Thunder in the Cloud Over Openness

Updated: Google called to let me know that despite its inclusion on a list released Thursday that named the search giant as a member of the Open Cloud Manifesto Group, when the formal list comes out on Monday, Google won’t be on it.  Spokesman Jon Murchinson emailed me to say, “While we are not a party to the manifesto, Google is a strong advocate of cloud computing, given the substantial benefits for consumers and businesses. We value industry dialog that results in more and better delivery of software and services via the Internet, and appreciate IBM’s leadership and commitment in this area. We continue to be open to interoperability with all vendors and any data.”

Microsoft’s Steve Martin, senior director of developer platform management at the Redmond giant, posted an inflammatory blog post last night about the creation of open standards for the cloud. In it, he touts Microsoft’s openness, proposes a wiki for the creation of open standards in the cloud, and points to a shadowy cabal of tech companies that are developing what he dubbed an “Open Cloud Manifesto.” That group isn’t so shadowy anymore.

My sources have so far named IBM, Sun Microsystems and Google as participants. Reuven Cohen, founder and chief technologist of Enomaly Inc., is heading up the effort, according to a post today on his blog that defends it. The full manifesto will be released in its entirely on Monday, but he linked to a site where people can discuss the effort now. 

The Open Cloud Manifesto effort revolves around creating open standards that will divorce the underlying cloud infrastructure from the software running on top of it. Those standards would be offered under a Creative Commons licence, much like the standards Martin proposes. There are plenty of companies offering software that helps companies manage multiple clouds, but creating open standards would make it even easier for enterprises to run their apps on multiple infrastructure clouds. So what does Microsoft have against this group, especially since it was asked to join them? In Martin’s words:

“We were admittedly disappointed by the lack of openness in the development of the Cloud Manifesto. What we heard was that there was no desire to discuss, much less implement, enhancements to the document despite the fact that we have learned through direct experience. Very recently we were privately shown a copy of the document, warned that it was a secret, and told that it must be signed “as is,” without modifications or additional input. 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.”

Just like it’s ironic that Microsoft is whining about open standards, especially given its own history with proprietary file formats. By opening up a wiki, Microsoft would invite anarchy into the process, possibly scaring away the enterprise customers the Cloud Manifesto backers are trying to attract. But getting a strong group of companies behind an open process can help create open standards on which enterprise customers are willing to bet their IT infrastructure. Maybe that’s what Microsoft’s trying to avoid.

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