HP Tries to Draw API Line in the Cloud

Michael Vizard
Dec. 06 2013, 11:00AM EST

The tension that has been building for months between Amazon and supporters of the OpenStack cloud computing framework is finally starting to boil over. This week Hewlett-Packard announced that it will no longer support the Amazon Web Services API on the public cloud computing service it unfurled earlier this week. According to a statement released to ProgrammableWeb by by Roger Levy, vice president and general manager for HP Public Cloud, the issue comes down to Amazon’s ongoing effort to lock customers into a proprietary API.

“HP is dedicated to bringing to market open and portable cloud solutions that reduce vendor lock-in. We base decisions such as these on direct feedback from our customers and partners. We made this decision informed by developer input, low use of the AWS EC2 API in the open HP Cloud environment, and what was best for the rapidly growing open source developer community. In talking directly with our developer customers, HP Cloud found that a significant majority are less interested in the API when coding, and more interested in assuring that the tools they prefer to use are supported by the cloud they want to use. In fact, most don’t write directly to the API, but instead use a language specific API binding, a CLI, or a cloud/API agnostic library like Java jclouds or Ruby fog.”

Low usage of the AWS EC2 API on the cloud may also reflect an inability to get customers that are already committed to AWS to migrate to another public cloud.

“HP and AWS are really targeting different types of customers,” says Alex Bakker, an industry analyst with Saugatuck Technology. “HP is primarily focused on moving many of its existing customers into an HP cloud.”

What’s not clear is how many other AWS cloud rivals will follow suit; or how much it may ultimately matter to vendors such as HP that tend to focus on classic enterprise IT applications.

“This may prove to be an inconvenience to some developers,” notes Baker. “But the vast majority are going to be writing to the native services offered by HP rather than copying AWS APIs because they will want to take precisely take advantage of the way the HP public cloud works.”

HP has no interest in supporting the full gamut of AWS APIs, adds Baker, because there are simply a lot of services in the HP cloud that are not addressable by an AWS API.

As a primary backer of OpenStack, HP is making the case that OpenStack in both the cloud and on premise provides a framework through which organizations can seamlessly deploy applications across a hybrid cloud computing environment. How they invoke those capabilities will differ by customer. But if customers move beyond the basic EC2 API, there is a danger they will become locked into AWS as they start to adopt additional AWS cloud services.

“Some of the other service that AWS has begun to offer are pretty sticky in terms of their APIs,” says Baker. “HP doesn’t offer those services so it doesn’t want to copy those APIs.”

Ultimately, vendors such as HP and IBM are contending that OpenStack creates a truly open cloud computing market, versus AWS or VMware that lock customers into a particular virtual machine platform via a proprietary set of APIs.

The degree to which that remains an issue may, however, be debatable. Startup vendors such as Ravello Systems, for example, contend that the march of time is making the whole cloud API debate moot. Ravello has developed what it describes as a nested hypervisor that allows organization to run an application workload on any cloud computing they choose. Developed by the same engineering team that created the virtual machine that became the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) offered by Red Hat, Ravello allows, for example, an application running on VMware to run as an unmodified guest on top of any virtual machine deployed in the cloud at will.

“We’ve created a new kind of hypervisor,” says Ravello Systems CEO Rami Tamir. “The APIs issue is becoming much less relevant; if not irrelevant.”

In the meantime, vendors such as HP and IBM are clearly hoping to stir up enough concern to keep workloads from moving to an AWS cloud that continues to gain traction in the enterprise. In the case of HP, however, it’s not at all clear that the company just yet has much weight in the cloud to throw around. That may change following the signing of a recent alliance between HP and Salesforce.com. But for now the HP public cloud is still very much a work in progress.

“HP was a bit late to market,” says Baker. “Their cloud computing efforts at this point are still pretty nascent.

Michael Vizard

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