Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Battle for Cloud Application Neutrality

It's hard to believe that it's been a year since we first created the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum (CCIF) with the goal of defining and enabling interoperable enterprise-class cloud computing platforms through application integration and stakeholder cooperation. Over the last 12 months a lot has happened. For me the most notable change has been how the conversation has shifted from "why use the cloud" & "what is cloud computing" to how to implement it. The need for interoperability among vendors has also become a central point of discussion with the concept being included in recent US federal government cloud requirements. But like it or not the battle for an open cloud ecosystem is far from over.

In the FCC's first major inquiry since newly appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski took over the agency on June 29. The FCC has launched an inquiry into AT&T Inc. and Apple Inc. over the rejection of Google's voice application for the Apple iPhone and App store. The move also brings to the forefront the need for what's I've been calling, Cloud Application Neutrality.

The concept of Cloud Application Neutrality extends upon the core tenets of the existing network neutrality debate. A movement which seeks to limit the ability of internet service providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content (websites, services, protocols); particularly those of competitors. This debate has recently become even important with the rise of cloud computing and popularity of cloud application repositories as well as app store's such as Apple's.

For a lot of emerging cloud service providers a major selling point is the capability of offering unique cloud centric applications - a point of market differentiation. The value typically measured by the amount of third party applications available for a given cloud either directly or thought API access. In the IaaS space the best and broadest example is Amazon's EC2 public AMI directory. A directory of both free and paid applications stacks.

The rise of Cloud App Store's bring some interesting new potential risks, that of vendor lock-out. The prime example is what happens when a cloud provider sees a competitive application is being offered through their own application marketplace. These potential conflicts could result in the arbitrary removal or flat out rejection of competing applications such as Apples public demonstrations have proven. To overcome this risk and create an open yet fair playing field, we must as an emerging industry agree that being "open" is not only limited to API's and interoperability but also the how we conduct and manage cloud marketplaces.

In a BusinessWeek article Spencer Ante notes that "The future of the wireless Web may be at stake. As in there are two different Internets: the open landline Internet and the controlled wireless Internet." Similarly I believe the problem isn't just limited to wireless providers, a similar dichotomy exists within the emerging cloud service provider ecosystem. Cloud computing is at a crossroads and faces the very real potential of becoming a series of "wall gardens" where information and capacity exists behind a series of proprietary API's and application storefronts. We need to take steps now to make sure this doesn't happen.

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