#OVHSummit 2017: Why OVH stands for an ‘open’ cloud model

Presentation by Laurent Allard, Vice-Chairman of the OVH Group, leading its strategic development - at the OVH Summit 2017 keynote, on 17th October 2017 in Paris.

We all know that the future of IT lies in the cloud. For some of you, migration to the cloud still represents a significant technical challenge, but in the short to medium term the vast majority of companies will make this move. The question is no longer “Do we have to move to the cloud?” but rather, “What type of cloud do we want?” Do we want a cloud where companies always have control over their decisions? Or are we willing to accept technical constraints that result in strong dependencies?

The cloud: an increasingly strategic issue for companies

In 2017, the European Commission described the cloud as a “strategic lever for growth” (1). The OECD described the internet as an “infrastructure playing an increasingly vital role in the global economy”. What will we say about the cloud in 2025, when it is 10 times bigger than it is now? Because that is the growth predicted over the next 8 years.

This exponential growth is the direct result of two developments.

First, the explosion in global data production: +40% per year (source: IDC). This creates a rising need for storage and data processing capacities, especially because of big data, machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence. Just think, a robotized factory will soon be producing more than one petabyte of data each day. A self-driving car will produce no fewer than 5 terabytes.

The second driver of cloud growth is legacy migration by companies. This transfer has only just started. At the moment, 80% of legacy data and systems still need to migrate from datacentres within companies to the datacentres of cloud providers. This represents a volume of over 100 billion euros.

So the cloud will become even more of a strategic issue for companies than it is today. Let’s return to the question at hand: what type of cloud do we want?

The 4 aspects of an open cloud

At OVH, we strongly believe that companies must retain freedom of choice when it comes to the digital world. They must be free to choose their cloud providers, free to change them, free to divide up their applications among several providers, and free to choose where their data is stored. We have to protect and preserve this freedom. This belief can be summed up in two words: open cloud. Let me explain what we mean by an “open” cloud.

The first, crucial, point, is reversibility. Can I leave the cloud easily or does each new service that I use lock me in a little bit more? How much time does it take me to make a migration? Do I have to build my infrastructure again from scratch? Can I export my applications from one cloud provider to another?

The second point is interoperability: will the technical choices that I make now limit me in the future when I integrate other applications? Can I get technological building blocks from different providers to communicate with each other? Can I carry on using my legacy system and build a hybrid cloud?

On these two points, reversibility and interoperability, solutions exist. We have to use and promote technological standards. This is what we are doing at OVH. But other providers offer building blocks that only work on their own platforms. This creates dependencies, and makes reversibility and interoperability more difficult.

The third aspect of the open cloud is data protection. The customer must be able to choose where their data is stored and be informed about the legal framework the data will be subject to. It has to be said that not all countries provide the same level of protection. Look at the analysis by CNIL, the French Data Protection Authority, on protection levels by country. Again, solutions exist. But they only partly meet our needs.

"The cloud is too strategic to take risks when it comes to data protection. We cannot let a dominant party fix the rules just because it controls part of the market."

Europe is leading the way in developing data protection laws for the cloud. Take the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which comes into force in May 2018. Other European laws are in progress, confirming Europe as an area where data protection is taken seriously.

There is a fourth important aspect to the open cloud. This is respect for intellectual property rights, in particular over the algorithms used in artificial intelligence. This is a new problem, and I would like to explain it by using an example.

The question of intellectual property rights over AI algorithms

This is a real example that I worked on recently. A town council was developing a video protection system to detect unusual events in real time, for example cars or people moving around the town at unexpected times. The council started testing artificial intelligence engines. At first, the algorithm was far from perfect and gave many false positives. But after a few months of “learning”, the service got more and more reliable. This is because the artificial neurons are “trained” by operators who correct and refine the detection criteria.

For economic and legal reasons, the council considered transferring its data to OVH, along with the AI engine. And that is when the problem of intellectual property arose. Who do the trained neurons behind the working AI algorithm belong to? Can we retrieve the elements and export them in a standard format?

Today, the answer is simple: nothing can be retrieved. You have to start over. That is why we at OVH are working on “open” solutions for AI, that allow you to retain intellectual property rights over your work and over your investment.

OVH is already committed to building an open cloud

Let’s not pretend otherwise, building and promoting an open cloud is a big challenge!

But it can be done. And OVH has been on this path for quite some time. This means OVH does not make tech choices for you. We offer a wide range of solutions based 100% on technological standards.

Our solutions are built on open-source technologies, from OpenStack, which is behind our Public Cloud solution, to Ceph, which helps support Public Cloud Storage. Or take the PaaS Docker solution offered in OVH Labs, and of course the Linux operating systems that we offer pre-installed on our servers.

But for us, being “open” is not limited to working with open-source technologies. Openness is about being able to offer the technologies you need, whether they are open-source or industry standards. You also need to use existing standards already deployed in your company.
VMware is the perfect example of this openness to existing standards. Our Private Cloud is based on VMware technologies. This gives you easy migration and hybridisation, plus reversibility and interoperability. In the same way, we offer standards including Veeam for backup, Zerto for your disaster recovery plans or Plesk for managing your web projects. We are committed to this approach and are currently working with other big PaaS providers to add more major industry standards to our catalogue. Check back in a few months.

Our commitment to an open cloud is, however, not limited to providing open-source technological building blocks.

Creating a user-centred regulatory framework

We are also in favour of regulating the sector. For us, openness is also about working with some of our competitors and/or partners every day to help decision-makers, especially in Europe, adopt a regulatory framework adapted to the needs of our customers. In other words, to your needs.

For two years, alongside other infrastructure providers, we have been part of the professional association CISPE (Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers in Europe). OVH chairs CISPE, which already has over 20 cloud provider members. What is CISPE for? Let’s take a concrete example: the GDPR. Who published the first industry code of conduct on GDPR? Finance? Healthcare? No: the IaaS cloud sector. Barely a year ago, CISPE published the first code of conduct to help cloud providers conform to the GDPR, and as a result help their customers comply as well.

Things are moving forward in terms of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), but we also need to address the cloud’s other layers: PaaS, service applications (containerisation in particular), cognitive services (on-demand AI engines, for example) and intermediation (the increasingly frequent use of intermediaries for accessing and discovering services: search engines, marketplaces...). All these elements in the cloud ecosystem can create dependencies, which are basically locks or barriers against which we believe we must act.

Progress is being made in terms of standardising the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) dimension, but we also need to address the cloud’s other layers.

Going further with the Open Cloud Foundation

We can already see several standardisation bodies in the cloud sector, but they are highly specialised to a specific domain. Examples include the OW2 Consortium, OpenStack Foundation and Cloud Native Computing Foundation. None address all the challenges of the cloud. None offer a coherent vision of the cloud. We cannot ask our corporate cloud customers to be experts on every standard, at every level: on intermediation, Cognition as a Service, applications, PaaS, IaaS...

Companies should to be able to focus on developing their applications without worrying about technological uncertainty or constraints. They should be able to concentrate on their core business.

That is why we have decided to create a cross-cutting body that complements the organisations specialising in specific issues. We need to bring together all the different parties involved in the cloud. That means solution providers (IaaS, PaaS, FaaS, CaaS...), but also companies, research institutes and representatives from public bodies.

To do this, we have been working for several months with around 20 parties that are representative of the cloud. Together, we are going to launch a global organisation called the Open Cloud Foundation. The foundation will focus on four main imperatives, essential to an open cloud: reversibility, interoperability, data protection and respect for intellectual property.

To start with, the foundation will carry out three key actions:

- Promote technological standards (promote existing ones and add what is missing);
- Communicate with public organisations about new regulations;
- Accredit providers according to their compliance with basic open cloud criteria.

It is only the beginning, but initial feedback has been very encouraging. Over the next three months, the Open Cloud Foundation will establish its statutes, governance and road map for 2018. We plan to be totally operational by the first quarter of 2018.

Over twenty companies, professional associations, public bodies or research centres are already undertaking to create the Open Cloud Foundation.

We have seen how the cloud is becoming an increasingly strategic issue for companies. And how the cloud sector could drive an alternative to a silo approach – by developing an open cloud.

"And what about you? Do you want to help build an #OpenCloud? Register at https://t.co/TvwMZuiBXB pic.twitter.com/4GoBhlSX1O — Open Cloud Fdn (@OpenCloudFdn) 17th October 2017

I invite you to join us in this initiative. Are you interested in the open cloud? Does it affect you? Join us! You can join in by signing up at open-cloud-foundation.org and sharing your ideas on Twitter @OpenCloud_FdN #OpenCloudFdn.

(1)  Measuring the economic impact of cloud computing in Europe, European Commission report published on 10th January, 2017.