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The “Open Cloud”: a Pre-Condition for Broad Cloud Adoption?

Posted by Frank Gens on March 31st, 2009

[UPDATE - Good news:  looks like someone at Microsoft is hearing the same things from users that we're hearing.  On Monday early a.m., Steve Martin posted that Microsoft was, after all, going to meet with the Open Cloud Manifesto group later that day.]

Open Cloud Manifesto

On Monday, 30+ IT vendors announced the creation of the “Open Cloud Manifesto” group, with a declared intent 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.”

Much has been made about the fact that IBM and the rest of this group were not able to convince key Cloud players – particularly Amazon, Google, Salesforce.com and Microsoft – to join in.  One obvious reason: these companies are all rivals for a strategic control point in the cloud: the application platform.  (To me, the interesting exception was SAP, which is among those competing at the application platform level in the cloud, but still signed on to the IBM-led Manifesto.)

Yes, this kind of IT vendor rivalry is as old as the IT industry.  But anyone who’s listening to customers today (including – importantly – those not yet leveraging the cloud), knows that driving more agreement around cloud service interoperability and data portability is going to be a very important element in moving cloud computing “across the chasm“.  Many users I’ve been talking with about the Cloud are very excited about the model, but many are also worried that they may be walking into a whole new round of vendor lock-in as they start taking advantage of cloud services.

In fact, just last week – right after I gave a speech about Cloud Computing at IDC’s Innovation Forum in Milan – there was a panel discussion about cloud computing, and the issue of interoperability among cloud players’ offerings was the very first thing that came up. Gianluigi Castelli, IT Director for Gianluigi CastelliEni S.p.A., the $100B-plus energy giant, was asked if cloud computing was something he was considering.  He said that Eni was thinking over how and when they would use cloud services.  He noted that he was under significant pressure to cut his budget, and presumably cloud computing would have some strong appeal for that reason alone.  But he went on to say (my paraphrase): “We need to see some standards…  interoperability is a pre-condition we need to see in this area.  And I have some doubts about whether the vendors will succeed in doing that.”

Given that Gianluigi, and – according to our research – many other CIOs, consider standards a pre-condition for their adoption of IT cloud services, let’s hope his pessimistic assessment of vendors’ ability to deliver those standards is wrong.

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4 Responses to “The “Open Cloud”: a Pre-Condition for Broad Cloud Adoption?”

Frank -

The whole “cloud standards” thing reminds me of how unified and standardized Unix became… the same basic idea, but it soon splintered into dozens of ISV-specific instantiations. It’s simply the free market trying to one-up the competition. So I wouldn’t expect every cloud vendor to agree on a single lowest-common-denominator. especially the leaders.

Of course, differentiation (distinct from lock-in) could provide some value. Special-purpose clouds, or special-purpose platforms, would appeal to the needs of specific segments. And, they just might even spur “bridging” technologies between clouds, similar to what firms like Rightscale are doing.

The “invisible hand” of the market will quickly help divine what approaches to cloud computing will dominate — but expecting that everyone will play nice is unfortunately idealistic.

Hi Ken – fair points. I don’t want to come across as Pollyanna – we’ve all seen this movie before, after all. Vendors are not going to all homogenize their technologies, interfaces, data models, etc. And, yes, lack of standards is not all about lock-in; it is often about innovating out ahead of the pack. BUT – the proliferation of Internet standards has taught us all something about the power of standard platforms to enormously accelerate innovation above the platform level. Are we really worse off with TCP/IP, versus SNA, Decnet, ARCnet, PrimeNet, and all the many other vendor-proprietary networking protocols of the 70s and 80s? I think the point of the post – and what customers want – is, as we all venture out into the Cloud, let’s make sure we get aggressive in developing/promoting interoperability standards to as high a level in the stack as we possibly can, without compromising on innovation that adds real value.

[...] – haven’t signed on. IDC thinks that they’re abstaining for the obvious reason of IT vendor rivalry. Not to mention Microsoft’s perpetual “not invented here” [...]

It is certainly nothing new for enterprise IT to want open everything for it transfers pricing power (what little there is) from the vendors to the IT consumers. While desiring this price power, IT consumers need to recognize they must give up a considerable amount of innovation and indirectly stymie the acceptance and the proliferation of any new technology. Put simply, it is the desire to have your cake and eat it too syndrome. I believe the ultimate solution may reside in the interoperability openness of the various technologies(cloud services). This would help enormously the issue of vendor lock-in by allowing any cloud service to communicate with any other cloud service while still allowing the vendor to enjoy some degree of customer stickiness and facilitate continued innovation and cost recovery of same.

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