By offering IT resources as highly scalable services over the Internet, cloud computing promises to grant businesses far greater choice and flexibility in IT provisioning. But it also presents a threat to these ideals.
There are only a few companies with the technical and financial clout to build viable cloud architectures. Were those providers to apply the sort of proprietary, customer lock-in techniques with which the IT industry has been associated in the past, there is a grave danger that organisations might wake up one day to find that their IT infrastructure is wholly dependent on a single provider.
“There is a great danger we may end up with a few, highly proprietary über-clouds,” VMware CEO Paul Maritz warned recently.
In what was obstensibly an attempt to promote openness and interoperability, IBM, a company with much to gain from the cloud revolution, published in March 2009 the ‘Open Cloud Manifesto’.
“The industry needs an objective, straightforward conversation about how this new computing paradigm will impact organisations, how it can be used with existing technologies, and the potential pitfalls of proprietary technologies that can lead to lock-in and limited choice,” the manifesto says.
“This document is intended to initiate a conversation that will bring together the emerging cloud computing community (both cloud users and cloud providers) around a core set of principles. We believe that these core principles are rooted in the belief that cloud computing should be as open as all other IT technologies.”
It all sounds reasonably well intentioned, but not everyone has welcomed the document.
“We were privately shown a copy of the document, warned that it was a secret, and told that it must be signed ‘as is’, without modifications or additional input,” wrote Steven Martin, Microsoft’s senior director of developer platform management on his blog. “An open manifesto emerging from a closed process is at least mildly ironic.”
Amazon, the company with the most mature cloud computing offerings, was equally cool on the manifesto. “Like other ideas on standards and practices, we’ll review this one,” it said in a statement. “But what we’ve heard from customers thus far, customers who are really committed to using the cloud, is that the best way to illustrate openness and customer flexibility is by what you actually provide and deliver for them.”
It is always difficult to take IT vendors’ overtures to interoperability entirely seriously, since the best-case scenario for them is always for everybody to standardise on their platform. Far more meaningful would be a cloud interoperability paradigm driven by users.
Erik Carlin, chief architect of hosting provider Rackspace’s cloud offerings, welcomes the Open Cloud Manifesto as a move in the right direction
From our perspective, the authors were well intentioned and were not explicitly trying to exclude anyone.
But the Open Cloud Manifesto is just the beginning. Real action and collaboration are key going forward if we are to achieve anything meaningful. Like a good wine, good Texas steak or any other standardisation effort, cloud standardisation will have to take its course.
Rackspace is fully committed to providing customers choice, flexibility, interoperability and portability as we believe it will drive wider cloud adoption, and that will benefit everyone. A rising tide will float all clouds.
Scott Fletcher, CEO of IT services provider ANS Group, questions whether a single organisation should lead cloud interoperability discussions
We must be careful that cloud computing has openness and interoperability both for public and private clouds. However, the idea that guidelines and principles could be pushed upon the customers, analysts and other vendors by a single vendor is disappointing and a real concern.
The very nature of cloud computing is collaboration, and bias towards one technology or another must be avoided at all cost.
I feel that an independent body needs to be established to coordinate the open standards for identity and data sharing within the cloud to ensure this situation is moved forward and resolved.