As cloud providers consider build vs. buy, many lean toward 'build'

Some cloud providers say vendors aren't keeping up with their needs, sparking a debate about build vs. buy for cloud infrastructure.

Editor's note: This is the first part of two-part series on what has driven a growing number of cloud providers to favor in-house development over commercial products. 

The cloud services market is moving at a rapid pace, but some cloud providers say their vendors aren't keeping up with service providers' IT needs.

Generally, the question of build versus buy is familiar and not especially scandalous to many service providers, particularly those with their own research and development resources. Homegrown technologies are even frequently a source of innovation and differentiation. But some providers say they're forced now to do a lot more development in-house simply because vendors aren't meeting their requirements for cloud hardware and software.

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"You'll never be competitive in the long run if you don't develop a lot of the intellectual property yourself to build, run and manage the cloud because there simply are no commercial tools available today to do it," said Jeff Deacon, chief cloud strategist at Terremark Worldwide in Miami. "Anyone that tries to tell you differently hasn't been in the business and tried to run a public cloud."

With each passing year, carriers have grown increasingly dissatisfied with vendor strategies around monetization, which includes products that support cloud services, said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., a consultancy in Voorhees, N.J. For years, Nolle has asked carriers to indicate how well vendors are supporting them in this specific area: very satisfied, satisfied, neutral, marginally unsatisfied or unsatisfied.

"Five years ago, the majority of responses slipped below the neutral stage, and what has been happening since then is they've been continuing to drift negatively -- to the point where in May, when the last survey was completed, we only had one out of 47 operators rate above 'neutral,'" Nolle said. "It's gotten worse every year."

Build vs. buy: Technical considerations

Cloud providers are favoring build over buy due to vendors' technical and cost-related deficiencies, according to Deacon, who made his comments to a service provider audience at the Carrier Cloud Forum, a workshop event for providers held during the recent Interop 2012 trade show in New York.

In terms of software, a fundamental failure on the part of some vendors is that they're not building carrier-class cloud products, Deacon said.

You'll never be competitive in the long run if you don't develop a lot of the intellectual property yourself ... because there simply are no commercial tools available today to do it.

Jeff Deacon, Chief Cloud Strategist, Terremark Worldwide

"The commercial software that's out there -- for the OSS, the BSS and even the hypervisors and management tools for the hypervisors -- they don't scale," he said. "They're designed for enterprises and sold to carriers."

Douglas Smith, chief information security officer and vice president of IT systems at NTT America, didn't skewer vendors, but acknowledged that operations support system and business support systems products need a refresh to support cloud providers. Speaking on a panel discussion about OSS/BSS at the Carrier Cloud Forum, Smith said he'd like vendors in that space to approach cloud with a greater focus on software-oriented architecture.

"The OSS systems that are used today were designed and rolled out 20 to 30 years ago, and they did a great job for the challenges of that time. But unfortunately, technology and the market have moved on," Smith said. "One of the keys is reusable components, but it's also creating these common components and this flexibility that doesn't exist with the systems that were built in the past. They were built to solve yesterday's situations."

Big hardware vendors aren't faring any better in cloud provider products, as carriers say vendors seem to be more focused on pleasing shareholders than solving technology problems by continuing to just push "bigger boxes," according to Nolle. Networking vendors in particular seem to have fallen out of favor due to their stagnation on next-generation networking technologies like software-defined networking (SDN), he added.

"When the operator goes to the vendor and asks [about its cloud] strategy, the vendor says, 'Yeah, we've got that covered, but how many boxes can I put you down for in the meantime?'" Nolle said. "The operators feel that the vendors are so opportunistically pursuing their own financial goals that vendors forget that in meeting their own financial goals, they're asking operators to compromise theirs."

Juniper Networks recently announced two new carrier-class edge routers to its MX series line, the MX 210 and MX 220, boasting that the latter can scale up to 80 Tbps in a single chassis. But Juniper insists the MX 210 and 220 aren't just bigger boxes.

Both products incorporate several software-based features suited to supporting cloud services, said Wendy Cartee, vice president of marketing at Juniper. The routers support JunosV App Engine and Juniper's MX Virtual Chassis, two virtualization platforms geared toward improving service delivery, service creation and network management. The routers also support Path Computation Element, an automated traffic engineering function that can be used in SDN.

"We do believe that in addition to providing the capacity and performance, it is important to provide these software capabilities," Cartee said. "[That's] why we introduced these breakthrough capabilities but at the same time offered these really intelligent software services."

Continued: In build vs. buy scenarios, are there cloud provider cost savings anywhere?

This was last published in October 2012

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Is existing vendor hardware and software adequate for cloud provider infrastructure needs?