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3/26/2009
05:50 PM
John Foley
John Foley
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Microsoft Vs. The Cloud Manifesto

Major tech vendors are a few days away from unveiling an agreement to pursue cloud computing interoperability, and already there's a problem. Microsoft torpedoed the effort before it was even announced. It's an inauspicious start to an important industry effort.

Major tech vendors are a few days away from unveiling an agreement to pursue cloud computing interoperability, and already there's a problem. Microsoft torpedoed the effort before it was even announced. It's an inauspicious start to an important industry effort.The controversy came to light when Steven Martin, Microsoft's senior director of developer platform product management, posted a blog late Wednesday in which he expressed disappointment with the lack of openness of a "cloud manifesto" that Microsoft had been asked to sign. Martin didn't disclose who was behind the manifesto, but we now know that it's the work of Reuven Cohen, the founder of cloud software developer Enomaly and self-described "instigator" of the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum, an industry group that has met several times in recent months to rally support around cloud interoperability.

Cohen revealed the Open Cloud Manifesto a few hours after Martin posted his blog, though details on the manifesto itself are lacking. The manifesto will be formally published on March 30, and Cohen says "dozens" of companies already support it, including some of "the largest tech names." Those companies haven't come forward yet, but some that have participated in the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum include Cisco, Intel, and Sun. IBM has also talked up the need for cloud interop.

What's the problem? Everyone agrees, Microsoft included, that the industry needs to move towards cloud interoperability, so that's not the point of contention. Microsoft appears stymied by two points: timing and approach.

On timing, Martin makes the point that the cloud market is still immature and that "relevant standards" need time to develop. He's right about that. In the computer industry, it's generally the case that technology comes first and industry standards follow. It's laudable that forward-looking cloud vendors are trying to get out in front this time, but probably unrealistic.

The bigger problem may be how the Open Cloud Manifesto came together. Martin cites a "lack of openness" in the drafting of the document and says that Microsoft was even told that it was "a secret." I don't know about that, but I do know that Cohen, who may have the best of intentions, has put himself in an awkward and potentially untenable position. In addition to being the founder and CTO of a cloud software company and spearheading the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum, he has launched Cloud Interop Magazine and Cloud Camp events. In wearing so many hats, it's hard to know just which agenda he's pursuing at any given time--software developer/executive, blogger/editor, event organizer, standards advocate.

I had the sense that trouble was brewing last month, and asked Cohen about potential conflicts of interest. He responded:

"Even though I am the founder of a small, self funded company, people tell me I cast a wide shadow in the cloud computing space. So I try to handle the potential for conflicts of interest in the same way that every technology vendor (large or small) does when participating in community-building, advocacy, or the standards process--namely through openness and disclosure regarding my affiliations. For both the CCIF and CloudCamp we prominently list our benefactors which include the biggest names in technology. You'll also notice we are inclusive inviting both partners and competitors, friends and foes alike. If you have opinion you are welcome to share it whether we agree or not."

Microsoft obviously disagrees with the handling of the Open Cloud Manifesto. Of course, there are two sides to this story. Cohen says Microsoft had been in active discussions on the manifesto, and he expressed surprise at its sudden disapproval. To be sure, Microsoft doesn't exactly have a reputation as the flag bearer when it comes to industry standards efforts.

It will be telling to see which other vendors (Amazon? Google? IBM?) come out in support of it and which don't. Either way, the manifesto--a call to action for cloud openness--is merely a starting point. Hammering out standards and getting the industry to implement them will be the much harder job.

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