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Should Amazon Define Cloud Standards?

Since Citrix gave Cloudstack to the Apache Software Foundation, there has been a lot of blogging, tweeting, and arguing about whether cloud computing software vendors should simply let Amazon AWS drive cloud computing standards. My answer is no. First, I don't think Amazon even wants to be the standard and second, standards should be developed independently of any single vendor. It's time for the stakeholders--enterprises, vendors, open source projects, and anyone else interested to start scoping, developing, and implementing standards that everyone can use. If that doens't happen, the cloud landscape will continue to be fragmented to everyone's detriment.

With Amazon getting Cozy with Eucalyptus, many people, including Informationweek's Charlie Babcock, are wondering if Amazon will try to stop others from mimicking it's API in similar manner that Oracle is suing Google over the latter's use of the Java language semantics in Android. There doesn't seem to be any prohibition to mimicking Amazons API in their license agreements, but that didn't stop Citrix from pointing out that one of the benefits of using their commercial offering of Cloudstack (which is tightly integrated with AWS), is indemnification of its use in the case of legal action, presumably from Amazon.

The big question being debated, without Amazon taking a position what so ever, is what the company should do with their API. Dan Woods writes in Forbes that there are three Questions Amazon Should Answer About Its Cloud Strategy 1) Are there limits to the use of Amazon's APIs? 2) How will community experience inform the evolution of Amazon's APIs? And 3) What is the process that will govern the evolution of the Amazon APIs?

Those are good questions that you should ask any company you integrate your business systems with or depend upon, but why should Amazon answer them publically? I am not even sure that Amazon was ever asked, cares, or even wants their API's to be the defacto standard, and thus their product plans and roadmaps are their own business to share with whomever they like. I do think that if Amazon answered some of those questions, that would place them squarely in a cloud standards leadership role and would be good for everyone, but that is their choice.

Being the curious kitten that I am, I asked Amazon if they think they are, or should be, the stewards of cloud API standards. I received a circumspect answer from an AWS representative who said "Standards have been talked about for years in web services. We believe standards will continue to evolve in the cloud computing space. What we've heard from customers so far--customers who are really committed to using the cloud--is that the best way to illustrate openness and customer flexibility is by what Amazon Web Services actually provides and delivers for them. We'll continue to pursue an approach of providing customers with maximum flexibility as the standards discussion unfolds."

Barb Darrrow thinks that the cloud API debate is over. I don't. I think it is just beginning because companies, potential customers, are just starting to get to the point of sophistication where they can even consider API's. And also disagree with CSC's Simon Wardley who thinks any cloud software that doesn't support/implement/mimic Amazons AWS API's are doomed to failure because Amazon may be the big player in cloud right now. There is no guarantee that they will remain dominant for long. There are lots of other cloud providers coming on-line.

"I think that some de-facto standards, or perhaps benignly neglected intellectual property, can be helpful, but only as long as the owner of said intellectual property don't get crazy about enforcing their IP. And that, of course, is what makes them de-facto standards. VT100, WY-60, FAT32 and PCL 5 were actually helpful in pushing the mission forward without getting hung up in committee for eleventy-billion months. And I think that is a valuable service to the community," Jonathan Feldman who is a director of IT Services for a rapidly growing North Carolina city said.

Frankly, I think if Amazon attempts to stop others from using or mimicking AWS's API, Amazon would be clearly stating they want to be a walled garden and the customer backlash from real or imagined lock-in would be swift.

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