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Maybe it’s because Amazon Web Services has been around so long in the public-cloud business.

Maybe it’s because Amazon offers such a wide variety of services that developers want to use and don’t want to give up.

But explanations aside, public-cloud vendors have had to get a grip on reality: AWS rules the roost.

An increasing number of public cloud competitors have been developing technology that can help companies use multiple clouds. Many say they understand that companies don’t necessarily want to use one public cloud for all workloads. And that’s true to some degree — some companies do split deployments across two clouds or even more than that.


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Pete Johnson worked on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings from Hewlett-Packard and ProfitBricks and recently joined cloud-application-management company CliQr Technologies. The new way of doing business is about helping companies mix and match clouds, not just wiring together a public cloud and an on-premises data center, Johnson told VentureBeat.

At the same time, becoming more of a cloud manager or cloud enabler can be read as recognition that not all public clouds are as popular as Amazon. That could help explain why Cisco, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard already have gone in that direction — and why more companies could also play the cloud-manager card.

The church of cloud agnosticism

Dell is arguably the most obvious company to use as an example for this rush toward management of cloud deployments. Last year, it ditched efforts to build a public cloud based on the open-source OpenStack software system last May and bought Enstratius to strengthen its ability to manage deployments on multiple clouds. Now cloud management is a major element of Dell’s cloud strategy.

“The observation Dell had is essentially that users wanted to use multiple clouds or multiple clouds that were private and public and multiple types of IT,” said Michael Coté, an analyst covering infrastructure software at 451 Research and previously one of the people who launched Dell’s software group, in an interview with VentureBeat.

“People wanted heterogenous IT. At that point, it makes sense for them to actually facilitate them doing that, rather than saying you should only do Dell cloud.”

Notwithstanding a $1.2 billion investment in its SoftLayer public-cloud infrastructure, IBM is also showing signs of interest in telling a big cloud-manager story.

IBM’s latest cloud acquisition, the nonrelational database company Cloudant, is being handled in such a way that IBM will continue to let developers use Cloudant’s database on top of other public clouds, like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Windows Azure. The ruling amounts to a tacit acknowledgment that IBM isn’t the only cloud out there. And it’s essentially a way for IBM to get money even when developers select other public clouds for their Cloudant databases.

IBM also has filed for a patent related to a software toolkit called InterCloud Storage, which lets people securely move data from one cloud to another. Sure, IBM’s SoftLayer cloud is set to the default cloud here, but IBM is making a point of playing up the tool as cloud-agnostic.

VMware has been rolling its vCloud Hybrid Service out to new areas; the service handles deployments of applications in both private and public clouds. VMware has also been adding capabilities to let businesses see how much it costs to use infrastructure on public clouds and manage wordloads across clouds. Executives showed off the new features, which are part of VMware’s vCloud Automation Center and its IT Business Management Suite software packages, at VMworld in San Francisco last August.

Hewlett-Packard offers a “hybrid cloud-management platform” that provides “a single management interface and common user experience across multiple clouds, both HP and third party, across private and public, as well as traditional infrastructure, allowing customers to more easily manage their entire IT environment,” Margaret Dawson, vice president of HP Cloud product marketing, wrote in an email to VentureBeat.

Just last month Cisco introduced InterCloud software to let customers move data and applications from one cloud to another.

Finally, there’s Docker. Docker made a splash last year by open-sourcing the technology underlying its dotCloud Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud: “containers” that can hold bits of code comprising an application and move from a laptop to a bunch of servers in a cloud and back, with no changes to the code. Now, with the help of a new $15 million round of funding, Docker will be able to roll out commercial services that can show where containers are running and who launched them.

Practically speaking, that means as developers throw containers onto public clouds like Google or DigitalOcean, Docker will be able to capture revenue. And that arrangement could be much more attractive than just another PaaS on the market.

It comes down to choice

Johnson believes the shift from providing raw cloud resources to managing data and applications on multiple clouds is more than reasonable. In fact, it’s a big part of why he left his platform evangelism job at ProfitBricks and joined CliQr as senior director of product marketing last month, he told VentureBeat.

In the past six months or so, he’s seen that some enterprises want to avoid getting locked in to any one cloud. “They want choice,” Johnson said.

Leading IaaS providers like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Rackspace have been slow to offer tools for managing or giving visibility into deployments on clouds other than their own. Johnson believes multi-cloud management is a logical development for IaaS providers in the future and that it will be a big market opportunity.

Lydia Leong, a Gartner analyst who covers the IaaS market, is less certain the top vendors will be the ones to do the managing.

“I think that by and large, the most successful vendors are building their own ecosystems and probably will do very little management on other people’s clouds,” she told VentureBeat in an email.

If anything, she wrote, offerings that integrate IaaS, PaaS, and Software as a Service (SaaS) might be a more likely outcome for vendors like Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

IBM has already pursued that angle, with more of its software becoming available as a cloud services. At the same time, it does appear interested in raking in revenue in multi-cloud scenarios.

OpenStack as lock-in escape hatch

Other companies want in for deployments on Amazon on other public clouds, too.

T-Systems International’s Enterprise Marketplace for finding and using lots of cloud services now includes integration with OpenStack-based clouds and clouds from Microsoft and Amazon, as René Büst, a cloud-computing analyst at Crisp Research, pointed out in an email to VentureBeat.

“It is true that a lot of provider[s] are enabling … their customer[s] to switch to other providers or shifting workloads at any time,” Büst wrote.

“For virtual machines, this actually works. For data, depending on how the data is stored or associated with the infrastructure, it could become not that easy.”

Developers could find themselves hooked on complex services from the most full-featured cloud providers — like Amazon’s hosted NoSQL database, DynamoDB, for example. Which is why OpenStack could be interesting for customers, and thus why OpenStack-based public clouds might be in a healthy position.

Looking forward, Johnson suspects that technologies like Jumpgate — middleware for connecting OpenStack with the application programming interfaces (APIs) from public clouds — could make it easier for vendors interested in the management layer to manage more clouds from a single software portal. It could also let less prominent cloud providers gain a sliver of revenue even if they’re not cloud giant Amazon Web Services.

“If you’re not big enough to say you’re going to have a unique API and take it or leave it, I think it’s a smart play to go with OpenStack compatibility, and Jumpgate now gives you a way to do that,” Johnson said.

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