Approaching cloud standards with *vendor* focus only is full of fail

So I was taking stock of the cloud standards situation and found an insightful article (Cloudy clouds and standards) over at ComputerWorld via a colourful counterpoint over at f5 (Approaching cloud standards with end-user focus only is full of fail), hence the title. I made a comment which quickly turned into a blog post of its own (and was held for moderation anyway) so here goes:

I followed a link to this “short-sighted and selfish” view from Lori @ f5’s Approaching cloud standards with end-user focus only is full of fail rant and have to say that as an independent consultant representing the needs of large enterprise clients it’s not surprising that I should agree with you (representing the needs of end users in general) rather than a vendor.

Cloud computing is a paradigm shift (like mainframe to client server) and attempting to document it all in one rigid “ontology” is a futile exercise, as evidenced by the epic failure of attempts to do so thus far. A birds eye view of the landscape is possible, but only in the retrospective sense. One of the great things about cloud computing is that it is user-centric – for once the end-user has an opportunity to call the shots rather than being told what to do by vendors.

My various efforts (writing the Wikipedia article, setting up the Cloud Computing Community and more recently working on cloud standards starting with Platform as a Service) have all involved looking at what innovation is taking place in the industry and determining the consensus. Now is a very good time to do so as well because there are enough data points but no de facto proprietary standards (though the EC2 API is worryingly close to becoming one).

I tend to take advice from vendors on this topic with a grain of salt because most of their input tends to involve pulling the resulting “open standard” closer towards their particular offering – the Unified Cloud Interface (UCI) for example not only focuses on VM provisioning but goes so far as to include them specifically alongside Amazon and Google.

The user doesn’t [need to] care about this level of detail any more than they need to care about how a coal-fired power station works to turn on a light. The whole point of the cloud is that it conceals or “abstracts” details that ultimately become somebody else’s problem. Using the power analogy again, our “interfaces” to the electricity grid are very well standardised (2-4 pins and a certain voltage cycling at a certain frequency) and “The Cloud” needs similar interfaces (for example for storing data and uploading and managing workloads).

Once we have that computing will be quickly commoditised, which is every users’ best dream and vendors’ worst nightmare (except for the few, like Amazon and Google, who still have a seat after the computer industry’s next round of musical chairs).

In summary, cloud computing is finally an opportunity to shift the focus from the vendor to the user, where it arguably belongs. Vendors don’t like this of course (and anything they say on the subject should be viewed accordingly) and are doing everything they can to stake a claim in what is something equivalent of a gold rush. Only this time (unlike the dotcom bust) it’s real gold we’re talking about (not fools’ gold) and a large, sustainable (albeit heavily consolidated) industry of “computer power stations” and associated “megacomputer” supply chains will result.