Microsoft’s criticism surprises Toronto author of “open cloud manifesto”

Microsoft Corp.’s sharp criticism of an “open cloud manifesto” surprised drafters of the document, who plan to release it to the public on Monday, according to the founder of a company that helped to write it.

The manifesto sets guidelines for interoperability among cloud-computing networks.

On his ElasticVapor blog, Reuven Cohen, founder and chief technologist at Toronto-based cloud computing start-up Enomaly Inc., said Microsoft was among the first companies to review the manifesto.

He expressed surprised that Microsoft manager Steven Martin spoke out so vehemently against it in a blog post that appeared early last Thursday morning.

Cohen said he received “no less then 100 emails and voicemails” about Martin’s blog post.

Martin’s post claimed the open cloud manifesto was drafted privately and Microsoft was asked to sign without revisions.

“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,” according to the post.

Martin’s post said while Microsoft fully supports the concept of drafting guidelines for interoperability in cloud computing, it was “admittedly disappointed by the lack of openness in the development” of the document.

“To ensure that the work on such a project is open, transparent and complete, we feel strongly that any ‘manifesto’ should be created, from its inception, through an open mechanism like a Wiki, for public debate and comment, all available through a Creative Commons license,” the Microsoft executive wrote in the post.

“After all, what we are really seeking are ideas that have been broadly developed, meet a test of open, logical review and reflect principles on which the broad community agrees. This would help avoid biases toward one technology over another, and expand the opportunities for innovation.”

Cohen expressed surprise at this reaction.

“Let me say, we’ve been in active discussions with Microsoft about the open cloud manifesto, which has literally come together in the last couple weeks,” he wrote.

“It is unfortunate [Microsoft] feels this way. …Their 2:28 a.m. pre-announcement of the manifesto was a complete surprise given our conversations.”

Moreover, Cohen challenged Microsoft’s contention that the manifesto does not provide for an open forum in which ideas about revisions can be discussed.

“If Microsoft is truly committed to an open cloud ecosystem, this document provides a perfect opportunity to publicly state it,” he wrote.

However, in a subsequent blog post on Friday, Cohen forcefully acknowledged Microsoft’s contribution to the open cloud initiative.

“Microsoft,” he wrote, “has provided more visibility to our cloud interoperability effort then all our previous efforts combined. For this reason alone we need thank Microsoft.”

He expressed the hope that moving forward Redmond would continue to be a major partner in the activities of the open cloud group. “[They] recently signed on as a global sponsor for our Cloud Camps. Who knows maybe they’ll sign on to the manifesto too.”

Cohen did not name the other companies involved with the manifesto, saying only that “several of the largest technology companies and organizations” are among its co-writers.

However, a document available on IBM’s Web site also refers to a manifesto on cloud computing — this one called an “architectural manifesto” about the “possibilities (and risks) of cloud computing” — hinting that IBM may be one of the large technology companies to which Cohen refers in his post.

Cohen said the goal of the manifesto’s authors was to “draft a document that clearly states we … believe that, like the Internet, the cloud itself should be open.”

“The manifesto does not speak to application code or licensing but instead to the fundamental principles that the Internet was founded upon — an open platform available to all,” he wrote.

“It is a call to action for the worldwide cloud community to get involved and embrace the principles of the open cloud.”

Historically when there are emerging industry-wide trends in computing, companies building the technology to support them will get together and try to decide on certain agreed-upon technology and/or business-process standards to make things work smoothly.

These processes inevitably leave some people out of the early development process, said Steven O’Grady, an analyst with RedMonk.

“This is historically how standards evolve, how technical movements develop,” he said. “It’s generally a coalition of certain parties that have mutual interests. Unfortunately, they tend to be exclusionary.”

Microsoft itself has been a part of one of these very public coalitions.

The development of a set of technology specifications for interoperability of certain business processes under the umbrella Web Services, shortened to “WS,” was largely overseen and driven by Microsoft and IBM, with other vendors feeling left out of that process.

However, it’s usually the leaders of certain technology movements that spearhead the development of standards, and Microsoft so far has neither been a thought nor a technology leader in cloud computing — its Windows Azure cloud-computing infrastructure is still only in an early test release.

Competitor Amazon Web Services already is selling capacity on various of its cloud services, including Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

Internet giant Google is also a big cloud-computing proponent, with its Web-hosted products like the Apps collaboration suite and the App Engine development platform.

Microsoft did not disclose which companies were involved in drafting the Cloud Manifesto.

An AWS spokeswoman said in an e-mail Thursday that the company “just recently heard” about the document and plans to review it, and said it supports the establishment of standards that give customers flexibility in deciding what services are best for them.

Google did not reply to request for comment about its possible participation in drafting the manifesto.

An opinion supporting openness in the development of cloud-computing guidelines seems strange coming from Microsoft, which has only become more transparent about some of its business practices and how it develops software because of pressure from government agencies and increased competition from open-source software.

Moreover, some open-source and open-IP proponents would find it curious that Microsoft is invoking a Creative Commons license for anything, as the company historically has insisted companies pay for any of its IP that they use, although it has become more friendly toward open-source licensing in the past year or so.

A Creative Commons license allows people to copyright a document or creative work while letting other people distribute it freely, so long as they give the creator credit and follow the terms a person sets for the license.

Until the manifesto and the companies drafting it become public, it’s hard to know what are Microsoft’s motives for coming forward about the manifesto now, O’Grady said.

He speculated that the company may want to go “on the record” about its views on the matter before the manifesto becomes public, if it’s true the company did not have a say in drafting it.

It’s also unclear why Microsoft was not consulted by the companies who drafted the document, he added. “They may see Microsoft as a threat or impediment, or may not align with what they perceive to see as Microsoft’s ambitions in the space,” O’Grady said.

With files from Joaquim P. Menezes


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