Netflix exec: Amazon is the iPhone of the cloud

The cloud is dividing into a battle between two platforms — Amazon Web Services and OpenStack — in the same way phones have divided into a competition between iOS and Android, Netflix's cloud architect has said
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

In cloud services, Amazon is like iPhone and OpenStack like Android, according to Netflix's cloud architect.

Adrian Cockroft Netflix

Netflix cloud architect Adrian Cockcroft has likened the battle between AWS and OpenStack in the cloud to iOS versus Android in mobile. Image credit: Netflix

That is because like Apple's iOS, Amazon Web Services was first into the field and has established itself as the incumbent, according to Adrian Cockcroft. To take it on, would-be cloud providers are clustering Android-like around the open-source OpenStack platform, he said.

"What's happening now is there's a gathering of 'not-Amazons' that are trying to band together around OpenStack," Cockcroft told ZDNet UK on Wednesday.

OpenStack was launched in July 2010 by Rackspace, NASA and more than 25 companies. Since then the project has accrued more and more members, and major IT companies such as Dell and HP have built their own clouds based on the technology.

"The major enterprise vendors don't like it that they are tiny in cloud. They're all trying to do something about it and trying to gang up on [Amazon]," Cockcroft said.

However, like Apple, AWS isn't standing still and letting these rivals catch up, he added.

"It's maybe two or three years before OpenStack will have matured to the point where it has enough features to be useful. The challenge that everyone else has is Amazon is not only bigger than them, it's accelerating away from them," he noted.

Cockcroft, a former Sun distinguished engineer, is responsible for designing Netflix's cloud architecture, which runs in a distributed form over the AWS cloud. In 2011, online video rental service Netflix regularly accounted for nearly 30 percent of all download internet traffic in the US, according to Sandvine (PDF).

AWS momentum

As an example of AWS's technical momentum, Cockcroft pointed to its recently introduced services, as the all-SSD DynamoDB database and the complex Workflow automation system.

What's happening now is there's a gathering of 'not-Amazons' that are trying to band together around OpenStack.
– Adrian Cockcroft, Netflix

AWS is also consistently lowering the prices of its cloud services, he noted. This is because parent company Amazon comes from a retail background, where success is determined by volume, not product margins — unlike at the multinational IT companies hoping to get into the cloud. This means competition could be squashed by Amazon's aggressive pricing strategy, Cockcroft acknowledged.

"It's Gulliver and the Lilliputs," he added. "The others aren't going to go away. They're going to band up together around something like OpenStack and provide something that is viable," he said.

Cockcroft noted that AWS has set its cloud up as a place for other companies to host their services — Dropbox online storage and Heroku platform-as-a-service, for example — in much the same way Apple has with its app store.

Google and Microsoft

However, not all major technology companies are taking the OpenStack route, Cockcroft acknowledged. He noted that Google and Microsoft are attempting to take on AWS via their Google App Engine and Windows Azure services, but said take-up on these services remains relatively small.

App Engine "is not really usable today other than the storage product, which is useful for backup," he said.

"Azure has a similar thing, they don't have quite the same scale as [Google] have, but they have a lot of resources and understanding of developers, and Microsoft is developer driven," he added.

In addition, Azure operates in a different way to AWS. It can be prone to more cascading fails due to how its cloud is structured, he said, noting that the software used in AWS's eight worldwide datacentre hubs is kept isolated from its peers to prevent trans-region fails.

There is one key concern with the Android-OpenStack approach to building clouds, according to Cockcroft.

"Android phones are perfectly viable functional things, but the Android marketplace is fragmented. It's hard for a developer to make money in them, and it's hard to build applications that work across a large proportion of them," he said.

"I think you're going to end up with a similar kind of dynamic between Amazon and the other cloud providers," he said.

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