Openness is not enough

In the crowd at Microsoft’s cloud-computing coming out party earlier this week sat at least one Googler, and, as the Guardian’s Jack Schofield notes today, his observations about the event and its implications are worth reading. The guy in question, Dion Almaer, who works on Google Gears, among other things, writes on his personal blog: “I have had the pleasure to be at PDC this week and Microsoft put on a great show. As they showed their vision of unification around Windows (cloud, Web, PC, mobile) through great developer tools, there was excitement. Windows Azure looks great.” (The sound you just heard was Sergey Brin spitting his masala chai all over his MacBook Air.)

While emphasizing that he “remains curious about the details,” Almaer continues: “The ‘on premise’ feature [of Azure] looks particularly intriguing. If they can bridge the data center and the cloud, they have something quite compelling. Enterprises are struggling with the cloud in part. What do you put up there? How do you secure it? How do you tie back? Microsoft is going after that problem.”

He then goes on to discuss some of the competitive implications:

… even though we knew about [most of what Microsoft announced], I don’t know if we thought they were this far along. Microsoft is executing. This show set the stage “this is where we are going, and look how far we have come.” The Office on the Web demo showed that. Works in all browsers, with enhanced Silverlight support. Very nice indeed. What a wake up call to the rest of the Web? …

For those of us who worry about handing Microsoft control of the browser, plugins to other browsers, the cloud, the server model, and more…. I won’t lie to you. I am cautiously observing. Silverlight adoption worries me. We can’t fight Microsoft with “don’t choose them, remember what they did to you before?” Fear is lame. Instead, this is a wake up call to Adobe, Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, IBM, Sun, [insert other developer / platform players] to get kicking.

We can’t just be Open, we have to be better!

Precisely so. We can (and will) have debates about the relative openness of Azure and AWS and and all the other “cloud platforms” that are available or will be available. And those will be important debates. But in this early stage of the cloud’s development, openness means little to the buyer (or user). The buyers, particularly those in big companies, are nervous about the cloud even as they are becoming increasingly eager to reap the benefits the cloud can provide. What they care about right now is security, reliability, features, compatibility with their existing systems and applications, ease of adoption, stability of the vendor, and other practical concerns. In the long run, they may come to regret their lack of stress on openness, but in the here-and-now it’s just not a major consideration. They want stuff that works and won’t blow up in their faces.

In other words, and to echo Almaer, cloud customers are going to embrace what’s better, as they define “better” right now, not necessarily what’s more “open.” And this is one of the big questions that remains to be answered about Google and its ability to sell to big companies: Is it going to be able to see the world through the eyes of its potential customers, even if that view does not coincide with its own philosophy?

14 thoughts on “Openness is not enough

  1. Kendall Brookfeld

    Very interesting post. But I don’t know if openness and other considerations are really separate. If I’m locked into a particular vendor then I’m denied the ultimate recourse if there are problems with security, reliability, etc., that you sometimes don’t discover until you’re well into a project. Isn’t a potential advantage of the cloud the ability to have compute and storage resources that you can buy from any of several vendors (and shouldn’t this drive down prices)?

    But Microsoft’s efforts here look good and, as with .NET and C#, people should judge them on their merits, not based on the religious wars that plague IT. And Google seems to be trying to lock people into their products.

  2. Bruce Lewin

    >And this is one of the big questions that remains to be answered about Google and its ability to sell to big companies: Is it going to be able to see the world through the eyes of its potential customers, even if that view does not coincide with its own philosophy?

    I bet not!

  3. niraj j

    Just as the war of currents (AC versus DC) where in Edision spread the FUD about AC being a security hazard and ultimately AC won because it was better and could scale, there will be several FUDS coming out in this space. Namely – Data Security Concerns , Open Standards , How can I give control over something so mission critical etc

    But in any case we will have to go through a cycle of products that address these FUDS , some early mis-direction of the cloud to tangents that will not scale and sustain.

    More here

  4. Simon Wardley

    A marketplace based upon a proprietary cloud technology with multiple ISPs and ISVs has lots of attractions from the acceleration of innovation (through componentisation) to the more mundane capex to opex conversion, concentration of focus, reduction of capacity planning, economies of scale … yada yada yada.

    James Governor said in a recent tweet that “no amount of assertive statements from thought leaders will prevent customers from adopting proprietary technology”.

    He is absolutely right. Some CIOs are not going to walk but rush into a gilded cage.

    My only advise is that if you’re the CEO of a company and your CIO is talking cloud, find someone with a senior level background in manufacturing to check their reasoning. If you hear the words “lacks second sourcing” then ask the CIO to explain how they’re going to deal with a lack of pricing competition, loss of strategic control and how much transparency there is for the service. Are you getting involved in a house of cards, with a SaaS built on a PaaS built on an IaaS or whatever other *aaS we call it these days. Without portability of any of the components at any layer of the stack, do you know what the relationships are?

    All of this is manageable, as long as people are aware of what they are getting into in.

  5. Dion Almaer


    Thanks for the thoughts. One clarification: I actually now work for Mozilla not Google, and don’t speak for either of course.

    Sure was an interesting PDC!


    Dion Almaer

    Ajaxian and Mozilla

  6. Nick Carr

    Dion, Thanks for the clarification. I thought you were being awfully brave (or foolhardy!). As I’m sure you’ve realized, you need to update the “About” page on your blog. Nick

  7. nubeblog

    I think Dion Almaer it’s no longer working for Google. I think he is working for Mozilla Foundation.

    Now we are facing an increasing number of options in the cloud, what about vendor lock-in? I think that open standards will give real value to the customers, lowering the cost of the services.



  8. Scott Wilson

    I don’t think it’s so much that openness means little to buyers as that they don’t yet realize what it means to them… I’ve seen people regret the alleys their choices have lead them into time and again with technology. I think the reason you are seeing that argument made for selecting cloud and other types of technology vendors is exactly that: enough buyers have been burned now that the subject is at least on the radar, in a way that it wasn’t even ten years ago. You’ll only see that increase if the issues aren’t addressed.

    But that’s what should really be scaring Microsoft’s challengers… it’s not just that Microsoft is executing, but that they are becoming more open as they do so. They’ve made some real, substantive efforts in the last year to foster interoperability with their software and standards, realizing the desirability not just from a regulatory standpoint but also in terms of marketing to CxOs increasingly aware of the downsides of software lock-in. Picking Microsoft in the future isn’t necessarily going to be synonymous with picking proprietary software, at least not from a practical standpoint.

    I think niraj’s point about Google’s targeting is spot-on as well… they’re going to take the Apple route and try to work their way into the enterprise from the ground up. Who cares if you impress the CIO if all the other departments are moving to Google Docs on their own?

    But none of this is to say that Nick doesn’t have a point, exactly, just that the reasons are other than those he identifies. It’s true that a lot of CIOs don’t seem to care much about open platforms, but that’s because they don’t care about anything long-term… when nearly 80% of CIO respondents to a recent survey report they don’t expect to be with their current employer more than five years, you can imagine they don’t feel a tremendous incentive to plan solidly for the long term.

  9. Linuxguru1968

    Openness is important but not more than market share in deploying new technology. For example, when Thomas Watson Sr. took over IBM. He drove his sales staff to find new ways of deploying punch card systems to automate business processes. When electronic computing came in during the late 40s and early 50s it was their market share that allowed them to apture the market for electronic data systems. Google doesn’t have that kind of market share compared to Microsoft, Oracle or IBM; to most suits who remeber the dotcom crash, Google is still just a funny named dotcom left over. Since MS, Oracle and IBM are really the IT departments of most Fortune 500 companies, mostly like it will be them and not Google that eventually cash in cloud computing.

  10. JPD

    This is old news on distributed “cloud” computing. The pioneering work done a long time ago, but the competitive pressures had not hit a point where anyone would do anything until now. The interesting part is that MS would have a had good chance to execute several years ago but did not see the bus coming. My bet is on Oracle, not MS.

  11. dwight/

    It’s very unopen right now in the cloud services space but I think that is because it is early.

    We think over time one will avoid lock-in by using standard frameworks that multiple cloud vendors support.

  12. Ted Murphy

    Activities from Google and Microsoft need to be interpreted through the lens of their successful business models. Google will persist in efforts that increase their search market share, and Microsoft will persist in efforts that increase their OS and Office desktop market share.

    Everything else (ie cloud computing) will eventually be harnessed in service to those corporate priorities. Individual employees may go off-message again and again, but the harsh realities of today’s global competitive marketplace will channel corporate efforts back to their successful business models.

  13. Linuxguru1968

    “The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can’t think of anything that isn’t cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?We’ll make cloud computing announcements. I’m not going to fight this thing. But I don’t understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing other than change the wording of some of our ads. That’s my view.”

    — Larry Ellison on Cloud Computing:

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