BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
BOSTON -- As the cloud market matures, customer behavior is changing and questions remain about where the true value of the technology will lie in the future.
A group of industry professionals tackled a variety of topics as part of a panel discussion on the future of the cloud last week at a Cloud Standards Customer Council symposium. They discussed the impact of savvy customers and looked ahead at trends around burgeoning cloud services, vendor lock-in issues and the role of open source.
One of the big cloud trends in consumption is resistance to subscription models, licensing fees or confusing long-term contracts with cloud providers that don't add up to what's advertised, according to James Pietrocarlo, vice president of business development at CloudOne, an Indianapolis, Indiana-based cloud software and systems development provider.
"What we're seeing in our clientele is a very strong push to pay as you go, pay for what you use when you use it, or don't pay for what you don't use," Pietrocarlo said.
Cloud computing will be billed in the same way as utilities in the future because of this growing customer demand, Pietrocarlo said.
Customers increasingly turn to multiple public and private clouds and use different vendors on different days, depending on their needs, the panelists said. And while the use of multiple clouds has its benefits, there are also risks enterprises should be aware of.
"One of problems I see in my practice is the fact that the business is trying to buy cloud services without going through the same process of sourcing that they used to for on-premises applications -- completely ignoring the interoperability issue," said Claude Baudoin, owner of cébé IT and Knowledge Management in Austin, Texas.
But customers who once used the umbrella term of cloud security to express their concerns about the new technologies have transitioned over the past 18 months to identify more specific issues, such as latency, privacy or availability, according to Axel Kirstetter, director of cloud solutions for Software AG, a software management provider in Darmstadt, Germany. This translates to buyers imposing certain minimum standards in these areas as part of service-level agreements.
"The entire notion of a managed security service as part of the cloud operations is probably going to be a much more relevant way to engage the entire network of cloud services that one has," Kirstetter said.
Cloud future looks open
The rising popularity of platform as a service (PaaS) was discussed and panelists predicted where the best value and innovation in the cloud will be.
One of the big pushes for PaaS comes from startups using DevOps, panelists said. Another comes from the government, and not necessarily the IT departments, Kirstetter said. Departments within state and local agencies turn to PaaS as a means to improve public engagement through targeted applications tied to public services.
Panelists strongly advised customers against building their own platforms in the cloud because of the complexity involved. But because PaaS appeals to employees outside the IT department, one issue that must be dealt with is the proper testing and vetting of applications from citizen developers to ensure there isn't a time bomb waiting to go off.
The level of cloud lock-in also has to do with how much an enterprise's applications are rooted in a cloud vendor's programming construct; PaaS offers greater portability than infrastructure as a service (IaaS), according to Craig Lowery, executive director of cloud architecture at Dell.
"There are lots of ways to break the chain," Lowery said, "but typically if you're bound to infrastructure in any way, you're kind of stuck."
There was also discussion about the value of innovation from those who maintain a proprietary cloud, such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. Lowery said he would like to see the infrastructure level become commoditized, because the real value in the cloud will come from the ability to develop and deploy applications.
"We need infrastructure not to be the inhibitor," Lowery said. "It doesn't need to be the dictator of where our apps can run."
Several of the speakers touted the promise of OpenStack and the creation of common interfaces supported by some of the industry's largest vendors. That commonality will dramatically reduce the risk for vendor lock-in, according to Brad Topol, an IBM distinguished engineer focused on OpenStack deployments.
"The customer is not in that tough situation where [vendors can say], 'Well, you have to stick with us and surprise, the price went up,'" Topol said.
OpenStack is still in its infancy and hurdles remain, Topol acknowledged. But he said it has the potential to create a level playing field for vendors.
Several of the panelists were representatives from companies tied to either OpenStack or Cloud Foundry, but there wasn't total consensus from the audience that the proprietary players should get in line with the open source community.
But the diversity of approaches will only strengthen the technology, said Alan Sill, site director for cloud and autonomic computing at Texas Tech University.
"What we should be doing as technologists is encouraging this mixing and matching and encouraging the flourishing of solutions that solve particular business problems instead of getting into religious arguments about which approach is better," Sill said.
Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How well do you know app developer employment and cloud computing trends?