Will the Cloud Ever Be Truly Open?

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Cloud Computing Starts to Mature

The emphasis in the cloud is shifting from public to private cloud computing deployments.

Momentum is gaining for an open, interoperable cloud, although the question remains whether user preferences will actually trump big business concerns this time around.

Unlike the open computing movements of the past, however, this one seems to have real teeth. The Open Data Center Alliance just published a set of requirements and usage models aimed at fostering a universal, open cloud environment. The package includes guidance on security, automation, management and policies, but that's not the most important takeaway here. Rather, it's the fact that in just seven months the alliance has managed to cobble together some 280 global leaders that represent more than $100 billion in IT spending every year. Only with that kind of clout do open technologies stand a chance against entrenched financial interests.

Nevertheless, one of the biggest problems facing the open-source movement is that the term is very easily co-opted by those who desire the PR benefits of being "open" so long as users remain locked in their proprietary environments. Part of this is due to the fact that there is no firm definition of "openness," according to CMSWire's Josette Rigsby. To some, simple information sharing is enough. Others want full portability or a common programming interface. The software development community is particularly sensitive to these distinctions because it can mean the difference between supporting, say, Apache's Python-based Libcloud, or the enhanced PHP support now available on Microsoft's Azure cloud.

At the same time, you have a vendor like Citrix unveiling a unique version of OpenStack, the open cloud infrastructure platform originally developed by NASA and Rackspace. Under Project Olympus, the company will build a new cloud-ready version of XenServer that contains what is essentially a Citrix-approved version of the OpenStack controller. Citrix also says it will support Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware ESXi, which would certainly give the impression of an open, interoperable cloud, but it begs the question of whether users will only get optimized performance with Citrix systems.

If you recall, however, many of the past struggles around open technology had to do with proprietary hardware and software configurations. Along came virtualization and the cloud, and now much of the physical layer is commoditized. Perhaps, then, all we need is another layer of abstraction on top of the cloud. That's exactly the goal of Progress Software, which recently released its Progress Arcade platform that allows users to build aggregated services that can be hosted on numerous cloud platforms. Arcade does away with the need to build individual portals for each cloud service through a series of ready-made server templates - just write your service or application to Arcade and it will do the rest.

If I were a bookie, I'd still give long odds on the development of a fully "open" cloud, whatever that means. As a CIO, however, I would be perfectly happy with a broadly interoperable cloud. As long as there are enough options when it comes to configuring either internal or external resources and data can be easily shifted from one set to another, you've achieved two of the cloud's primary objectives: a high degree of data flexibility and avoidance of vendor lock-in.