Microsoft slams secret cloud manifesto

Microsoft is criticizing the drafting of what it has characterized as a secret “Cloud Manifesto” that sets guidelines for interoperability among cloud-computing networks.

In a blog posting attributed to Steven Martin, Microsoft spilled the beans on a document it said has been drafted privately and that it 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.

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While the company fully supports the concept of drafting guidelines for interoperability in cloud computing, Microsoft said 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,” Martin 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.”

Historically when there are emerging industrywide 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.

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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.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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