Walmart decries cloud lock-in, plans to open-source OneOps

'The more critical the service, the more problematic lock-in is,' one analyst says

Vendor lock-in has plagued the corporate world since well before the arrival of the cloud, but now -- with ever more of today's technology operating in an online environment dominated by providers such as Amazon Web Services -- it's taken on new urgency.

Aiming to strike a blow at the problem, Walmart on Wednesday announced that it will open-source the cloud technology it has built up following its acquisition of startup OneOps roughly two years ago.

Specifically, the retail giant's @WalmartLabs division will upload the technology's source code to GitHub by the end of the year, according to a blog post by Jeremy King, CTO of Walmart global e-commerce and head of @WalmartLabs, along with Tim Kimmet, vice president of platform and systems for @WalmartLabs. That, in turn, will make it freely available to anyone.

The news was also announced at Walmart’s annual meeting with analysts on Wednesday.

"Developers and cloud users know the upside of operating in the cloud -– flexibility, scalability, speed, etc.," wrote King and Kimmet. "Unfortunately, too many have discovered the biggest downside… being locked in to the cloud provider you start with."

OneOps aims to help users manage critical application workloads throughout their lifecycle on any cloud-based infrastructure, with the ability to move applications, databases or entire cloud environments from one cloud provider to another so as to take advantage of better offers.

Engineers can spin up new environments in minutes to host a new app, while control of APIs (application programming interfaces), architectures, tools and technologies remains squarely in developers' hands, they said.

The arrival of the technology as open source will be particularly good news for companies that have considered switching cloud providers but found themselves locked into their provider’s proprietary APIs, architecture and tools, King and Kimmet said.

"By eliminating the barriers that cloud hosting providers have erected, OneOps will drive them to compete based on price, customer service and innovation," they said.

When a customer is locked in by a vendor, "they can pretty much do whatever they want to you, ranging from mining you for money to significantly reducing the quality of the service because they no longer have to worry about keeping you happy," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group.

"The more critical the service, the more problematic lock-in is," he added. "The standing recommendation is to avoid lock-in like the plague."

In many ways, it's similar to living in a "Roach Motel," agreed Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT. "Getting out is way harder than getting in."

Open-source software has been particularly popular in cloud environments for the way it allows users to escape commercial software licensing fees, King pointed out.

"I think this is a great move by Walmart," said Al Hilwa, a program director with IDC. "These technologies that provide de-coupling from specific clouds can themselves generate lock-in, and it is strategically preferable to have them in open source."

As a retailer, Walmart competes with Amazon but lacks its own cloud to manage the seasonal ups and downs typical in retail. That, in fact, was an integral part of Amazon's own rationale for entering the cloud business to begin with years ago, Hilwa pointed out.

"I think retailers wanting to compete online have to effectively become cloud providers," he said, "with all that is implied in terms of software engineering, competency and IP control."

Walmart's shares tumbled on Wednesday following its unexpected prediction that per-share profits will decline by between 6 percent and 12 percent in fiscal 2017, which starts in February.

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