

Box provides a cloud-based, mobile-optimized Enterprise Content Collaboration platform that enables organizations of all sizes to easily and securely manage their content and collaborate internally and externally.

The other reason Levie is sanguine about the developments at WWDC are app extensions, namely new iOS APIs that provide Android-like flexibility in how apps share data. No longer will iOS apps be locked into iCloud, reliant on a cloud service like Dropbox to develop an independent set of storage APIs or forced engineer their own. Instead, iOS storage provider extensions will allow easy integration for any cloud service. As Levie said at WWDC, Extensions eliminate the “virtual moats” around mobile app data. “This,” he said, “is going to be really powerful set of capabilities. And it’s going to give Apple a massive advantage.” Levie’s optimism may be premature since Apple’s advantage may not devolve to Box. It will be equally simple for all of its enterprise competitors like EMC Syncplicity, Egnyte, Citrix ShareFile or even Microsoft to build iCloud hooks into their own services.

Collision of cloud backends

CloudKit was Apple’s other major cloud announcement and here too we see evidence of encroachment into other cloud services. Designed to make it much easier for app developers to use iCloud as a storage and database backend, CloudKit sounds quite similar to other backend infrastructure and backend as a service (BaaS) products like Google’s Mobile Backend Starter, Azure, AWS, Parse and Kii. Of course Apple is focused on enabling its own developers, not providing a general purpose platform for Android or Windows, but CloudKit is just another example of how the narrow silos around targeted cloud services are crumbling.

Cloud services are the latest realm in the technology industry’s quest to build compelling, defensible and sticky ecosystems. As such, the dominant tech giants will continue to expand their reach and further intrude on each other’s turf in both the enterprise and consumer markets. The jostling will create plenty of news and be fun to watch, but smaller cloud players must be nimble and adaptive to avoid getting trampled.

 
 
 

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