Microsoft Calls for Open Cloud Standards

Steven Martin, Microsoft's senior director of developer platform management, discusses Microsoft's call for an open process to define cloud computing going forward. Essentially, Martin expressed concern about a so-called "Cloud Manifesto" and Microsoft's view that it is biased to benefit its authors.

If Microsoft is the pot, what color is the kettle?

No, that's not a joke or an attempt to be coy. Fair or not, it was the first thing that entered my mind as I read a post by Steven Martin, Microsoft's senior director of developer platform management, about Microsoft's call for an open process to define cloud computing going forward. Essentially, Martin expressed concern about a so-called "Cloud Manifesto" and Microsoft's view that it is biased to benefit its unidentified authors. Likely suspects among the author ranks include Amazon, Google and IBM, all of which Microsoft does or will compete with in the cloud space.

In any event, I initially said Microsoft was like the pot calling the kettle black. I said: They're calling out others for what they have been accused of doing for years! They know the lingo because they've heard it long enough. And they're only doing this because they're coming from behind.

But I quickly realized I was showing my age and my own biases of having observed Microsoft's behavior over many years, including covering its landmark antitrust battle with the federal government. Or perhaps it was the hater rising up in me -- not so much my own "hateration," but the penchant many journalists tend to have to feel compelled to hate on Microsoft or to cater to the anti-Microsoft crowd because it tends to draw a larger readership. Yeah, some of that bubbled up.

But then I thought about it a little more realistically. Sure Windows is still the monopoly product it always was and Microsoft continues to guard its flagship jealously, if not ferociously. They'd be foolish not to. But it's a whole new world. And not only has the web -- and increasingly the cloud -- forced Microsoft to become more open and interoperable, so has the sheer force of customer and developer demand. Besides, Microsoft's cloud master AKA chief software architect Ray Ozzie is big on interoperability.

"From the moment we kicked off our cloud computing effort, openness and interop stood at the forefront," Martin said in his post.

He also said, "Recently, we've heard about a 'Cloud Manifesto,' purportedly describing principles and guidelines for interoperability in cloud computing. We love the concept. We strongly support an open, collaborative discussion with customers, analysts and other vendors regarding the direction and principles of cloud computing. When the center of gravity is standards and interoperability, we are even more enthusiastic because we believe these are the key to the long term success for the industry, as we are demonstrating through a variety of technologies such as Silverlight, Internet Explorer 8, and the Azure Services Platform. We have learned a lot from the tens-of-thousands of developers who are using our cloud platform and their feedback is driving our efforts. We are happy to participate in a dialogue with other providers and collaborate with them on how cloud computing could evolve to provide additional choices and greater value for customers."

However, expressing his dismay, Martin added:

""We were admittedly disappointed by the lack of openness in the development of the Cloud Manifesto. 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.""

I know folks will see irony in that statement itself. As many people still can't accept Microsoft as being sincere about openness or interoperability. But those are the operative words: openness and interoperability. Not open source; that's another thing entirely -- although Microsoft is pursuing its own efforts in that area. Yet I don't care or need to go that far here. I'm talking about the company's notion to have its platforms interoperate with non-Microsoft technology. That's real. And it's not even a new thing.

Indeed, I just spoke with Sam Ramji, director of platform strategy at Microsoft, who played up the company's support for PHP and ensuring PHP applications run well on Microsoft platforms. I asked him how much of a sell it was to get Microsoft upper management onboard with the PHP game plan. "It was a process of osmosis," he said. "The idea had to percolate, and we had to back it up with math... But it became an obviously good idea." So even if kicking and screaming, Microsoft leadership bought in.

Meanwhile, Lauren Cooney, group product manager for Web Platform and Standards at Microsoft, spoke at the company's MIX09 conference about the new Microsoft Web Platform and things like the Microsoft Web Application Gallery, which will feature PHP, open source and other applications.

And Martin point out, "At MIX, we highlighted the use of our Identity Service and Service Bus with an application written in Python and deployed into Google App Engine which may have been the first public cloud to cloud interop demo."

In the tooling area, among other things the company is working on, Microsoft is funding the development of Eclipse4SL, a new plug-in that enables Java developers to create applications that run on the Microsoft Silverlight platform.

So Microsoft is clearly doing stuff on the interoperability front.

"In the coming days or weeks you may hear about an 'Open Cloud Manifesto,'" Martin said. "We love the idea of openness in cloud computing and are eager for industry dialogue on how best to think about cloud computing and interoperability."

Moreover, Martin added:

"Here are some principles on the approach we think better serve customers and the industry overall:??Ç Interoperability principles and any needed standards for cloud computing need to be defined through a process that is open to public collaboration and scrutiny.??Ç Creation of interoperability principles and any standards effort that may result should not be a vendor-dominated process. To be fair as well as relevant, they should have support from multiple providers as well as strong support from customers and other stakeholders.??Ç Due recognition should be given to the fact that the cloud market is immature, with a great deal of innovation yet to come. Therefore, while principles can be agreed upon relatively soon, the relevant standards may take some time to develop and coalesce as the cloud computing industry matures."

Meanwhile, in an article about Microsoft's lawsuit against TomTom, open source advocate Bruce Perens, said, "The Microsoft employees that open source projects directly deal with are as sincere as you'd like, but they aren't top management and can't influence top management."

I know Ramji and Cooney are sincere about their interaction with open source. And Martin, a straight-shooting Texan, is just as sincere - if not more -- about the issue of openness and interoperability. All three come from Java or open-source backgrounds.

So, rather than seeing the griping of a company grasping for shortcuts because it's playing catch-up, perhaps what we're seeing is simply a different Microsoft.