Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What's wrong with a cloudy world?

I've just finished reading the computerworld interview on cloud computing with Barry X Lynn, of 3Tera.

Whilst I would certainly agree that the shift from product to a service based economy is fairly inevitable for a ubiquitous and well defined activity, the problem with the cloud is the lack of second sourcing options i.e. the lack of interoperability, portability and easy switching between providers at equivalent levels of the computing stack.

As Bert, also of 3Tera, said on Tim Anderson's blog :-

"Interoperability certainly is a major concern for users of cloud computing".

Well, I completely agree and that's why I've been going on about the need for open sourced standards (i.e. the standards in the cloud are operational open sourced pieces of code) since 2006. Open source in this context makes sense as any ubiquitous activity is at best a cost of doing business and hence feature differentiation is of no value. The problem we're facing is that many product vendors are not prepared for a shift to a service world and competition based upon price and quality of service. What many vendors want to create is "my product as a service".

This mentality could create fairly vicious forms of lock-in with a loss of control and a lack of competitive pricing pressures. This is what Richard Stallman was arguing against and he is right, a proprietary cloud could easily turn into a trap that would cost more and more over time.

Barry countered this view with the idea that it's "no more stupid than picking up a telephone, getting a dial tone and completing a call anywhere in the world through interconnected "clouds" of phone company networks. Well, I must admit I don't know what the situation is in the U.S, but in the U.K. when I wish to change phone company, I can. Also when I switch between phone companies, I don't find that I either have to rewire my entire home or that essential data is somehow lost or changed. This is the problem with analogies to electricity or phone providers, unlike those utilities we have a relationship with cloud vendors through our data.

To make a fair comparison with the phone industry, then you would have to imagine an "open" system whereby you could simply change phone companies and a "closed" system whereby when you switch phone company then not only does your number change but so does every number you used to call and to top it all you also have to rewire your entire house in the process. Of course it would be madness, you'd effectively be locked-in and Stallman is right to called such a system "stupid".

A cloudy world without competitive markets based upon open sourced standards is a potential lock-in nightmare.

Caveat Emptor.