Editor’s note: “Focus on your apps; we handle your cloud platform and operations” isn’t just an Engine Yard marketing message; it points to an important trend in cloud computing services that is changing the way companies transition to the cloud. Cloud provider Engine Yard’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing, Mark Gaydos, discussed this and other cloud trends with SandHill. He also shared tips on how to avoid vendor lock-in.
SandHill.com: Cloud computing is not new technology, but it’s forcing a lot of change. What has Engine Yard observed over the last 12 months regarding what’s changing in cloud and how the cloud is changing business?
Mark Gaydos: Although cloud itself is not new, the technologies that are powering cloud are constantly changing. One trend is technology is becoming more and more important. Everyone is traveling around with mobile devices and interacting with organizations through technology. Today, the value an organization provides through technology is really through their applications. The underlying infrastructure is critical, but it’s not where they provide value. So organizations today are offloading that to cloud infrastructure vendors to take care of so they can move faster in the areas where they provide value.
The big change is that overall adoption is increasing. The big driver we see is mobile technology. Every company is looking at having an iPad app or an iPhone app or an Android app, and they are developing these applications and have no idea if they are going to take off or if they are going to get a minimal amount of usage. Starting off in cloud is a way to deploy faster but also plan for scaling rapidly or for scaling back down after a promotion is over. Over the last two years, companies were exploring this strategy in the cloud; now they see it as a fundamental component in their strategy.
SandHill.com: What have you heard from existing or potential customers about their cloud concerns over the past few months?
Mark Gaydos: With any sort of technology, there is a natural evolution. And I think we’re seeing that today. When a new technology is introduced, people adopt it, and they want it to be easy to do and want to be able to easily access it.
But as they begin to mature with that technology, they want more choice, more options and more control. And we’re starting to hear that demand for choice in the market now. They want choice in the operating system, database and Web server, which are very critical to applications in the cloud. And they want flexibility to choose different infrastructure providers.
As a result, I think we’ll start to see vendors break into two categories:
- Vendors that provide a very narrowly focused cloud offering that is very limited in nature and highly controlled by the vendor
- Vendors such as Engine Yard, which give organizations more choice in terms of what components they want to run
Lastly, they don’t want vendor lock-in. This has been a real inhibitor for enterprises in adopting cloud. A Web 2.0 company that’s starting up an application is ok with going with one particular vendor because they have a very focused use case. But large Fortune 2000 enterprises want to be able to develop their application and move it in house, move it out to a public cloud or move it to a different infrastructure provider. They don’t want lock-in in terms of the technology, the infrastructure, or in how their application is developed.
We are now hearing more organizations demand this flexibility. They view the cloud as a service and want more options in how that service is provided.
SandHill.com: How is open-source software impacting the cloud and vice versa?
Mark Gaydos: Cloud and open source go hand-in-hand. As organizations look at how they can become more efficient and leverage the work of others, it’s natural to turn to a cloud vendor that provides open-source products. They don’t have to pay for those products, so it’s an immediate savings rather than having to go buy a Web server or database from a traditional vendor, and there’s very little risk to trying them in the cloud.
You can come to Engine Yard and go into our dashboard and choose the different open-source components you’d like to use, push the “deploy” button, and your application will be running in the cloud on open-source components. It’s a great way to save money. We not only provide the technologies but also have people with expertise who keep abreast of them and curate the components in the stack as they are continually improved by the market.
SandHill.com: What has Engine Yard observed over the past year regarding the acceleration of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) adoption?
Mark Gaydos: All three market segments (PaaS, IaaS, SaaS) are growing, and the cloud providers in those markets are all doing quite well. If an organization is looking for a particular application that does a specific function such as CRM, they’ll go to a SaaS provider. But if the organization wants to develop an iPad app, for example, they will need to have a back end for computing and network resources. They will have to put a database, Web server and operating system on top of that infrastructure. It’s not just a matter of assembling those components; the organization also must make sure they’re secure, maintain them, and do continuous integration. Or they can offload all that to a PaaS vendor.
But the trend now is that organizations are starting to say: “Why not go for the whole enchilada? If we’re going to offload into the cloud, why not turn to a vendor like Engine Yard that takes care of the entire platform for us?” So companies are gravitating to PaaS vendors that provide the technologies they’re interested in so they can apply their time to their application, where they provide value. This is the end game for companies deploying applications in the cloud.
SandHill.com: But not all cloud vendors in each of the three segments are equal. How do they differ other than the technologies they use?
Mark Gaydos: When you get down to it, clouds are not equal because of their architecture. Companies looking for a cloud vendor need to consider how open the architecture is. This is essential for flexibility. As I mentioned earlier, some cloud providers have a very closed, controlled environment. And there are vendors like Engine Yard that are designed to be open, with no vendor lock-in.
SandHill.com: How can a customer determine how open or closed the vendor is? What questions do they need to ask to avoid lock-in?
Mark Gaydos: The best question to ask is: “When I deploy my application, will you be sharing my resources with any other applications?”
If you ask that question to a closed vendor, the answer is yes because they’ve put in their own technology, and your app will run along with others in the same environment. So you’re sharing resources with other applications. This means the vendor will need to constrain what you can do to prevent you from affecting other applications, and vice versa. That constraint creates more of a closed environment that doesn’t allow you to change technologies as much as you might like.
At Engine Yard, we’re open. So when you establish what your application is and what components you want to use, and then click the “deploy” button, that application cloud is yours and you can modify it. No other application runs in it, and our own technology isn’t even involved. We use our technology to assemble your platform and your application cloud, but our technology isn’t inside your cloud. The only things running in that stack are your application or open-source components. This gives you the flexibility to scale up or down. It’s your environment and you can change it.
SandHill.com: Other than the lack of flexibility that is a consequence of a closed cloud environment, are there questions customer should ask to avoid other pitfalls?
Mark Gaydos: I would advise asking two other questions. One is “Will we be billed by usage or by some other metric?” Not all clouds are alike in their pricing mechanisms. Organizations should look for a vendor, like Engine Yard, that allows buying resources by the hour, thus paying only for that they use.
The other important question to ask is: “Is there any technology you introduce into your cloud when the application is actually running?” If the answer is yes, be aware that this will pose potential performance issues and security issues.
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Mark Gaydos is SVP of Worldwide Marketing at Engine Yard. Mark has more than 25 years of enterprise marketing experience. Prior to Engine Yard, he was vice president of worldwide marketing at VirtuOz. Mark has also held a variety of marketing roles at successful technology companies including Oracle, SAP, Tripwire and Comergent.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of SandHill.com.