Cloud Manifestos, Open Standards and Pockets

Amid the requisite dose of controversy, leaks, and hypocrisy in order to make a bit of a splash, the Cloud Computing Manifesto was launched today. The aim seems to be to lay down the law of the clouds. Is this wise? Maybe.

Cloud computing clearly opens a range of new opportunities for innovation, efficiencies and collaboration. The upside is that cloud computing is enabled by grids of computing power that interconnect. Cloud based products and technologies make the enterprise IT infrastructure elastic so that it can grow incrementally without any theoretical upper limit, as well as provide the flexibility to move resources around in order to meet dynamic business priorities. In fact, you can requisition compute power, storage, and other services–gaining access to a suite of elastic IT infrastructure services as your business demands them.

There is one caveat: the challenges for openness and standardization of this new, emerging Internet platform must be met. In fact, cloud computing is only possible because of the open, interoperable and collaborative way in which the Internet has grown. This seems obvious, but is easily forgotten, but only at our own peril.

The Manifesto says:

Cloud providers must use and adopt existing standards wherever appropriate. The IT industry has invested heavily in existing standards and standards organizations; there is no need to duplicate or reinvent them.

So, maybe the Manifesto actually says: use the established standards route, and do it sooner rather than later. This would be good news, also for Michael Armbrust et al., whose recent article 'Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing', also worries that non-standard APIs will lead to lock-in. But open APIs are usually not standards, and are not typically governed by an open standards process. This is the real challenge of Web 2.0 style applications that currently check the "open" box by disclosing APIs. This only results in customers following a hub-and-spoke model where there are none of the protections of real open standards, such as choice, control, and transparency.

The key aspect of openness in computer software is open standards. If the Cloud Computing Manifesto leads to more commitment around the need to develop open standards in web-based computing—in the cloud or outside the cloud in the boring old Internet—that is a good thing. However, given the current hype around cloud computing, it might be useful to point out that Cloud Computing simply is a new computing trend towards a web-based computing environment.

As an industry, if we want to enable customers to change their deployment decisions without requiring the customer to change the application, there is no way around open standards. Openness, interoperability and collaboration should be the guiding principles for the development of cloud computing, as it has been for the Internet so far. Hence, global standardization efforts should be a key priority in cloud computing. While scattered discussion forums exist, the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum and The Open Cloud Consortium being cases in point, the joined-up efforts where all major players and views can come together has yet to appear. Can good old fora/consortia like W3C and OASIS do the job? Let's have the debate!

Cloud Computing Manifesto aside, let's roll up our sleeves and standardize before the window of opportunity shuts down. Rather than being an obstacle to nascent markets, open standards are prerequisites for software innovation. Open standards create the platform upon which sustainable innovation can occur through network effects. I would not want to be stuck in somebody's cloud any more than I would want to be stuck deep in somebody's pockets. When I think about Heaven, I have always pictured myself on top of the clouds, not inside them.

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About

Trond Undheim, Ph.D, Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at the Oracle Corporation, speaker, entrepreneur, blogger, and author, is one of the world’s leading experts on technology and society. LinkedIn profile

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