Amazon(s amzn) may make its own chips. Microsoft(s msft) is weighing in on server design while Google(s goog) flirts with Power servers. And Verizon(S vz) is working with AMD/SeaMicro to build the foundation of its brand-new enterprise cloud. Nearly everywhere you look, there are signs that the major cloud vendors are building their own integrated cloud infrastructure.
If you squint it might remind you of the good/bad old days of vertically integrated technologies, when one IT vendor — say, IBM in the mainframe days — soaked up a big portion of a customer’s IT budget and thus had a lot of control over that customer’s deployment.
This is not an era that is remembered fondly by most customers, because with vendor lock-in comes rising prices and an inability to move workloads around as needed; really the opposite of what the cloud revolution promised in its early days.
The prospect of vendor-lock-in vision gives CIOs the heebie jeebies. And it’s a subject that we will ask IT professionals from The Gap, Florida Crystals, Ooyala and other companies at Gigaom Structure in June. And of course, the top cloud execs from Amazon(s amzn), HP(s hpq), Google(s goog), IBM(s ibm), VMware(s vmw) will be there to give the vendor perspective.
To be sure there are benefits to be had from integration. Things designed to work together actually do work together better and more efficiently; this is the development model that Apple(s aapl) rode to global success. And there’s the famous one-throat-to-choke mantra — as in if one vendor does all that stuff, you know who to blame when things go sideways.
Gigaom Research analyst MSV Janakiram summed up the dilemma via email:
“While integration may bring homogeneity to each cloud stack which will result in better performance for customers and economy of scale for the providers, it will also widen the gap between each cloud platform. Customers already face challenges moving VMs from Xen to KVM to vSphere and Hyper-V. With integrated stacks, the lock-in factor will increase further.”
Still, as cloud providers woo enterprise accounts, they can’t get too high handed, at least not yet. As big as Amazon is, it hasn’t shown any indication of upping prices and both Google and Microsoft seem inclined to match price cut with price cut on base cloud services. If anything can enforce good vendor behavior, it’s good old-fashioned competition.
Janakiram also hopes that standards will emerge — a sort of “X86” equivalent for cloud — that will bring a measure of compatibility or even interoperability across these integrated cloud stacks. But, till then, “we will have to deal with the complexity involved in moving from one cloud to another,” he said.
To hear more about how companies are weighing their cloud deployment moves and how a growing number of vendors are wooing them, make sure to check out Structure 2014.