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Microsoft Exec Reacts to 'Open Cloud Manifesto'

A Microsoft official took umbrage on Thursday to an "open standards" initiative proposed by a coalition of cloud computing technology providers.

The dispute involves a so-called "Open Cloud Manifesto" that the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum (CCIF) plans to announce on Monday. The CCIF, which is a new group, currently lists 13 sponsors, with companies such as Cisco Systems, Intel and Sun Microsystems on the roster.

Missing from the list was notable cloud computing technology provider, Microsoft, which rolled out its Windows Azure cloud computing platform in October. Not only is Microsoft not a CCIF participant, it's a critic.

Steve Martin, Microsoft's senior director of developer platform product management, complained on Thursday that the CCIF's process wasn't an open one. He questioned the motives of the organization.

"Very recently we were privately shown a copy of the [CCIF] document, warned that it was a secret, and told that it must be signed 'as is,' without modifications or additional input," Martin wrote in a blog. "It appears to us that one company, or just a few companies, would prefer to control the evolution of cloud computing, as opposed to reaching a consensus across key stakeholders (including cloud users) through an 'open' process."

In response, CCIF Instigator Reuven Cohen called Microsoft's response "unfortunate." Cohen is founder and chief technologist at Toronto-based Enomaly Inc., an enterprise cloud computing technology provider.

"Microsoft was among the first to review the manifesto," Cohen wrote in his blog. "Their 2:28 AM pre-announcement of the manifesto was a complete surprise given our conversations."

Martin seemed to complain mostly about the process and suggested that Microsoft could be on board if participation were more open and transparent. He also mentioned that the process should not be vendor dominated. Finally, he suggested that cloud computing was still new and standards would "take some time to develop."

Standards Fight Brewing?
Microsoft currently has "tens of thousands of developers" using the Windows Azure platform, according to Martin. Cloud computing represents a potential big play for Microsoft. Could the CCIF standardization push merely be a market distraction aimed at companies like Microsoft? It's possible, according to Matt Rosoff, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, an analyst firm.

"In my experience, these organizations are usually created primarily for public relations purposes, and their main goal is usually to stall or confuse the market in order to prevent a competitor from dominating a market," he wrote in an e-mail.

Rosoff cautioned that words like "open" need definition, since restrictive license agreements can still be involved. He noted a recent Wall Street Journal article, which indicated that even the definition of "cloud computing" is up for grabs.

Following a definition proposed by Forrester Research, cloud computing providers currently form a short list. True cloud computing platforms, according to Forrester, include Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud 2 (EC2), Force.com (part of Salesforce.com) and Google AP Engine. However, many other companies claim to have cloud computing platforms or plan to roll them out. IBM has its Blue Cloud. Sun Microsystems is planning its Sun Cloud platform for later this year. There are many other smaller cloud computing players as well.

One of those smaller players is GoGrid, which formed its own alliances around cloud computing standards, and even has its own cloud computing definition. The company works with its competitors and customers to drive a standard around "cloud infrastructure provider APIs," according to Randy Bias, GoGrid's vice president of technology strategy. Data portability and identity management are other important items on GoGrid's list for cloud computing standardization, he added in an e-mail.

Open Platforms or Vendor Lock-In?
Microsoft typically describes its Azure Services Platform as an open platform. Martin even gave an example, citing a demonstration at Microsoft's recent MIX09 Web developer event.

"At MIX, we highlighted the use of our Identity Service and Service Bus with an application written in Python and deployed into Google App Engine which may have been the first public cloud to cloud interop demo," he wrote.

However, Bias disagreed a bit about the openness of Microsoft's platform.

"Windows Azure is not currently an open platform," Bias wrote in his e-mail. "Most platform-as-a-service (PaaS) services, by their nature, have a tendency to create a closed system that does not make it easy for customers to move between them. This is not necessarily an intention of the PaaS providers so much as a mark of the immaturity of the market place."

Could vendor lock-in to certain cloud computing platforms become a possibility? Rosoff thinks that's almost certain to be the case. Different cloud computing platforms could end up requiring specific developer know-how.

"There will have to be ways to exchange data between cloud-based applications -- this is where technologies like REST come in to play -- but developing for each one will almost certainly require different skills and knowledge sets," Rosoff explained.

At this point, much is at stake for the cloud computing technology providers. Still, a standards movement could actually delay the commercial rollout of cloud computing platforms, much as it has done with service-oriented architecture, explained David Linthicum, a SOA expert and Blue Mountain Labs founder, in a podcast.

Rather than have 150 standards confusing everyone, Linthicum suggested going with a recognized standards organization. He added that standards should be driven by the rank-and-file, not necessarily by technology providers.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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