Is it possible to remain cloud neutral?

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Going all in with a cloud-first mentality doesn’t mean you need to be married to a single vendor. For some, the flexibility to move from one cloud provider to another – or even back on-premises if you’re unsatisfied with your current situation – is much more appealing.

This mentality is called cloud neutrality. And for many reasons, including how being locked in with any particular provider is challenging for availability, economy of scale, and/or negotiation tactics, many of the customers we talk to are interested in remaining cloud neutral rather than getting locked in.

Is that the right mentality to have? Let’s discuss.

It’s good to keep your options open

The cloud, as we know it today, is a relatively recent development organizations are becoming more and more dependent upon. The theory of distributed, elastic, on-demand, highly decoupled, redundant compute infrastructure is sound. But it has not been fully tested in extreme situations.

We have not had a cloud vendor’s physical infrastructure destroyed by a natural disaster, terrorist attack, company failure, meteor strike, or zombie apocalypse. And you never know how any of these events might destabilize a provider’s infrastructure.

Also, as the popularity of the big vendors grows, the cost could skyrocket to the point that it’s no longer an appealing option. We’ve seen this happen to airline pricing, big pharma, cable TV, and basically any other service we just can’t live without.

Obviously, I’m being somewhat facetious here – about the zombie apocalypse, anyway – but the point is it’s good to keep your options open.

How vendors lock you in

There are multiple vendor strategies that make it difficult for you to move your data from one cloud to another. These techniques include:

Training: When you begin to use a cloud vendor and become deeply entrenched in the training, they’ll convince you that their tools work more efficiently when used in conjunction with their native solutions or tools.

This might be true. But you are then endowed with employees that have spent countless hours getting to know one vendor’s idiosyncrasies, creating challenges to remaining cloud neutral.

There is not a lot you can do about this except to hire and train staff in the cloud solutions you have chosen or to hire an outside partner to help you make decisions and move you into the cloud environments.

Proprietary languages: Cloud providers have succeeded in keeping away from languages that you can only use in their cloud, save for one exception: the coding used to set up their infrastructure as a service.

Fortunately, there’s a third-party open source tool called Terraform that can perform this function in any of the cloud vendors. It’s worth investigating if you’re considering cloud neutrality.

Proprietary tool interfaces: The big three cloud vendors use common, popular open source programming languages to drive nearly all their tools and provide the primary automations. However, in the background, the libraries and the API calls that communicate with the infrastructure resources are going to vastly differ; this is out of necessity because you are communicating with different resources.

If you decide to move to a different cloud vendor, don’t think that because you wrote all your code in Python or Java that you can simply drop it into place somewhere else. There will be a lot of back-end work, especially if you didn’t foresee this eventuality up front.

Think ahead. Write interface calls in generically called functions or methods that can be swapped out or can dynamically determine which environment you’re operating in. Admittedly, this takes a lot of work and forethought.

Another solution is containerization, which can mitigate this problem but you won’t be able to take full advantage of all the widgets and bells and whistles your cloud vendor provides.

Egress fees: Everything is free to get into the cloud! It’s a wonderful place full of rainbows and puppy dogs, right? Wrong. It’s more like Hotel California. You can check in, but egress fees on large amounts of data can make you decide to never leave.

However, there are services such as HPE Cloud Volumes, Netapp Cloud Volumes, and Swiftstack that will allow you to keep your data out of the cloud while still utilizing it within the cloud. While this technically makes you vendor cloud neutral, you’re still in someone else’s cloud.

Cloud neutrality requires serious planning

Is it possible to remain cloud neutral? Yes. However, you will need to make it a high priority, as it requires a lot of upfront planning. And it may cost more, especially in the areas of training, coding, and jumping ship.

You’ll need to code your applications around the idea that they could run in any cloud or be ported with minimal effort. Completely containerizing your applications is also an option.

The bottom line is there are no easy solutions to cloud neutrality. I do believe that more third-party tools and applications will come along in the future to address the problem of remaining cloud agile. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If you have any questions about your cloud journey, contact your SHI account executive.