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After years of Amazon Web Services dominating the public cloud infrastructure market, a multi-cloud approach is gaining in popularity with many businesses.

The ability to move workloads between AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, or whichever supplier is most appropriate for a specific application, is vital in avoiding the lock-in that enterprises fear. 

It is a subject that is of huge importance to Cloud Foundry, the open source platform as a service that can be built on a range of cloud providers. 

“We see a world of cloud computing that is ubiquitous and flexible, that supports multi-cloud environments,” Ramji told attendees at the Cloud Foundry Summit in Frankfurt this week.

“It is portable and interoperable, enabling users to go where they want. This is actually a revolutionary concept in cloud computing, that the user should have control over their applications as they come and go.”

As cloud computing has become more widely accepted in recent years, moving workloads to a public infrastructure as a service - and the resultant benefits of greater agility and potentially lower costs - no longer offers an edge over rivals, who are likely to be doing exactly the same more often than not.

“You come to a stage where your competitive advantage from choosing AWS, for example, is starting to erode,” said Dan Young, CEO of UK Cloud Foundry specialists EngineerBetter.

“It has become much more ubiquitous and the skills have started to diffuse a bit more throughout the industry. Everyone else has got the same capabilities as you, more or less.”

At the same time, a decade of Amazon Web Service dominance has, until fairly recently at least, resulted in a near-monopoly. Although Microsoft Azure has grown immensely, and more recently Google’s corporate cloud strategy has solidified, this raises the spectre of lock-in. Read next: Microsoft Azure vs Amazon AWS public cloud comparison

Young said: “Many people will have lived through a couple of decades of Microsoft and VMware and Oracle and these buying decisions we make. And sometimes this begins to feel very familiar when we are looking at cloud as well.”

German car manufacturer Volkswagen is building a Cloud Foundry PaaS on top of OpenStack to support development of new customer-facing applications and does not want to be tied to one vendor.

“The reason we chose Cloud Foundry is that we have a chance for a multi-cloud environment,” Roy Sauer, Volkswagen's head of Group IT Architecture and Technology told Computerworld UK.

"We have implemented on a small scale in an on-premise cloud in the Volkswagen data centres and we want to link to several public cloud providers like AWS, IBM or Azure,” Sauer said.

"[We will have our] own data centres for critical data, for secure data, and several public cloud providers because we have to have this global footprint. And even to swap from one public provider to another if it's necessary.” 

BOSH makes multi-cloud easier for ops teams

A central part of Cloud Foundry’s multi-cloud aims is the BOSH open source deployment and moinitoring tool, which also supports other platforms such as Hadoop and OpenStack. Ramji highlighted Google as one of the cloud providers building a Cloud Provider Interface (CPI) for BOSH.

“BOSH is our platform for platforms,” said Ramji. “This is what gives us its multi-cloud capability, so we can support all these different clouds.”

This makes life easier for ops teams to connect more easily between the big cloud players, and also could open the market up more to smaller niche or regional cloud providers.

EngineerBetter’s Young described BOSH as “the travel adaptor for cloud”.

“I will be able to run exactly the same deployment and the same releases on a different cloud,” he said.

Open source as a foundation for multi-cloud?

One of the main focuses of Cloud Foundry’s Ramji keynote was that open source software is a “positive sum game..where the more of us who play the game the better the game itself becomes”.

Ramji highlighted the growth stats around Cloud Foundry, with 31,000 code commits, 2,500 contributors and 130 core committers. It has also added Cisco and ComCast to its membership such as GE Digital.

As an open source foundation, freedom of choice is at the heart of Cloud Foundry’s pitch.  At the same time, there are concerns that one commercial vendor, Dell-EMC-owned Pivotal - which created an open source foundation for Cloud Foundry - is so clearly dominant.

Young acknowledged that this is an area which needs improvement: “It is going to get better and you can see the rate of growth in that membership and all we can do is open more dojos and encourage people to become [code] committers and try and change it.”

Nevertheless, he claimed that growing the open source community around is vital to offering the choice that has perhaps been lacking in the cloud market in the past. 

“This is where open source steps into the picture,” he said.

“What it is effectively doing is allowing us to effectively create a competitive market space in cloud.

“Whereas we had a very captive market space in the early days of AWS, it is much more in keeping with Sam Ramji's idea of this positive sum game to have a competitive marketplace by using things like Cloud Foundry where everyone is put on a more level playing field.

“Having things like BOSH and Cloud Foundry together wrapped in this idea that you have not just one company in control of things but over 60 different companies in control of things.”