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Interview: Cloud Foundry on its 2017 awareness-raising plans for open source PaaS

Cloud Foundry’s executive director, Abby Kearns, sets out the organisation’s plans to ensure that market awareness of the platform keeps pace with its rapid enterprise adoption

Two years have passed since the Cloud Foundry Foundation was created, and in that time, use of the open source platform-as-a-service (PaaS) that shares its name has increased markedly across the US and Europe.

The Cloud Foundry was originally developed in-house at VMware before being handed over to EMC/VMware spin-off Pivotal Software, which, in February 2014, put in motion a plan to establish an open governance model for the PaaS. This, in turn, paved the way for the foundation to be established in January 2015.

The number of organisations and community members committed to supporting the software’s ongoing development has risen accordingly in that time, with the likes of Atos, IBM, Pivotal and SAP all offering enterprises their own distribution and take on Cloud Foundry.

Among Cloud Foundry’s user base are a number of household names, including banking giant HSBC, car manufacturer Volkswagen and the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS).

According to the foundation, central to the platform’s success are its openness and container-based architecture, which allow enterprises to run applications at scale in an on-premise datacentre or in the public cloud without having to modify any code.

Although the pace at which the enterprise market has moved to adopt Cloud Foundry is encouraging, Abby Kearns, the foundation’s executive director, tells Computer Weekly that the platform is still considered one of the cloud market’s “best-kept secrets”.

“Cloud Foundry is an interesting product in that many products suffer from huge amounts of awareness and little adoption, but Cloud Foundry has tremendous adoption and very little awareness,” she says.

Best-kept secret

The “best-kept secret” label might work as a marketing ploy for businesses in the retail or hospitality sector, but it is not so helpful for an organisation that is looking to build awareness of its brand across the globe, says Kearns. “The best-kept secret descriptor – while that’s cute for restaurants, it’s not so cute for our product.”

Part of the problem is the product itself and what it does, says Kearns, who goes on to describe it as a technology that essentially fulfils the roles of the datacentre’s operating system and drives business innovation from the ground up, starting with the “foundations” of the infrastructure.

“It’s not sexy and fun, but it’s an enabler for you to build a business on, and an enabler for you to build and change the way you think about applications,” she says. “And that’s where it gets exciting.

“When we think about HSBC, its business is centred on building mobile apps that customers can use to transfer money, view their bank balance and deposit cheques, and Cloud Foundry is the invisible technology behind the scenes that allows it to do that.”

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The best way to explain the difference that using Cloud Foundry makes to any organisation’s business transformation efforts is to imagine what life would be like if it did not exist, she says.

“How often do you talk about how great your Windows or Mac operating system is? But if you can imagine life without it, it would be a lot more complicated. For instance, you can still run your applications without an operating system – but it’s a big pain,” she says.

To remedy this, Kearns – who took over as the foundation’s executive director in November 2016 – says raising Cloud Foundry’s profile is a top priority for the organisation’s leadership team this coming year.

Essential to this process will be drawing on the support of the organisation’s community of existing certified providers, all of whom have played an important role in helping Cloud Foundry make inroads into the enterprise.

“Some of it has been down to word of mouth and leveraging the expertise of the providers that have capabilities in that space,” says Kearns. “For instance, Pivotal [a certified partner] has a large digital transformation practice, and so does IBM, and they have been really helping their customers take advantage of what Cloud Foundry can provide.”

Depending on what enterprises want to do, as well as the capabilities they might have in-house to achieve their digital aims, organisations have a choice between using Cloud Foundry as is, or one of the distributions created by its certified partners.

“We have 11 certified providers of Cloud Foundry right now,” says Kearns. “Pivotal is one of the better known, IBM Bluemix, SAP Hana Cloud Platform runs on Cloud Foundry, SUSE has recently acquired HPE’s OpenStack and Cloud Foundry assets, so they will now have a distribution too.

“The majority of users don’t use the open source – they are using a distribution to allow a variety of things. Some have a great user interface and some do a fully-managed version, so they can offer that turnkey experience.”

Developer focus

Central to the success of any digital transformation project is the input and output of the developer community. For this reason, the foundation is also ramping up its efforts to court the developer community this year, as part of its awareness-building activities.

“Developers are front and centre for companies that want to transform, and the developer capabilities mean a lot to companies that are trying to become software companies through digital transformation,” says Kearns.

“So we are really going to talk more about developers this year and the value Cloud Foundry can bring to them, and enable them to develop and deploy applications into production quickly and easily.”

In this context, the need for speed is essential, says Kearns, as enterprises look to their developers to help them keep one step ahead of the competition, and as they battle to manage the demands of their legacy systems with newer apps and service deployments.

“As you think about legacy versus greenfield applications, working out what is the best path forward will require the business to take a step back and ask themselves what they are trying to do, what their vision for the future is and work out how technology can help,” she says.

We are really going to talk more about developers this year and the value Cloud Foundry can bring to them
Abby Kearns, Cloud Foundry

“That might sound simplistic, but it’s hard because it’s not something businesses are really accustomed to doing.”

Either way, for most enterprises, the likelihood is that they will end up managing a hybrid estate featuring a mix of legacy and on-premise systems, as well as newer cloud-based applications and services, including systems that have not even been created yet.

“Realistically, for most organisations, in five years from now, 90% of the applications they are going to be managing are not written yet,” says Kearns. “Having a vision to the future and figuring out how to reduce the investment in the legacy they have is also going to be key.”

This is where developers and the open and extensible nature of Cloud Foundry comes into its own, and will continue to do so as enterprises move to source cloud services from multiple providers in years to come, she says.

“The proliferation of public cloud has grown so quickly over the last 18 months, and we’re starting to see those capabilities really accelerate,” says Kearns.

“Amazon Web Services [AWS] has dominated for so long, but Azure and Google Cloud Platform have made such strides in the last few years, and when you factor in predictive analytics, native analytics and artificial intelligence, it starts to become a really interesting promise that public cloud can offer enterprises.”

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