Page last updated at 07:48 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 08:48 UK

'Open cloud' plan sparks dissent

By Maggie Shiels
Technology Reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Storm clouds over IBM's open cloud manifesto started building last week

A plan by IBM to launch an industry-wide 'open' cloud computing strategy has seemingly backfired amid accusations of closed deals.

Google pulled out after signing up and Amazon said it would not get involved.

Microsoft criticised the plan, saying it was given two days to sign up to a "secret" manifesto with no input.

"We had concerns about process and governance that led us to question IBM's intentions," Microsoft's Steve Martin told BBC News.

Cloud computing is the term given to the shift of computing power, storage and usage from the physical machine on people's desks, in homes and in offices to the web.

Companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft offer rival cloud computing solutions, including database management, storage, and running programs on remote servers.

The Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum, which had also added its name to the list of more than 30 companies in the plan, withdrew its support over the weekend.

Some of those companies still backing the plan include CISCO, Sun, AT&T, Red Hat, SAP and AMD.

IBM would not comment over the Google change of heart or that of the CCIF but said it hoped Microsoft would reconsider and get involved in the Open Cloud Manifesto at some stage.

"The aim was for this (Manifesto) to serve as a rallying cry to the industry to get focused around the importance of the cloud environment being open," Karla Norsworthy IBM's vice president of Software Standards explained to BBC News.

"We are pleased about the number of vendors who have signed up. As regards Microsoft, we are still hopeful about working together on giving customers the flexibility they have come to expect from technology that is open."

"Great pain"

News of the manifesto leaked in the middle of last week with reports of its formal launch on Monday.

Microsoft came out with a blog post last Wednesday written by its senior director of developer platform product management Steve Martin.

Azure logo (Microsoft)
Azure is Microsoft's bid to enter the cloud computing market

In it he wrote "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 through an 'open' process".

Ahead of the launch, he told the BBC that when he looked at the document "parts of it were impossible to object to and other parts were just so vague that we felt additional conversations were needed to understand the intent of the authors, to talk about governance and the lack of visibility of the other players".

He added: "We said we love the idea but we have significant concerns and eventually informed IBM saying we did not believe this was the right approach. We do credit them with spurring some dialogue on the topic."

Meanwhile Google issued a statement to the BBC saying: "We value industry dialogue that results in more and better delivery of software and services via the internet and appreciate IBM's leadership and commitment in this area."

The CCIF explained its decision to back out in an online post and stated it "comes with great pain as we fully endorse the document's contents and its principles of a truly open cloud".

He said: "However, this community has issued a mandate of openness and fair process, loudly and clearly, so the CCIF can not in good faith endorse this document."

"Game changer"

The six-page document calls for the entire computer industry to keep cloud services as open as possible and make it easy for them to interoperate and for customers to switch from one to the other with ease.

"In order for customers to realise the most benefit, it is important to pull the community together in order to keep the cloud open," said IBM's Ms Norsworthy.

Google IO conference
Google was a signatory of the Manifesto until this past weekend

Analysts have been complimentary about the manifesto as a first step towards openness in the early stages of cloud computing.

"This is a very important discussion to be having now because the maturation of the cloud is fairly early on. I think some companies that are developing clouds now are looking at it as a technique to lock customers into their eco-system," said analyst Judith Hurwitz of Hurwitz & Associates.

Cloud computing she said is a "game changer" and the "world will be a better place with a standard common approach to something that could have the same impact as the personal computer," she claimed.

When asked if Microsoft would get involved in the Manifesto at a later date, Mr Martin said "the door is always open for high bandwidth dialogue (with IBM) on how best to serve the needs of the customer".

In the meantime, Microsoft has said it will attend the Cloud Computing Expo in New York later on Monday and meet with other vendors and members of standards bodies.

"From our perspective, this represents a fresh start on the conversation - a collaborative "do-over" if you will, " said Mr Martin.

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