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Thoughts on the Open Cloud Manifesto

03/30/2009

Late last week, I got hold of a leaked copy of the Open Cloud Manifesto, a proclamation and call-to-action for all stakeholders in cloud computing to keep in mind the principles of openness and interoperability when advancing the state of the art in cloud computing. The sentiment expressed in the document is admirable and no doubt one in which we have a deep vested interest as technology investors. I am also attending the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum (CCIF) event this week. It is only germane then for me to share some of my thoughts on the document.

Photo Credit: Steven Pinker

cloud

For a document coming out in 2009, I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed by its content and scope after having been barraged by the term ‘cloud computing’ in the past year. On the other hand, the time has certainly come to lay down a foundational document which ties together concerns paramount in stakeholders’ minds and forms an operational baseline for future conversations. I’m really happy that the document does not get bogged down in semantic games trying to define cloud computing, an almost intentionally vague term whose definition, much like ‘distributed computing’ or ‘artificial intelligence’ of yore, is best expressed as the emergent effect of a number of enabling technologies. By laying out the value propositions of cloud computing in the definition section, the document has chosen to take a pragmatic approach to defining the term.

Of the four value propositions of cloud advanced in the document, we are naturally most excited about the first and last ones as investors. Aside from the lower startup costs and greater capital efficiency of “cloud-native” startups, being able to scale on demand means higher availability for customers and  lower fixed costs for investors. Moreover, these two value propositions are entirely new and disruptive to enterprise computing, thus raising the possibility of new business models to fill the resulting innovation gap. I am skeptical of the other two value propositions: streamlining the data center and improving business processes because they are goals enterprise computing has been working towards for decades now. Although as investors we’re naturally biased towards disruptions rather than incremental improvements, even sustaining value propositions open up immense market opportunities for the creative entrepreneur.

Buried deep in the document is perhaps its most important sentence: “As cloud providers ask their potential customers to accept a loss of control over their resources, hiding vendor lock-in behind the benefits of cloud computing will lead to long-term damage in the cloud computing industry.” In addition to boundaries of resource control being redrawn, several technological changes, such as post-relational databases, are happening at the data and application layer, which will bring the issue of vendor lock-in to the fore. In such transformative times for enterprise computing, the manifesto must take care not to conflate openness with standards-compliance. Once the initial cognitive barrier to adopting cloud computing is overcome, the benefits of cloud computing are so immediate that a de jure standard will probably not stand in its way.

As with any technology-heavy solution within enterprise computing, it’s just as important, if not more so, to pay attention to what works rather than mandate standards compliance in a top-down manner. The document is important because it is one of the first to start a general conversation about an open cloud. What’s more, it has already taken a pragmatic approach to defining cloud computing. Its authors would do well to continue in a similar vein and keep their ears close to the ground to learn what works de facto rather than get discredited and lose their initiative because of pious insistence on de jure standards compliance.

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