Moving Toward an Open Process on Cloud Computing Interoperability

 

From the moment we kicked off our cloud computing effort, openness and interop stood at the forefront.  As those who are using it will tell you, the Azure Services Platform is an open and flexible platform that is defined by web addressability, SOAP, XML, and REST.  Our vision in taking this approach was to ensure that the programming model was extensible and that the individual services could be used in conjunction with applications and infrastructure that ran on both Microsoft and non-Microsoft stacks.  This is something that I’ve written about previously and is an area where we receive some of the most positive feedback from our users.  At MIX, we highlighted the use of our Identity Service and Service Bus with an application written in Python and deployed into Google App Engine which may have been the first public cloud to cloud interop demo.

 

But what about web and cloud-specific standards? Microsoft has enjoyed a long and productive history working with many companies regarding standardization projects; a great example being the WS* work which we continue to help evolve.  We expect interoperability and standards efforts to evolve organically as the industry gradually shifts focus to the huge opportunity provided by cloud computing.

 

Recently, we've heard about a “Cloud Manifesto,” purportedly describing principles and guidelines for interoperability in cloud computing. We love the concept. We strongly support an open, collaborative discussion with customers, analysts and other vendors regarding the direction and principles of cloud computing. When the center of gravity is standards and interoperability, we are even more enthusiastic because we believe these are the key to the long term success for the industry, as we are demonstrating through a variety of technologies such as Silverlight, Internet Explorer 8, and the Azure Services Platform. We have learned a lot from the tens-of-thousands of developers who are using our cloud platform and their feedback is driving our efforts. We are happy to participate in a dialogue with other providers and collaborate with them on how cloud computing could evolve to provide additional choices and greater value for customers. 

 

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.

 

To ensure that the work on such a project is open, transparent and complete, we feel strongly that any "manifesto" should be created, from its inception, through an open mechanism like a Wiki, for public debate and comment, all available through a Creative Commons license. After all, what we are really seeking are ideas that have been broadly developed, meet a test of open, logical review and reflect principles on which the broad community agrees. This would help avoid biases toward one technology over another, and expand the opportunities for innovation.

 

In our view, large parts of the draft Manifesto are sensible.  Other parts arguably reflect the authors’ biases.  Still other parts are too ambiguous to know exactly what the authors intended.

 

Cloud computing is an exciting, important, but still nascent marketplace. It will, we expect, be driven in beneficial ways by a lot of innovation that we’re dreaming up today.  Innovation lowers costs and increases utility, but it needs freedom to develop.  Freezing the state of cloud computing at any time and (especially now) before it has significant industry and customer experience across a wide range of technologies would severely hamper that innovation.  At the same time, we strongly believe that interoperability (achieved in many different ways) and consensus-based standards will be valuable in allowing the market to develop in an open, dynamic way in response to different customer needs.

 

To net this out… In the coming days or weeks you may hear about an “Open Cloud Manifesto.”  We love the idea of openness in cloud computing and are eager for industry dialogue on how best to think about cloud computing and interoperability. Cloud computing provides fertile ground that will drive innovation, and an open cloud ecosystem is rich with potential for customers and the industry as a whole. So, we welcome an open dialogue to define interoperability principles that reflect the diversity of cloud approaches.  If there is a truly open, transparent, inclusive dialogue on cloud interoperability and standards principles, we are enthusiastically “in”.

 

Here are some principles on the approach we think better serve customers and the industry overall:

·         Interoperability principles and any needed standards for cloud computing need to be defined through a process that is open to public collaboration and scrutiny.

·         Creation of interoperability principles and any standards effort that may result should not be a vendor-dominated process. To be fair as well as relevant, they should have support from multiple providers as well as strong support from customers and other stakeholders.

·         Due recognition should be given to the fact that the cloud market is immature, with a great deal of innovation yet to come. Therefore, while principles can be agreed upon relatively soon, the relevant standards may take some time to develop and coalesce as the cloud computing industry matures.

 

What do you think? Where do you think this best lives? An open Wiki? A conference? A summit where a lively give-and-take can get all the issues recognized in an open way?  What elements of an open cloud are most important to you? Let us (all) know…