The Open Cloud Manifesto: Whats Up With That?

This morning, to a lot of pre-launch buzz, the Open Cloud Manifesto (OCM), spearheaded by IBM, launched officially, much to no one's surprise. The idea behind the OCM is that there exist a body consisting of many companies - and in the future, many, many companies, that would semi-formally agree to interoperability between cloud computing competing "clouds.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

This morning, to a lot of pre-launch buzz, the Open Cloud Manifesto (OCM), spearheaded by IBM, launched officially, much to no one's surprise. The idea behind the OCM is that there exist a body consisting of many companies - and in the future, many, many companies, that would semi-formally agree to interoperability between cloud computing competing "clouds." The OCM would provide a core set of principles, not work on standards. The principles, developed initially in this document, would  be agreed on and we all would float through the cloud seeing only cumulus and never cirrus or lenticular, though every now and then an occasional cumulonimbus would insert itself to the concern of all - though it does have cumulus characteristics....

The Manifesto is an interesting and early stage piece of work, which was pieced together, according the FAQ at the site, "in a few weeks" as was the whole initiative.  At this stage, its a fairly high level and somewhat benign document that would be hard to disagree with though apparently some do.  The Manifesto, which I would suggest we all get acquainted with, broadly covers the value proposition for cloud computing (e.g. scalability on demand, business process improvement). It surveys the barriers and challenges to to adoption. Among them are security along the same lines that SaaS was always derided - though has overcome - and most importantly, the challenge of data and application interoperability, given the cloud competitors out there. There are several others discussed worth viewing.

It doesn't stop with the value prop and the barriers though. It goes through "The Goals of an Open Cloud" too. These are about as broad as humanly possible without losing the ability to construct words.  They are Choice, Flexibility, Speed and Agility, and, a little oddly, Skills (caps theirs).  The latter is justified, though again, just a little weirdly, as a "side effect." Apparently, an open cloud reduces the proprietary programming models. An IT pro at best only knows a few of them. Since there are fewer new technologies to learn, the organization who needs the skills are more likely to find the pro with them.  Odd inclusion. True or not, who can possibly tell? I can't.

It then goes on to define the principles - six of them.  In an abbreviated way, here they are:

  1. Cloud providers must work together to address the challenges outlined in the Manifesto, through open collaboration and "the appropriate use of standards" (which, I presume, given their statements, they aren't going to develop)
  2. "Cloud providers must not use their market position to lock customers into their particular platforms and limit their choice of providers." (I've reproduced this in full because it goes to the heart of my concern - see below)
  3. Cloud providers don't need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to standards. Use the existing ones.
  4. When new standards are needed, we should create those that promote innovation and not too many of them at that.
  5. Any community effort around this should be driven by customer needs - and verified against real requirement (AMEN to that, if its not an empty construct. Who's customers would be my first question?)
  6. All cloud related orgs and communities should hang together before they hang separately - and don't conflict or overlap.

Who Did...Who Didn't Sign

What's notable about this initiative is who didn't sign it as much as who did. On the one hand enterprise industry players like IBM - who drives the initiative - Cisco, Sun, and SAP all signed it and support it. As did the Open Cloud Consortium (OCC), North Carolina State University (NCSU) and AT&T.  But what's particularly notable and certainly troubling, is who's missing - Amazon, Google, salesforce.com, Microsoft, and the troubled Cloud Computing interoperability Forum (CCIF), who made their intention to not participate clear in a posting on co-founder Reuven Cohen's ElasticVapor blog yesterday, though the reasons all in all seem to be sort of murky.  Even more importantly, Amazon publicly stated they will have nothing to do with this initiative either as did Google - who claimed to support open standards nonetheless, and according to the ZDNET Between the Lines blog posting yesterday, Google had actually been on the list of members. Salesforce.com VP Bruce Francis, made a brief kind of wait and see statement that said in sum, "while we support many of the goals of the open cloud manifesto, we will not be signing at this point." Google's Jon Murchinson's statement: "We're not a 'signatory' member of the manifesto, (but we value) industry dialog that results in more and better delivery of software and services via the Internet, and (we) appreciate IBM's leadership and commitment in this area."  For the most cogent criticism check out Microsoft Senior Director Steven Martin's Development Unfiltered Blog wrote a long posting that jumpstarted the furor around OCM to begin with.  Read it here.

This wasn't the first time that an attempt was made to create an Open Cloud Initiative either. 3Tera tried it last year and without Amazon support it seems to have faded into the ether pretty quickly. At least, I can't find any evidence of its existence beyond its inaugural proclamations.

The initial discussions are not all that promising. Here are a series of postings worth reading and, I think they reflect what the current buzz on the Open Cloud Manifesto really is.

  1. ZDNET Between the Lines: Can you have an Open Cloud Manifesto without Amazon, Google, Salesforce and Microsoft?
  2. eWeek: Is the Open Cloud Manifesto Doomed?
  3. BusinessWeek: Meet the Open Cloud Manifesto
  4. GigaOm: The Open Cloud Manifesto is Nothing But a Vapor Tiger
  5. CNet News: A Look Inside the Open Cloud Manifesto
  6. The Wisdom of Clouds: CCIF Pulls Out of Open Cloud Manifesto
  7. The Connected Web: IBM's Stop Amazon Cloud Putsch

Some Thoughts

There is good reason to be a bit skeptical about the OCM - especially Principle #2 (see above).  That would be fine if the strongest cloud providers - like Amazon, Google and salesforce.com were part of the initiative at this juncture because that would be true skin in the game. But the reality is that the signators on this document are the ones who have everything to gain and not much to lose when it comes to open standards and interoperability.  They are not leading the market.

Additionally, the document is benign and actually a little vague overall.  Its hard not to get behind what are fairly classic discussions that have applied to SaaS and other enterprise software iterations over the years time and time again.

I think they are starting poorly - you can see the skepticism dripping throughout the media (not particularly unusual). I think they rushed to "production" way too fast -apparently doing this whole thing in a "few weeks" - hardly enough time to pull together the coalition necessary to make it a force.  They are damaged by the refusal of the above companies to participate - companies that they needed. They have a vague document that just seems passive in the face of an important technology/architectural/delivery model of the near future (and even the present).

Gartner seems to think that cloud computing is going to be hot in 2009 with over $53 billion in revenues this year and $150 billion by 2013. Nick Carr, ubercynic and pundit, thinks that cloud computing is going to be a disruptive force in IT, much as SaaS was several years ago. Meaning, the group of tech heavies that put together OCM, should have taken some time to work on building the coalition considerably deeper than it is. Also building a much less plain vanilla statement of principles - and to be sure, make #2 less whiny than it is. To do that though...more coalition needed.

That said, I'm not as ready to write the whole thing off that quickly as some others are. I like the idea of some of the tech heavy hitters starting the conversation as they notably put it - even if that conversation is a bit self-serving.  But, the discussion has to start somewhere and this may be where it aggregates - if they can increase their credibility and get at least a few of the biggest cloud players involved.  If they manage that, then, as the old Ella Fitzgerald warbled song goes,  this may be the start of somethin' big.  I hope so, but its got a long way to go.

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