Forecast For Cloud Computing Standards Is Overcast


With Microsoft and Amazon on one side and IBM and a host of others on the other side of an emerging battle over cloud standards, some ask if it is too early to try to set standards for cloud computing

Several companies working on a so-called “Open Cloud Manifesto” plan to release a copy of the document today, but Microsoft and Amazon will not be among them.

Several companies working on a so-called “Open Cloud Manifesto” plan to release a copy of the document on 30 March. The manifesto essentially lays out standards and practices to be adhered to in the delivery of cloud computing environments.

However, in a recent blog post, Steven Martin, Microsoft’s senior director of developer platform management, said he believes the manifesto as it stands today is biased to benefit the authors of the document more than others. Martin acknowledged that Microsoft was shown the manifesto in a closed door meeting with backers of the document, apparently in an effort to get Microsoft onboard. But, as is evident in Martin’s post, Microsoft has declined.

And it appears Microsoft is not alone. On 27 March, Amazon came out and basically said “no thanks” to the manifesto as well. In a statement, an Amazon spokeswoman said:

“We just recently heard about the manifesto document and like other ideas on standards and practices, we’ll review this one, too. Ideas on openness and standards have been talked about for years in Web services. And, we do believe standards will continue to evolve in the cloud computing space. 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.”

Martin’s post drew a stream of comment from various camps, but from the reaction of both Microsoft and Amazon, it appears that what we have here is a good old fashioned standards battle about to begin. Two heavyweights in the burgeoning cloud space have basically said thumbs down to the manifesto.

Meanwhile, some observers are likening the situation to the old Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and the more recent Service Component Architecture (SCA) specification, both of which Microsoft distanced itself from. However, IBM supported both. With Microsoft and Amazon on one side of this manifesto, one has to wonder where Google and IBM are. Well, neither has commented, but sources say at least IBM is involved with the “Open Cloud Manifesto” and is among the largest backers.

The original list of SCA backers included IBM, BEA Systems, IONA, Oracle and SAP, among others — two of those companies no longer exist as independent entities. The group was later joined by Sun Microsystems, Red Hat, Progress Software and others. Meanwhile, the biggest supporter of the CORBA specification has been the Object Management Group (OMG). Any and all of these organizations are likely participants in the Open Cloud Manifesto.

Reuven Cohen, chief technologist and founder of Enomaly, purports to be a co-author of the manifesto on his blog. Cohen even thanks Microsoft’s Martin for bringing attention to the manifesto before its official unveiling. However, describing what the manifesto and the group behind it are trying to do, Cohen said:

“Many clouds will continue to be different in a number of important ways, providing unique value for organisations. It is not our intention to define standards for every capability in the cloud and create a single homogeneous cloud environment. Rather, as cloud computing matures to address several key principles that we believe must be followed to ensure the cloud is open and delivers the choice, flexibility and agility organizations demand. This is just one of several initiatives and announcements we will be making in the coming weeks as we move to organize the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum (CCIF) and Cloud Camp into a formalized organisation.”

Yet, a developer at another company looking at the manifesto and asked for anonymity said: “I think Steven the Microsoft guy hit the nail on the head. These guys calling for standards are doing so out of their own self-interest. They’re behind in the cloud computing game, so they’re using standards to slow things down until they can catch up. Standards have no place in a nascent market like this. The cloud computing market could very well be 180 degrees different in 6-12 months. Who knows?”

Meanwhile, the observers comparing the Open Cloud Manifesto to CORBA are doing so disparagingly. But Eric Newcomer, a CORBA expert and former chief technology officer at IONA and now working in the office of the CTO at Progress, said, “This is strange because CORBA succeeded better than most standards. It’s still in use around the world, and every app server is required to include it as part of Java EE [Enterprise Edition]. But the thrust of the criticism seemed to be that all standards fail and why try to standardise cloud computing.”

But to Newcomer, who is a veteran of many a standards battle, this is a strange attitude. “It’s like saying let’s not have ASCII or language standards or SQL or HTML or anything,” he said. “Sure, many if not a majority of standardization efforts do not achieve success, but when they do it benefits everyone. The Web is maybe the best example.”

Moreover, it is true that the standards game changed during Web services, which is another effort that could be described as a partial success, Newcomer said.

“Vendors decided to ‘jump-start’ the process by developing specs in small groups initially and then submit fairly complete versions to standards bodies for ratification,” he said. “SCA was done this way, for example, based on the precedent set by Microsoft and IBM during the Web services days. This approach is not really open, however, as it results in additional vendor control over the results. Sometimes this can reduce the chances for adoption since the vendors may agree on a particular design approach that excludes other vendor designs or seeks to impose control on a disruptive innovation. ”

And, for his part, while explaining the standards process, Newcomer gets down to the nitty-gritty: “What you try to do with a standard if you can is bless your own approach over another vendor’s approach, or get out in front of a new trend by leading the design adopted by the industry.

“Cloud computing is certainly one of those areas in which implementations and designs vary widely. It may be too early for standardisation. But as always, the potential for a successful standard should not be overlooked because that can benefit everyone by establishing a foundation for innovation and lowering prices and eliminating barriers to adoption. Common skills and understanding is another benefit of a successful standard. But there is no formula for this, and the odds of success are often pretty long.”

So it looks like a standards battle is brewing. But with the importance of the cloud to the future of computing, perhaps the players can all get to the table and agree on some basic, open specifications that can level the playing field for all.

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