When you choose your clouds, don’t make foggy choices

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Whenever there is a major evolution in IT technology trends, the industry has a choice: do we go with proprietary data formats, protocols, and programming interfaces, or do we take a more open approach, allowing the provider with the best offering and service to win without locking in customers?

Some vendors seem to strictly favor the former approach, rushing to do things in unique and protected ways, hoping that they get many customers lined up quickly, and then making it very difficult for them to leave. To me this has always been a business strategy that screams “our offerings and prices aren’t good enough to keep customers, so we need to find another way.” It almost seems like a self-esteem problem, though at a corporate level. It’s often masked by clever marketing and subtle twists on more open messages.

So here we are near the beginning of the Cloud Computing Era. The promise of clouds is that they will quickly and economically give you the computing environments you need in scalable, secure, and flexible ways.

Don’t have a data center? No problem, run it in the cloud. Need a thousand extra processors to handle that holiday retail load? No problem, run it in the cloud. Need to allow your employees and supply chain partners to access the information you need to be profitable and grow? No problem, run it in the cloud.

At the beginning of such eras, silos of functionality appear that prevent easy movement between them by customers. Do you remember before the Internet and World Wide Web really took hold in the mid-1990s? We had individual online providers like Prodigy, CompuServe, and AOL to which people could subscribe. You could logon to each, read your email, get information, and interact in a limited way with friends and colleagues. You couldn’t really reach across from one service and do something in another in an interoperable way. Once the web and its open standards came along, there was no need to have such siloed services, and they all evolved into more open models or went out of business.

So it is now with cloud computing. The providers we have now are open or closed to more or lesser extents. Some are embracing open standards and some are trying to become de facto standards. I don’t begrudge anyone business success in this area. I do begrudge any attempt to lock me into a silo that prevents my moving my data and my applications somewhere else.

Moreover, I think very few people and customers will use just one cloud from one provider. We must have open standards around data formats, security, and management so that cloud computing reaches the lofty goals we have for it, rather than have it spiral down into proprietary islands of insecure and difficult to manage offerings.

Let me leave you with six choices that you should consider as you decide how or if you want to start using cloud computing. Once you settle on your chosen alternatives, present them to the cloud providers you think might get your business. If those providers can’t give you what you want or if they come up with all sorts of excuses about why you really should go with their proprietary view of the world, move on. There will be plenty of clouds in the IT sky from which you can choose.

  • You want a vendor who goes it alone, inventing proprietary and non-interoperable ways of working with its cloud; or you want a vendor that has a great product and service that is based on open standards and industry collaboration.
  • You are comfortable with being locked into a particular provider’s cloud offering for a very long time, perhaps years; or you want the flexibility of keeping your options open and going with a provider that will let you shift to someone else’s offering should you choose.
  • You are fine with immature, vendor defined “standards”; or you want your cloud offerings to maximally used tried and tested open standards developed by industry leaders.
  • You want the industry to be bogged down in bureaucratic standards creation for years; or you are all for the creation of just the new standards we need, but created and tested in a timely and cooperative manner.
  • You think the needs of the cloud providers come first; or you you think your needs as a cloud customer and user should be primary.
  • You believe that the more the industry is fractured around many cloud organizations and standards groups, the better it will be for you; or you want cooperation, transparency, and accountability in the way cloud technology is standardized and becomes mainstream.

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