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What we learned from Open Cloud Manifestogate

The Open Cloud Manifesto leaks of the last two days--and the furor they have caused--make it very clear that standards will never be the same again.

Cloud computing is the first major IT market disruption that has taken place in the world of open source software, "the wisdom of crowds" and the community collaboration revolution of Web 2.0. The concept of the cloud is trying to grow and evolve in an atmosphere in which technologists expect input on the technology they are being asked to rely on, and IT management expects input on the strategies they are being asked to adopt.

Never has that fact been more evident then in the events that have taken place over the last two days. The leaking of the Open Cloud Manifesto is a life lesson in the way that things will never be the same again.

To recap, the buzz began Wednesday night when Microsoft's Steve Martin intentionally leaked the existence of a diatribe created originally by IBM--an Open Cloud Manifesto. The industry proclamation is being supported by a laundry list of cloud service providers and members of the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum. You can read the document on my Overcast co-host's Geva Perry's Thinking Out Cloud blog.

Since that leak, there has been a steady flow of news, retorts and excited commentary. Remember, the manifesto hasn't even been officially announced yet (look for that news to break on Monday morning)--so everything you've read so far has been pretty much who isn't participating and why.

Let me disclose right now that I was not involved in the creation of the document, nor in planning for its release, but I have been fully briefed through my employer, Cisco Systems, and the CCIF and have read the document. I planned to post my thoughts along with the others on Monday morning, and I'll still cover it in some depth at that time. For now, though, I just want to explore what I learned the last two days. (Just a quick reminder that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and not my employers.)

  1. It's an opinion piece, not a standards proposal.

    As several people have noted, this is a big deal about something that doesn't set anything in stone, either technically or legally.

  2. Those who have publicly stated that they won't sign have the most to lose.

    Microsoft and Amazon are the two cloud powerhouses that have publicly declared they will not sign the document at this time. Amazon has a huge existing install base that most other IaaS providers would like a piece of, and Microsoft is trying to hold on to an exceedingly large customer base of its own. Why should either agree to work on top-down standards to threaten that?

  3. It's probably a bad idea to release even an industry opinion piece without public commentary.

    IBM, et al, left the door open for Microsoft to label the entire effort as "closed" by trying to rush to a declaration of success without allowing any public community or industry input whatsoever. Big mistake, in my opinion, because open source software has changed the game forever for technical initiatives.

    If the drivers of this initiative had simply announced that the Manifiesto draft was agreed to by the same list of companies, but was open for public commentary before being finalized, the Microsoft post would have looked silly. In fact, there is still time to declare exactly that.

  4. It's what follows that is important here.

    The most important quote from the day, for me, is the following from one of the CNET reports:

    That said, Martin said Microsoft would like to be a part of the dialogue. He noted that the company was subsequently invited to a meeting of some cloud-computing participants to take place on Monday as part of a cloud-computing conference.

    "We have accepted that invitation and we will participate," Martin said. "If there is meaningful dialogue, it is something we will want to play a role in. Hopefully we will use that as a chance to restart that conversation."

    The productiveness of that meeting (and, I'm guessing, the civility) will say a lot about what will come of the manifesto. Its great that a large number of companies have (apparently) signed on to express their commitment to open cloud environments, but the actual actions initiated at that meeting--including organization, financial/people commitment, etc.--will go a long way to establishing what they can accomplished.

That being said, let me also note that I'm not convinced that a top-down formal standards approach will do anything other than repeat the mixed success of the WS-* efforts to date. Amazon's EC2 and S3 APIs are already defacto standards (see EUCALYPTUS and Sun's Cloud Compute Service), and Sun and GoGrid have also opened up their APIs in the hope they take some or all of the management standards pie. Already, businesses are out there figuring out some basic interoperability between cloud providers that matter to them: RightScale and their competitors are attacking server image portability in interesting ways, and has full integration from to Amazon AWS and Facebook.

So, in the end, this declaration is a good thing in that it shows that the industry has learned that open is good. However, in the end it might not do much more than that, and we might have all gotten into a tizzy over yet another expression of what could be in cloud computing.