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How new tech standards wind up stillborn

Appearance of the "Open Cloud Manifesto" immediately runs into a snag as Amazon and Microsoft opt out. What's needed now is the intervention of cooler heads who can rise above the fray to figure out how to heal the rift before it widens.

What's it gonna be: my cloud or yours?

If you have the stomach, revisit the heated debates over how Unix or Web services should develop. Strong companies and strong personalities dominated the arguments. Ultimately, Web services flourished while the Unix standard fragmented, ending up with proprietary versions that were too weak to compete against Linux years later.

Such are the birth pangs that attend every interesting new technology. But while they say experience is a teacher, any lessons seem destined to land on deaf ears when it comes to the computer industry. At the dawn of the cloud-computing era, we're about to witness key tech companies again pull in opposite directions.

A document (PDF) making its way onto the Web--the "Open Cloud Manifesto"--makes the case for the vision of what it terms "an open cloud."

"We as industry participants must work together to ensure that the cloud remains as open as all other IT technologies. Some might argue that it is too early to discuss topics such as standards, interoperability, integration, and portability. Although this is a time of great innovation for the cloud-computing community, that innovation should be guided by the principles of openness outlined in this document. We argue that it is exactly the right time to begin the work to build the open cloud."

Nice sentiment, but they'll have to do it without Microsoft and Amazon. Both companies have rejected the initiative. Microsoft, which says that its Azure platform is sufficiently open, slammed the way the manifesto came together and dunned its backers for their take-it-or-leave-it approach.

"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. An open Manifesto emerging from a closed process is at least mildly ironic."

Amazon, which is building a fabulously profitable business as a cloud services supplier, was even more blunt about why it opted not to sign on the dotted line:

"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."

I can't say which group is on the side of the angels. The document in question is actually a starting point in what its signatories hope will turn into a broader conversation about how to break down barriers to adoption and foster wider acceptance in the IT world. (The full roster of participating companies was not immediately available.)

On the surface, there's not much to find upsetting or controversial with the document. Frankly, it reads like one of those anodyne diplomatic communiques published after a meeting between heads of state. To wit:

"This document does not intend to define a final taxonomy of cloud computing or to charter a new standards effort. Nor does it try to be an exhaustive thesis on cloud architecture and design. Rather, this document speaks to CIOs, governments, IT users, and business leaders who intend to use cloud computing and to establish a set of core principles for cloud providers. Cloud computing is still in its early stages, with much to learn and more experimentation to come. However, the time is right for the members of the emerging cloud-computing community to come together around the notion of an open cloud."

Not exactly the equivalent of "Give me liberty or give me death." But the split represents the divide between a couple of (important) companies with a head start in cloud computing and a larger cohort of wannabes anxious to avoid vendor lock-in. Sound familiar? It should. We've been here before--many times.

Cloud computing, or more precisely, cloud computing in its latest incarnation, is still in a state of becoming. So there's still time and room to figure out how things should work to the betterment of individuals and businesses. What's needed now is the intervention of cooler heads who can rise above the fray to figure out how to heal the rift before it widens.

Henry Kissinger doing anything these days?