Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Cloud Computing Bill of Rights

Update: Title and version number added before Cloud Computing Bill of Rights text below.

Before you architect your application systems for the cloud, you have to set some ground rules on what to expect from the cloud vendors you either directly or indirectly leverage. It is important that you walk into these relationships with certain expectations, in both the short and long term, and both those that protect you and those that protect the vendor.

This post is an attempt to capture many of the core rights that both customers and vendors of the cloud should come to expect, with the goal of setting that baseline for future Cloud Oriented Architecture discussions.


This is but a first pass, presented to the community for feedback, discussion, argument and--if deserved--derision. Your comments below will be greatly appreciated in any case.

The Cloud Computing Bill of Rights (0.1)

In the course of technical history, there exist few critical innovations that forever change the way technical economies operate; forever changing the expectations that customers and vendors have of each other, and the architectures on which both rely for commerce. We, the parties entering into a new era driven by one such innovation--that of network based services, platforms and applications, known at the writing of this document as "cloud computing"--do hereby avow the following (mostly) inalienable rights:

  • Article I: Customers Own Their Data

    1. No vendor shall, in the course of its relationship with any customer, claim ownership of any data uploaded, created, generated, modified, hosted or in any other way associated with the customer's intellectual property, engineering effort or media creativity. This also includes account configuration data, customer generated tags and categories, usage and traffic metrics, and any other form of analytics or meta data collection.

      Customer data is understood to include all data directly maintained by the customer, as well as that of the customer's own customers. It is also understood to include all source code and data related to configuring and operating software directly developed by the customer, except for data expressly owned by the underlying infrastructure or platform provided by the vendor.

    2. Vendors shall always provide, at a minimum, API level access to all customer data as described above. This API level access will allow the customer to write software which, when executed against the API, allows access to any customer maintained data, either in bulk or record-by-record as needed. As standards and protocols are defined that allow for bulk or real-time movement of data between cloud vendors, each vendor will endeavor to implement such technologies, and will not attempt to stall such implementation in an attempt to lock in its customers.

  • Article II: Vendors and Customers Jointly Own System Service Levels

    1. Vendors own, and shall do everything in their power to meet, service level targets committed to with any given customer. All required effort and expense necessary to meet those explicit service levels will be spent freely and without additional expense to the customer. While the specific legally binding contracts or business agreements will spell out these requirements, it is noted here that these service level agreements are entered into expressly to protect the customer's business interests, and all decisions by the vendor will take this into account.

      Where no explicit service level agreement exists with a customer, the vendor will endeavor to meet any expressed service level targets provided in marketing literature or the like. At no time will it be acceptable for a vendor to declare a high level of service at a base price, only to later indicate that that level of service is only available at a higher premium price.

      It is perfectly acceptable, however, for a vendor to expressly sell a higher level of service at a higher price, as long as they make that clear at all points where a customer may evaluate or purchase the service.

    2. Ultimately, though, customers own their service level commitments to their own internal or external customers, and the customer understands that it is their responsibility to take into account possible failures by each vendor that they do business with.

      Customers relying on a single vendor to meet their own service level commitments enter into an implicit agreement to tie their own service level commitments to the vendor's, and to live and die by the vendor's own infrastructure reliability. Those customers who take their own commitments seriously will seek to build or obtain independent monitoring, failure recovery and disaster recovery systems.

    3. Where customer/vendor system integration is necessary, the vendor's must offer options for monitoring the viability of that integration at as many architectural levels as required to allow the customer to meet their own service level commitments. Where standards exist for such monitoring, the vendor will implement those standards in a timely and complete fashion. The vendor should not underestimate the importance of this monitoring to the customer's own business commitments.

  • Article III: Vendors Own Their Interfaces

    1. Vendors are under no obligation to provide "open" or "standard" interfaces, other than as described above for data access and monitoring. APIs for modifying user experience, frameworks for building extensions or even complete applications for the vendor platform, or such technologies can be developed however the vendor sees fit. If a vendor chooses to require developers to write applications in a custom programming language with esoteric data storage algorithms and heavily piracy protected execution systems, so be it.

      If it seems that this completely abdicates the customer's power in the business relationship, this is not so. As the "cloud" is a marketplace of technology infrastructures, platforms and applications, the customer exercises their power by choosing where to spend their hard earned money. A decision to select a platform vendor that locks you into proprietary Python libraries, for instance, is a choice to support such programming lock-in. On the other hand, insistence on portable virtual machine formats will drive the market towards a true commodity compute capacity model.

      The key reason for giving vendors such power is to maximize innovation. By restricting how technology gets developed or released, the market risks restricting the ways in which technologists can innovate. History shows that eventually the "open" market catches up to most innovations (or bypasses them altogether), and the pace at which this happens is greatly accelerated by open source. Nonetheless, forcing innovation through open source or any other single method runs the risk of weakening capitalist entrepreneurial risk taking.

    2. The customer, however, has the right to use any method legally possible to extend, replicate, leverage or better any given vendor technology. If a vendor provides a proprietary API for virtual machine management in their cloud, customers (aka "the community", in this case) have every right to experiment with "home grown" implementations of alternative technologies using that same API. This is also true for replicating cloud platform functionality, or even complete applications--though, again, the right only extends to legal means.

      Possibly the best thing a cloud vendor can do to extend their community, and encourage innovation on their platform from community members is to open their platform as much as possible. By making themselves the "reference platform" for their respective market space, an open vendor creates a petrie dish of sorts for cultivating differentiating features and successes on their platform. Protective proprietary vendors are on their own.

These three articles serve as the baseline for customer/vendor relationships in the new network-based computing marketplace. No claim is made that this document is complete, or final. These articles may be changed or extended at any time, and additional articles can be declared, whether in response to new technologies or business models, or simply to reflect the business reality of the marketplace. It is also a community document, and others are encouraged to bend and shape it in their own venues.

Comments, complaints or questions can be directed to the author through the comments section below.

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