CIOs, CEOs and other executives must have a lot of questions about cloud computing, and I'm not sure there are actually good answers right now when it comes to portability and integration.
For instance, I recently talked to a CEO who expressed deep distrust of storing anything personal in the cloud, including pictures and a rough draft of his dissertation for his third degree.
"What happens if that company goes out of business," he asked. "What do they do with my stuff?"
He didn't trust that a cloud-based storage would keep his stuff private and secure, particularly if they encountered problems. And I didn't know what to tell him, since we were talking about free offerings for personal use.
When you're dealing with cloud solutions for organizations, some of these questions could be worked out in contracts, although that might not address the question of trust that a company would do the right thing if it went out of business.
It made me wonder: How many executives have the same questions - and how well can the emerging cloud market answer them?
For instance, it's incredible what Amazon Web Services has done for cloud computing, but as its capabilities and customer base have grown, so have fears of lock-in. Amazon is, after all, a proprietary system.
This week, some took up arms against the very possibility of lock-in tyranny. The energetic-looking CEO of Appfog - which offers a platform as a service - took his case to GigaOm this week.
"Amazon keeps innovating new services and on the one hand I applaud them for that," Lucas Carlson told GigaOm's Barb Darrow. "On the other, the higher up they go, the harder it is to move elsewhere."
What's interesting about Appfog isn't that it's a PaaS, but rather, that it's based on VMware Cloud Foundry (available under the Apache 2.0 license) and is aligned with OpenStack, an open source infrastructure-as-a-service stack that's competing with Amazon's Web Services.
OpenStack was developed by NASA and Rackspace two years ago, and now enjoys support from companies like Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Intel, Cisco and, more recently, IBM and Red Hat.
Piston Cloud Computing also recently announced it's developing an open source project with VMware. This project will allow OpenStack cloud OS to support Cloud Foundry's Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, according to news reports. Of course, the goal is to give developers a way to deploy cloud-based apps without being locked into a proprietary system.
And then there's CloudStack, another open source cloud project, which boasts that it's more compatible with Amazon's cloud infrastructure, and (one assumes) therefore it will be easier to port apps to it from AWS. That particular claim is under debate, and there's reason to wonder whether two open source projects with the same cloud aspirations will survive.
But still: It's the beginning of competition in this space and, I hope, an answer to the question of lock-in. If one company goes out of business, you may be able to move your apps.
That just leaves us with the more troubling question: What happens to the copies?