Up in the clouds

Apparently, most inventions and technologies have their roots in jargon. In fact, jargonizing is the favourite pastime of almost all tech companies. So, when they are not conjuring up innovative software or hardware solutions, they are prone to cook up some mumbo-jumbo. Usually, these jargons are in the form of acronyms and over a period of time through repeated usage they tend to take on real shape. Sample some of the jargons that have become real, like NC (network computers), ERM (enterprise resource management), RIM (remote infrastructure management, Grid computing, SOA (service oriented architecture), etc. 

Cloud computing is the latest cloud on the block. The term today encompasses a lot more than it innocently declares, and often means different things to different people.  Accordingly, cloud computing stands for SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service) and IaaS (infrastructure as a service). But that isn’t all; it also incorporates Web 2,0 and HyperWeb functionalities.  At the basic, it simply means ‘doing things over the Web’, the cloud tantamounts to Internet in this case.

While there is some sort of clarity on what a ‘cloud’ is and what it should be doing. But, there is little or almost no clarity on how one ‘cloud’ should be reacting to another ‘cloud’ or rather working with other clouds. The reason is fairly obivious, the companies that are working on cloud computing, are basically doing in a very personal and private way. Thus, you have the IBMs, the Googles, the Amazons, and the Salesforce.coms of the world who are building and rolling out services and solutions in a cloud architecture. But these are unique to the company and usually have little or nothing in common with others. Hence, there are myriad clouds floating over cyberspace that don’t recognise each other and neither want to either.  It is as if every company is in love with its cloud and wants their client to only be bound by their own. There is little trust in cloud computing.

In fact, the schism was apparent when recently IBM backed ‘The Open Cloud Manifesto’ failed to unite the industry on a common platform. Basically, the six-page document is a statement of principles extolling the computer industry to keep cloud services as open as possible, thereby making it easy for them to interoperate and for customers to switch service providers with the minimum of bother. Under ideal circumstances, it would have been a welcome move.  But that was not the case. Though, close to 140 companies are backing the move, the likes of Cisco, AMD, AT&T, EMC, Sun, Redhat; there are noteworthy dissenters like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce.com.

In fact, just a few days before it was to the Open Cloud Manifesto was to be made public, Steven Martin, a senior director at Microsoft, wrote a scathing review of the manifesto. His biggest grouse was that Microsoft got the document on Mar. 22 and was given a deadline of 48 hours to sign on—with no opportunity to suggest changes! “Our premise is that standards should not only be open, but there should also be an open dialogue about them,” he went on to say. The irony was hard to miss, Microsoft talking about ‘open dialogue’.

Search giant Google that has captured major mind-share with Google Apps offering (hoping to do the same with market-share), also backed out at the very last moment.  Sadly, there were not much ‘open’ about their dissent. Responding to Stacey Higginbotham, of GigaOm, spokesman Jon Murchinson stated that “While we are not a party to the manifesto, Google is a strong advocate of cloud computing, given the substantial benefits for consumers and businesses. We value industry dialog that results in more and better delivery of software and services via the Internet, and appreciate IBM’s leadership and commitment in this area. We continue to be open to interoperability with all vendors and any data.” Which can be précised into, “Thanks, but NO  THANKS”.

Meanwhile, Salesforce.com and Amazon also stayed away from IBM’s movement. The dissenters hint at secrecy and secret agenda (of IBM and others to dictate the evolution of the cloud) to be the reason. Truth be told, this very distrust is indicative of the interoperability and lock-in issues that have plagued the general populace over the ages. 

This is why, the Open Cloud Manisfesto, is a welcome break. It might not be perfect or to-the-point, but it surely lays the ground for further discussion. Cloud computing has still to make a whole-sale transition from a ‘hi-tech’ jargon to an all-pervasive technology. Any spade work now, can go a long way in ensuring that there is little disquiet later. For the same vendors (hardware, software and even Iphones) need to come together and define the inter-operatibility standards. 

The process also needs to involve, academicians, analysts, media and of course the consumers to discuss and debate where and how the cloud will float. And this is where Indian companies and customers can pitch in. As the shift happens to a Web-based architecture, Indian partners and customers can help and direct the evolution of the cloud computing. By active participation, Indian companies can ensure that they too will have a space in the cloud. The first step would be to signup on www.opencloudmanifesto.org.

Have listed below the key priciples of the manifesto, is a good start for a cloudy affair:

Key Principles as stated in the manifesto.

  1. Cloud providers must work together to ensure that the challenges to cloud adoption (security, integration, portability, interoperability, governance/management, metering/monitoring) are addressed through open collaboration and the appropriate use of standards.
  2. Cloud providers must not use their market position to lock customers into their particular platforms and limit their choice of providers.
  3. Cloud providers must use and adopt existing standards wherever appropriate. The IT industry has invested heavily in existing standards and standards organizations; there is no need to duplicate or reinvent them.
  4. When new standards (or adjustments to existing standards) are needed, we must be judicious and pragmatic to avoid creating too many standards. We must ensure that standards promote innovation and do not inhibit it.
  5. Any community effort around the open cloud should be driven by customer needs, not merely the technical needs of cloud providers, and should be tested or verified against real customer requirements.
  6. Cloud computing standards organizations, advocacy groups, and communities should work together and stay coordinated, making sure that efforts do not conflict or overlap.

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