multiple clouds (Eny Setiyowati/


Open infrastructures give agencies cloud freedom

More than a few folks raised their eyebrows when the Department of Defense announced it would make a single award for its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project. On the surface, the DOD’s decision seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom that maintains that reliance on one cloud provider can lead to a number of technical and economic challenges.

In the past, many federal and state agencies centralized their IT to a single outsourced provider. They saw some initial cost savings and economies of scale, but in some cases their single providers failed -- leading to frustration, grief, lawsuits and recompetition of contracts.

DOD IT teams must remember the words of Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” For now, they appear to be content with the simplicity and standardization that working with a lone vendor can bring.

The many benefits of many clouds

While there are merits to the single-provider approach, it is not a strategy that will work for everyone. Indeed, most agencies may experience greater benefits from working with multiple cloud providers.

With different cloud services at their disposal, agencies can take advantage of each provider’s unique offerings and strengths. For example, an agency that uses Amazon Web Services for one application would not be prohibited from using Google or Microsoft for another, depending on its needs.That agency can also move between different cloud providers as new services are introduced.

Even better, an agency can easily transition between different providers without having to retrain staff as often. Hybrid cloud management tools abstract away many of the common features offered by different cloud providers, making it easier for administrators to manage multiple clouds. Perhaps this is why the General Services Administration estimates that most cloud users are employing, on average, six different cloud solutions. These users are content to keep one foot on the dock (private cloud) and one in the boat (public cloud) -- not because they are indecisive, but because they want to enjoy the benefits of both.

Using multiple cloud vendors can also result in significant cost savings. Sometimes it can be very inexpensive to get up and running on a public cloud, but those initial savings can be offset by higher prices later on. Unfortunately, by that time the customer be locked in because  astronomical exit costs prevent it from leaving. Using multiple providers can open up the doors and allow users to move from cloud to cloud to get the best possible deals and optimal return on investment.

Open cloud infrastructures solve several challenges

Agencies should consider adopting an open and flexible underlying cloud infrastructure to support their various cloud deployments. An open substrate will allow them to move between different clouds as necessary and easily build on their existing cloud ecosystem, even if it is a JEDI-type of concept that relies on a lone vendor.

In fact, having a vendor-agnostic infrastructure solves many of the challenges arising around JEDI. Some people may remember the Unix wars of the 1980s, when different companies fought to standardize the Unix operating system. They certainly recall the monopolies that followed, and how the introduction of open source technologies broke down those walled gardens.

Using an underlying open cloud infrastructure effectively addresses a similar problem. It allows agencies to add or move between different types of clouds without having to change the underlying substrate. Open source infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service platforms allow agencies to keep their options open so that they are not dependent on a single vendor; they can jump with ease between Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others. Or, they can build upon and manage their lone public cloud solution or on-premise clouds as necessary. They have the freedom to do whatever works best.

Freedom for all agencies and clouds

Freedom is what open source has been and always will be about. Freedom to use one cloud vendor or many. Freedom to stay on-premise or use hosted services. Freedom to build upon a cloud infrastructure, or leave things the way they are. Freedom of cloud choice.

All agencies are different, with varied and specific requirements. Open and flexible cloud infrastructures can meet agencies' needs and support them as they evolve, no matter which cloud provider -- or providers -- they choose.

About the Author

David Egts is chief technologist, North America Public Sector, Red Hat.

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