It's logical for larger enterprises to build their own cloud, according to Nick Barcet, VP of products at eNovance, a French consultancy that is a leading authority on OpenStack architectures.
This is not a question simply of number of employees or revenues, he told me when we met last week at Cloud Expo Europe in London. What matters is that you have a business need for IT that operates at scale:
"You need to have a business model where scalability is a requirement.
"You need to realize that your ability to survive depends on your ability to master this requirement — either directly or indirectly."
The decision against using a public infrastructure provider should in the end come down to economics, he concluded. Organizations run their own cloud infrastructure because they need a cloud platform that is cheaper for them to own and run than buying services from a provider like Amazon:
"It's not only my ability to execute but also my ability to remain at the right pricing model to remain competitive."
Enterprises turn to eNovance for help in building that infrastructure because of the company's longstanding OpenStack expertise. Based on technology created at NASA and Rackspace and now backed by leading vendors including IBM, HP, Intel and VMware, the open source platform is gaining ground as a preferred technology for building infrastructure-as-a-service clouds.
Originally founded with the idea of being an IaaS provider ("we were young and stupid," he grinned), eNovance built Europe's first OpenStack cloud.
"We realized this was a business that was capex driven — for a margin that was not that exciting.
"This is how we pivoted, we decided our expertise was something a lot of people were eager for. We became a consulting firm."
As a consultancy, eNovance's first customer was CloudWatt, one of two joint ventures part funded by the French government to create indigenous IaaS competition for the likes of Amazon, Azure and other US-owned providers.
Since then, business has blossomed, with customers emerging from a range of industries including financial services. Its customer list includes energy giant EDF, insurance group Generali Assurances, telecoms group Orange and drinks firm Rémy Cointreau.
Safety in numbers
Enterprises are choosing OpenStack because a popular open source platform brings the comfort of safety in numbers, he explained:
"The advantage of OpenStack is the reassurance you have when you see a project growing that quickly, being backed up by that many industry actors. Having the reassurance that you're not alone is very important."
The promise of interoperability counts for a lot, too. It's an important part of the OpenStack vision that it should be possible to move workloads between different OpenStack infrastructures or even run them across multiple OpenStack clouds concurrently. "You're building an extension route towards the hybridity of your cloud," said Barcet.
At the same time, the open source specification means that organizations are free to tailor their cloud to their specific needs, controlling whatever features they need to add.
There has been some debate among OpenStack supporters on the best way to implement interoperability. Some argue for standardizing on a single API, while others believe that any differences in implementation across different virtualization platforms can be smoothed over by using an orchestration layer such as RightScale and similar players. Barcet believes the latter approach is the right one.
"This is something the open source convention is trying to address by defining a set of tests to define the minimum requirement to define OpenStack compliance.
"The more I talk with enterprises, the more I realise is, what they need is to be able to deploy the same application across multiple clouds. They don't care whether or not this is done by API ...
The API matters when you want to ensure that you're going to have similar behaviors at the development layer. If as a developer you decide to rely on an external orchestration engine, you don't worry about this any more."
In reality, he pointed out that the discussion is moot in many cases because the volumes of data being stored make it impractical to move easily from one cloud to another:
"Data gravity is the bigger obstacle to moving actually."
Local cloud providers
As well as continuing to build its enterprise customer base, eNovance continues to see a growing market for specialist IaaS providers. There is a market for IaaS providers that can offer local functionality, said Barcet, in part because of the data gravity issue, as well as concerns about data privacy.
This creates a market for the likes of CloudWatt, he said:
"Their aim is not to be yet another competitor to existing providers but to offer [those services] in a local manner."
A local cloud provider is especially attractive to businesses that provide services to government, or those that face stiff competition from rivals in countries such as the US or China, he said. Avoiding foreign-owned clouds gives them a greater guarantee that their data is less exposed to prying eyes.