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 Force.com 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?