Friday, August 12, 2011

What Motivates Open Standards in the Cloud?


Open standards are a nice idea. And democracy is a great idea too, all citizens can vote, yet we only have two real parties representing us. Similarly, I think that standards start out as a good idea, yet over time may start to become ineffective. For the most part standards committees never actually complete a standard, and the industry starts working from a "draft."
In the Cloud I think standards should be less important to the subscriber than the actual capabilities. I recognize that nobody choosing a Cloud platform "wants" lock-in, or a proprietary system, yet at the same time I hear a constant din of demand for "Private Cloud" and for "better" security. While I don't necessarily think the "Private Cloud" and security and portability demands preclude a standard, I think firms need to focus more closely on leveraging what the Cloud has to offer today. I can't think of any solution in a corporate data center based on an open standard that meets the portability "test." SQL, for example, was designed to make it possible to query data regardless of the database, and while SQL is pretty close, I don't think anyone would tell you that migrating from one database to another is seamless, but rather the complete opposite.

Similarly, J2EE was designed with the idea of creating a platform on which applications can run in a vendor platform independent manner, and while J2EE largely succeeds when compared to C or C++, most would agree that migrating corporate J2EE applications from WebSphere to Weblogic or to JBoss is not a trivial effort for an application of even moderate scope.
In terms of Cloud API compatibility, it sounds like a good thing, but standards move slowly and can be used to slow down movers who are ahead so as to allow vendors who are behind to catch-up, or as a kind of "vapor-ware" promise that might be employed to slow-down adoption. In the case of Cloud API's, I'm actually surprised that Eucalyptus and Tata chose to "clone" the Amazon AWS API. In my layman's opinion, an API is private intellectual property unless otherwise notified.
While I hear the word "commoditization" cited often in the context of the Cloud, what I actually see is much effort being made by vendors of all stripes to ensure their Lion's share of the revenue through differentiation. In other words, what I see is disruption of the business model of many software and web hosting providers, and I see very smart and well-schooled attempts to co-opt and subvert the FOSS model to regain lost power and position in the technology industry.
To me this suggests that it's too soon to embrace standards and wield them as "Law." Why not let the industry evolve and see what comes? Standards will happen one way or the other. I think the key to the question is how standards operate within the industry and whether in hindsight they have served to foster innovation. Patents were originally designed to stimulate innovation by rewarding inventors for documenting and publicly sharing discoveries with the rest of the world. Standards may have started as a good idea, but as with patents, they may well serve those with motives contrary to those ideals stated at their inception.