Moving Toward the Open Cloud – Openness Must Prevail

Moving Toward the Open Cloud

Two weeks ago, Internap launched its Internap XIP Cloud Storage service.  I lead the Engineering organization responsible for development of this new platform offering.

A significant amount of intellectual thought went into the question of how best to develop a cloud storage solution.  We had team meetings debating the approach we would take from both a theoretical as well as engineering and architectural standpoint.  In the end, we agreed on a single principle.

Cloud computing must be open. The industry is at a point where open source and standards in cloud computing make tremendous sense for software developers, businesses, and consumers. Open source and standards can lay a common foundation for companies to build from which promotes innovation and allows differentiation across open and proprietary models alike.

Vision of Cloud in the Future

Looking five to ten years out in the future, “cloud” will become ubiquitous.  Cloud computing will no longer be ‘greenfield’ but the new way we deliver applications.  Software applications that are running in the cloud will reach into every aspect of our lives.  Applications in the cloud will more readily talk to each other as the level of interoperability will be far greater than what it is today.   Applications will be consumed in every outlet.

Today, we see computing devices breaking out from the confines of the smart phone and laptop with the growing tablet segment led by the iPad.  In the future, we don’t know what devices we will use or what they will look like.

The cloud will be a powerful force enabling uninterrupted workflows even when our locations and the devices change – enabling  seamless mobility.  These workflows will be end-to-end and will simplify our lives.  For instance, all of our personal spending activity and income over the year can be captured, sorted and summarized into a budgeting and tax tool simultaneously   As a result, we will know what our tax exposure is down to the penny on any given day of the year, not just when we file by that arbitrary April date.  With the ability to modify our withholding’s based on our goals – we can watch how the changes track.

We will truly consume “Everything-as-a-Service.”  The opportunities are limitless.  We’ve just scratched the surface.

Openness Must Prevail

A lack of openness in cloud computing will not prevent this vision from being realized; but it will delay it significantly and incur much greater cost for software developers, businesses and, ultimately, consumers.

To reach the full potential of cloud computing, software developers cannot be burdened by the extra development cycles required to facilitate interoperability with numerous cloud computing formats and APIs.  They must be given a platform that is published in an open source library and that allows them to most efficiently apply their software expertise.

Where open source must go

Cloud computing must both mimic IP networking’s development with regard to open standards and broad collaboration, and become IP networking’s future.

The technology industry is replete with examples of industry players coming together to agree on a common standard.  TCP, HTML, the USB specification, IPv6, PI Express, iSCSI and S-ATA are just a few of the hundreds of open source standards that have worked to propel the Internet and computing technology forward.

With the proliferation of proprietary, closed cloud computing solutions, the market is at an inflection point where open source platforms and standards can and should successfully emerge.  Given the expected ubiquity of cloud computing, it isn’t in the software community’s and general consumers’ interests that the industry be highly fractured by numerous competing proprietary platforms or, conversely, dominated by a single proprietary solution that contributes to vendor lock-in.

An open cloud computing platform can serve to balance the market in a way that fosters innovation, speeds time-to-market, promotes competition, minimizes vendor lock-in and ultimately benefits consumers and enterprises.

The Value of Open Source and Standards

An open cloud computing platform lowers the barrier to entry for new market entrants.  This contributes to the growth of a robust ecosystem of third party tools and capabilities around the open platform that wouldn’t have existed otherwise in the proprietary model.   The end result is that consumers have more choices:

  • Fosters Innovation.  The world can innovate.  Open source code and standards allow software developers to focus on their areas of core expertise.  Even the cloud computing provider who embraces open source technology and standards can capitalize on being able to focus development on more specialized services that are of value to its customers.
  • Speeds Time-to-Market.  Open source and standards allow companies to accelerate their time-to-market for new products and services, shaving off weeks and potentially months of development time and costs by adopting an open cloud computing platform.
  • Promotes Competition.  Open source and standards enable competition in the marketplace.  This is ultimately good for consumers as competition drives down pricing for improved services.  Open source can act as a counterweight to any market dominance by any one player.
  • Benefits Consumers.  Finally, open source and standards can lower costs passed on to consumers.  Look at the use of Linux today from its origins in 1991.  One of the strongest appeals of the Linux kernel has been its free usage compared to the leading proprietary licensed software model.  There is no doubt that the alternative proprietary licensing model in this example raised operating costs, which were ultimately passed down to consumers.

Summary

Having open standards in the cloud computing arena is vital to efficiently realize the full vision of what cloud computing can offer in the future.  Given cloud computing’s reach to affect just about everything we do, it is evident that common practices and standards are required with respect to how developers code to cloud computing environments.

With the proliferation of cloud computing platforms and usage, this is the time where open source code and standards can and should prevail.  We have the opportunity to agree on the foundational elements of cloud computing that will help us to achieve cloud computing’s full promise.   At the same time, open source and standards help to provide a balance in the industry that contributes to innovation, promotes healthy competition, and ultimately, gives businesses and consumers more choices.

By Robert Minnear, Vice President Engineering at Internap

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