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Open Data Center Alliance Will Help Prevent Vender Lock-In, UBS' Andrew Feig Says

The 70 corporate members of the Open Data Center Alliance will make their technology demands known to vendors through a series of road maps.

Because of increased business requirements, cost and time pressures and the need for quick scalability, the old way of purchasing data center technology (such as buying a server and then having no interaction with the vendor until the next refresh three to five years later), doesn't work any more, says Andrew Feig, executive director, technology advisory group, group technology infrastructure services at UBS, who is a founding member of a new user group for data center technology announced this week: the Open Data Center Alliance. UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and National Australia Bank are also charter members.

The old model, Feig says, is neither nimble nor scalable. While vendors are interested in hearing what users have to say during the purchasing process, "once the vendor is in there for three to five years, they can pretty much do what they want," he notes. "I don't want to say they hold us hostage, but they don't have a good motivation to do what we want. We don't want to be locked in to a certain vendor's solution." Cloud computing in particular, he says, just can't work that way.

The 70 corporate members of the Open Data Center Alliance plan to help steer standards in the data center and cloud spaces. They meet weekly to talk over their technology requirements and will periodically tell vendors what they expect to see in future data center products and delivery models. Because the members have a combined $50 billion in technology purchasing budget, they expect vendors to listen.

One goal for the Alliance is preventing vendor lock-in, says Feig, who spoke to Bank Systems & Technology in an interview yesterday. Today, companies like UBS are trying to reduce the unit cost of every item while meeting increased user demands. So the Open Data Center Alliance lets large-company technology buyers get together, figure out what their joint demands are, and tell vendors as a group what they expect of them.

Another goal is to get unit item prices down. "It's difficult to maximize service and minimize cost," Feig says. "That's really the challenge."

So far, the two vendors involved with the group are Intel and Terremark. Intel is the instigator and shepherd of the organization, Feig says, and a nonvoting member. (However, AMD and other chip manufacturers can join the group if they want, he says.) Infrastructure provider Terremark is participating on behalf of its corporate customers, he says. Feig expects other vendors to join the group, too, yet it plans to stay end-user focused.

Other groups, such as the Enterprise Cloud Leadership Council and the Open Cloud Consortium, have similar goals. "We did look at some of the others, the difference is the membership of this group, which is end user focused," Feig says.

The Open Data Center Alliance is working on road maps for data center technology vendors that it plans to start releasing in the first quarter of 2011. The road maps will provide guidelines on basic building blocks of data centers, such as provisioning, storage, workload management and power management. "There's a ridiculous number of ways to do policy-based power management," Feig says. "This will give base requirements for how we would like it done, and if vendors can comply with those, then I only need to do it one way, I don't need to do it 17 different ways. We're making some things plug and play." Then banks can focus more on their applications rather than integrating power systems, he says. Such compatibility could be helpful toward cost-cutting; being able to turn off half a bank's servers and air conditioners off at night could save a lot of money, but only if they can all be turned off at once. "If there were a standard way to do it, that's one problem solved," he says.

The Alliance will also delve into cloud computing guidelines because cloud and data center technologies are so intertwined, Feig says. "To try to optimize one without the other would be foolish," he says. It will look at both private and public cloud computing, he says, because they deal with the same issues, such as multitenancy and service levels.

Adamson Rust of technology blog TechEye commented of the Alliance, "We believe like so many alliances, it will be riven by dissensions and self interest." Feig says one thing that will help the group stay focused on its mission is its quick timelines. "These guidelines aren't going to be two years in the making with 50 debates, we'll get to consensus quickly," he says. The proof will be in the putting, the guidelines the group produces and the feedback vendors provide. "They make think we make sense or that we're completely nuts, but at least our view will be on the table," Feig says. "And then we'll have to see what happens. If we make any change, that will be a plus. If the $50 billion spend within this group doesn't make vendors listen to us, I don't know what else would."

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