Vendors' cloud partnerships not always an IT blessing

Ranging from IBM to AWS, many technology titans have forged cloud-related partnerships. But how quickly could those agreements go sour?

Like most things in technology, the cloud vendor landscape is constantly evolving. In many cases, even longtime competitors will put their differences aside and join forces -- a trend that seems especially common in the cloud market today.

Take Microsoft and Oracle, for example. The two companies for decades have been arch enemies, but when it comes to cloud, they learned to play nice. Now, Microsoft customers can run Java, Oracle Database, Oracle WebLogic Server and Oracle Linux on Windows Server Hyper-V or Microsoft Azure, with Oracle handling all software certifications and support. But why the sudden change of heart?

Cloud computing partnerships are common, but businesses need to remember that vendors are always looking out for their own self-interests. Top cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Google, use these agreements to increase their public cloud services usage. On the other hand, software suppliers often forge cloud partnerships to get their applications onto popular cloud platforms.

"This is how vendors add breadth and reach -- by partnering with others to either close product line or distribution gaps," stated Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

A fear of commitment

Most cloud computing partnerships between vendors, such as the one between AWS and IBM, are symbiotic. Through the agreement, AWS customers can run IBM DB2, IBM Domino, IBM Informix, IBM Web Content Manager and other IBM products on AWS EC2 instances. Amazon's goal was to make its system more attractive to large enterprises, an area where IBM is strong. IBM, meanwhile, wanted its tools to operate on a variety of cloud platforms, and AWS is the market leader. As a result, each vendor benefits from the partnership.

Just because two vendors have a current partnership does not mean that the two will remain together forever.
Wes Millerresearch vice president at Directions on Microsoft

But in all relationships, there is one big issue: commitment. Cloud providers outline plans to develop tight connections between their technologies, but the success of those connections depends on customer interest and adoption. As a result, the longevity of such relationships can be unpredictable.

"It really depends on the vendor. Often, most of the value is in the announcement and little else ever develops," stated Enderle.

Looking back, Microsoft and IBM were partners when PCs first arose. Eventually, IBM tried to develop its own operating system and ultimately broke away from Windows. And since history is known to repeat itself, it's not hard to believe that this could happen again with many provider relationships in cloud.

"Just because two vendors have a current partnership does not mean that the two will remain together forever," said Wes Miller, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft.

Cloud partnerships not always a win for IT

When it comes to cloud vendor partnerships, competitive factors override user desires. AWS, Google and Microsoft, for example, keep each other at arm's length and have been building out cloud ecosystems that work mainly with their own services.

In the end, vendors do not want to compromise their own businesses to give many cloud users what they truly want: interoperability between the top suppliers' systems.

Common interfaces make it simple for users to connect applications running on AWS to another cloud platform within the AWS ecosystem. But migrating a service running on AWS to Microsoft Azure becomes difficult. Choosing an open source cloud platform with standard interfaces, such as OpenStack, can provide some relief, but moving applications between the top cloud platforms is still labor-intensive.

So, what should users do to protect themselves? In essence, buyer beware.

"Typically, customers look at the front end of their cloud agreement, [focusing only on what] they have to do now in order to move their application to the cloud," said Miller.  "What is often more important is what they need to do to get themselves out."

About the author:
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in cloud computing issues. He has been covering technology issues for more than two decades, is based in Sudbury, MA, and can be reached at
[email protected].

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