Microsoft’s Nadella to Rackspace: Let’s talk cloud interoperability

Satya Nadella Microsoft Structure 2012

Satya Nadella, President, Server and Tools Business, Microsoft
(c)2012 Pinar Ozger [email protected]

Businesses wanting to put more workloads into the cloud are concerned about vendor lock-in. And at least some cloud vendors hear that loud and clear.
Satya Nadella, who leads Microsoft’s(s msft) Azure cloud effort, said he would welcome the chance to sit down with Rackspace(s rax) president Lew Moorman to hash out how to make it easier to move workloads between the two companies’ respective clouds.
“Customers don’t want to be locked in,” said Nadella, president of Microsoft’s server and tools group, during a quick chat after his Structure 2012 panel.  The issue, in his view, is that true interoperability requires that data centers on both sides of the transaction be very similar.
“We need to define what we mean by interoperability,” he said. For things running in Azure to carry over to another cloud, the other cloud has to replicate what’s going on in the Azure data centers, he said. That’s a bigger discussion than API support.
Moorman made waves earlier in the week by blasting the notion that cloning popular cloud APIs solved the interoperability issue.  The problem is that Amazon’s EC2, S3 and other APIs cover only a small fraction of Amazon’s infrastructure and services, he said.
Nadella’s comments bear out the notion that cloning APIs only gets you so far. The force looming over this discussion is, of course,  Amazon Web Services, (s amzn) the dominant public cloud. Amazon’s take is that companies that support its APIs will work just fine with AWS. Eucalyptus, a private cloud infrastructure provider, agrees. Rackspace clearly does not.

Fear of lock-in drives concern

Moorman’s contention — and one shared by other companies including some Amazon customers —  is that as businesses use more of Amazon’s higher-end services, they get locked into Amazon’s stack and cannot move. In the old days, customers could take their application and move it to new hardware. In cloud that is no longer the case, he said. “You date your hardware provider, you marry your cloud,” he said.
Amazon’s standard reponse to this is that customers are free to pick and choose which of many Amazon services to use or not use.
Tier1 analyst Carl Brooks said much of the API discussion, if not the interoperability debate, is overblown. “Fundamentally, APIs don’t matter that much. The whole point of APIs is that they are easy. Nobody needs to or should clone anyone else’s unless their customers want it, at which point, they should. Also, OpenStack is  AWS API compatible, on purpose, so I’m not sure Lew’s on the firmest ground here,” Brooks said.
What Nadella says about data center homogeneity rings true, but remember, Brooks cautioned, Microsoft wants to sell its SystemCenter system management and Hyper-V virtualization to everyone, so it’s in his interest that outside data centers use Microsoft technologies.
And interoperability is in the eye of the beholder. Users can already move data from Rackspace Cloud Files to Azure BLOBs and/or run VMs in Azure and Rackspace that talk to each other, Brooks said.
“I can speculate that setting up an Azure service node might be a interesting avenue for Rackspace; [it would] be a real twist on co-opetition. Like Starbucks setting up shop inside a Dunkin Donuts. Maybe good for everybody … maybe not so good,” Brooks said.