Microsoft launches a pre-emptive strike against cloud competition

Almost every sector of the computing field either has, or is forming, dividing lines between Microsoft and its partners, and a coalition of familiar players outspoken in their criticism of Microsoft. Both factions are vying for the right to the "open" computing mantle, but historically, both sides have actively worked to keep each other away from their respective clubhouses.

Certainly IBM has made no secret of its intention of becoming an axis for cloud computing development; in late 2007, its Blue Cloud Initiative was the topic of our New York Bureau Chief Jacqueline Emigh's very first article for Betanews. Since that time, IBM has been pairing with Google, most ostensibly for a program called the IBM Academic Initiative which aims to inspire, fund, and facilitate the education of new programmers in the distributed computing model. And just last month, IBM took the next step in building out Blue Cloud by announcing something it's calling the Infrastructure Strategy and Planning for Cloud Computing.

"This service is composed of a strategy workshop that brings together the business and technical teams for long-term planning and readiness assessment to leverage the full power of existing assets," as IBM describes it.

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Elsewhere throughout computing, IBM's strategy has been clear: seize the mantle of "openness," and invite others to join in but leave out Microsoft. This has been the case with the formation of the Open Group around general IT interoperability standards; the formation of the Green Grid data center alliance around lower-power system architectures; and IBM's more unofficial, broad coalitions against Microsoft's OOXML standardization efforts and its continuing disputes with the European Commission.

So when an outspoken Microsoft Windows Azure product manager, Steven Martin, posted a blog entry protesting the possible creation of yet another "open" industry standards group -- this time around cloud computing -- that openly barred Microsoft, you didn't need bread crumbs to guess in which direction Martin was aiming. And yet he left a few: Although he didn't mention IBM by name, Martin cited another of his own blog posts that called attention to another IBM-led "open" effort, the Web Services Test Forum, that he said appeared to be in conflict with an "open" alliance between Microsoft and Apache toward the same goals.

"Recently, we've heard about a 'Cloud Manifesto,' purportedly describing principles and guidelines for interoperability in cloud computing," Martin wrote this morning, appearing to verify an industry rumor. "We love the concept," he continued, adding that Microsoft would be happy to join in any effort where the "center of gravity" is around the standards themselves and not the company presenting them -- which is a very different approach than is usually attributed to Microsoft.

"We were admittedly disappointed by the lack of openness in the development of the Cloud Manifesto," he goes on. "What we heard was that there was no desire to discuss, much less implement, enhancements to the document despite the fact that we have learned through direct experience. Very recently we were privately shown a copy of the document, warned that it was a secret, and told that it must be signed 'as is,' without modifications or additional input. It appears to us that one company, or just a few companies, would prefer to control the evolution of cloud computing, as opposed to reaching a consensus across key stakeholders (including cloud users) through an 'open' process. An open Manifesto emerging from a closed process is at least mildly ironic."

In a well-considered effort to forestall any such line-in-the-sand-drawing, Martin said that any cloud computing interoperability manifesto, should there be such a thing, should be offered for public inspection and distribution through a Creative Commons license. "Interoperability principles and any needed standards for cloud computing need to be defined through a process that is open to public collaboration and scrutiny."

IBM has not, for its part, taken ownership of any such manifesto; and actually, Martin's strategy might still be clever even if it turns out that no such manifesto (yet) exists.

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