Monday, July 07, 2008

Cloudware: Standard to Watch, or Another Self-Interested Enterprise Play

Rich Miller of Replicate Technologies, Inc. and Telematique fame wrote a post the other day that explored 3TERA's Cloudware vision with a highly critical eye:
"In September of last year, as I was preparing (mentally and emotionally) to get Replicate started on its current path, I considered issues of portability and interoperability in the virtualized datacenter. I posted a few comments about OVF but one in particular drew the attention of Bert Armijo of 3tera.

At that time, Bert indicated that he thought it "... too early for a standard,...", with a (perfectly arguable) claim that standards are often "... a trade-off to gain interoperability in exchange for stifling innovation." He went on to say that "(w)e haven't adequately explored the possibilities in utility computing." He then provided a critique of OVF. (Whether I agree with that critique or not is immaterial to this post, and the subject for another time.)

At the end of June, 3tera announced their Cloudware vision for a standards-based interoperable utility infrastructure. Since the arrival of Cloudware, there have been a number of venues at which "cloud computing" and interoperability has been on the minds of the cognoscenti... Structure08 and Velocity being the most heavily covered. In the past few weeks, there have also been claims, and counter-claims of support... and to be fair, the disputed claims of support were made by others, not by 3tera.

So... what's changed, Bert? Why is "now the time" to create the standard for interoperable cloud computing? What's happened in 9 - 10 months that has so changed the field, that these efforts don't also stifle innovation?"
Bert responded in the comments:
"Last year what most people meant when they talked about a standard for "cloud computing" was a portable virtual machine format. While that's important, it's not cloud computing. What's changed in the past 10 months is that there are now a number of companies offering workable services that have a vision beyond merely hosting virtual machines."
That would be a wonderful explanation, if it wasn't for the fact that Bert is blatantly using Cloudware to promote 3TERA's AppLogic as the core architecture of the "standard". Here is what Larry Dignan of ZDNet's Between the Lines reported when Bert first hinted about Cloudware:
"Initially, 3Tera’s AppLogic software will play a prominent role in the Cloudware Architecture, but that’s because these efforts initially need at least one vendor championing the effort."
In other words, AppLogic gets a huge head start, defines what the platform should look like, do and not do, etc., and uses Cloudware as a vehicle to thrust itself into the "de facto standard" spot for (at the very least) infrastructure clouds (aka HaaS).

Right there is the crux of the argument for open source standards versus simply open standards. I briefly interviewed for a position with a giant software company to be a representative on various SOA standards bodies. The focus of that team was to promote their engineer's solutions to the rest of the body, and to master the art of negotiating the best position possible for that technology. In other words, if the company invented it, it was this team's job to turn it into a standard, or at least make sure the adopted standard would support their technology or protocols. The traditional standards game is one of diplomacy, negotiation and gamesmanship largely because it is an environment where vendors are pitting their self-interests against each other.

For 3TERA to base Cloudware on AppLogic's existing architecture and functionality is purely self-interest on 3TERA's part. If they had wanted to promote openness equally among potential vendors, they would open source AppLogic outright, and switch to a solid open source business model. Alternatively, they would throw significant resources and IP into an existing open source project. To "open" their own architecture (and therefore forcing others to conform to it), but not sharing the implementation, is simply driving competitive advantage for themselves.

This is why I think you saw such quick refutement of supposed support for Cloudware when the erroneous Forbes article was published about the effort. (Again, this was not 3TERA's fault, and Bert should not be blamed for this error.) The other cloud management and provider platform companies are rightfully eyeing this with some skepticism, many saying outright that they have faith that the standard will appear through market forces.

I almost hate to write this post, because it inevitably reflects badly on 3TERA, and I am actually a huge admirer of their product marketing. Bert set the stage for "private clouds"--though he didn't use that term--even when my employer at the time had a perfectly viable solution, but was struggling to find the right message for the right audience. Their demonstration of moving an entire virtual data center with a single command can't be beat. As far as I know, they have had great success (relative to others) in the hosting space, but have not yet penetrated the larger enterprises (though they are trying). In truth, the hosting story alone is why I think they are the only ones that can claim some portability for end customers.

(There are reportedly issues with the scalability of the platform, but I have no proof of that other than 2nd hand information from former Cassatt customers that tried and rejected 3TERA. Besides, scalability issues can always be fixed in future releases.)

Cloudware, however, bugs me to no end, and I hope 3TERA will either turn it into a legitimate open source project (based on the AppLogic code) or spare us the pain of vendor brinkmanship and offer Cloudware as an AppLogic specific framework, but not an open standard.

By the way, I would have had that standards body diplomat role if I was willing to move north...

Update 7/8/2008: William Vanbenepe points out in the comments below that there is an existing set of threads about Cloudware on his blog and John William's blog. The comments to these blogs are worth a read, as they lay out the debate from all sides.