The big lesson cloud computing needs to learn from the history of the web

Dr Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the web standards body W3C, argues the cloud computing industry will not realise its full potential until it learns a few lessons from the history of the web.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

The growth of the cloud computing industry is being held back by a lack of standardisation in the technologies that underpin cloud services, warned the head of the web standards body W3C said on Wednesday.

Fragmentation in underlying cloud technologies today reduces interoperability between competing cloud services and slows adoption due to lock-in fears, said Dr Jeff Jaffe, chief executive of the World Wide Web consortium.

The web had seen explosive growth since its creation in 1989, he said, helping to create the $8 trillion of online revenue that McKinsey estimated was generated in 2009 he said.

"The web reached these large numbers because of some fundamental design assumptions that Tim Berners-Lee started in 1989 and stayed true to, we need a comparable set of assumptions for the cloud," he said, speaking at the Cloud World Forum in London.

Jaffe put the growth of the web down to it being built on standardised technologies — for instance CSS for styling and SVG for graphics — developed in an open manner to serve the needs of a wide user base. Complementing this ethos, he said, is the goal of allowing web technologies to run on any device, regardless of the form factor and underlying hardware, and the principle that any core web technology needs to be available to implement royalty free – giving the example of the Apache Web Server.

The inherent flexibility and interoperability this approach lends to web technologies has allowed them to be used on platforms as different as a PC web browser to in-car entertainment systems.

Jaffe said it was time to begin the process of standardising the platform architectures and technologies underpinning cloud services, that is the likes of software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service.

"The problem for those who want a standard infrastructure and the flexibility to move from one service to another is the silos are getting deeper," he said.

Jaffe said that not being able to agree on what those standards should be, or which of the stack of technologies that underpin cloud services to standardise, is not an argument for ignoring the issue.

Silos "are only going to get deeper, and that is going to hold us back from the true growth potential of the cloud", he said.

The growing use of open source technologies, such as the OpenStack cloud OS and Eucalyptus cloud controller, were also not valid reasons to say there is no need for standardisation, he said.

"Open source is not the same as open standards, it gives you innovation but not the interoperability of open standards."

And those who claim it is too early in the lifetime of cloud services to start standardising cloud technologies were mistaken he said. Even if cloud computing was traced back to the creation of Amazon Web Services in 2006, and some trace it back to the 1960s, that would still make cloud computing seven years old. In comparison when W3C was formed to standardise web technologies and help guarantee interoperability in 1994, it was five years after Tim Berners-Lee invented core web technologies in 1989.

Editorial standards