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Phil Wainewright

IBM's 'Stop Amazon' Cloud Putsch Dissolves

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The spreading disarray surrounding tomorrow's IBM-brokered launch of the so-called Open Cloud Manifesto (UPDATE: Monday's early stories from Techmeme) is evidence a-plenty that big corporations are hopelessly out of their depth when it comes to the cloud. For those catching up with this story, here's a quick recap of what's unraveled so far, then I'll explain why I believe IBM is so fazed by what I suspect it perceives as the threat of Amazon becoming the dominant force in cloud.

As James Urquhart remarked in a posting today (in which he also notes Google "has refused to sign" too), "the failure of the manifesto to launch as a secretly crafted, but complete, fully endorsed statement of principles is a sign of the expectation of open process we all expect these days."

In other words, the old model of one or two established vendors getting together with a select band of specialists to guide the drafting of industry standards in smoke-filled conference rooms has gone the way of, well, the smoke-filled conference room. That's not what people do any more. The cloud demands a more transparent, inclusive process. But you can imagine why people at IBM aren't yet fully up to speed about how much the world has changed. That old way of doing things suited the company very well, and it was a consummate player of the game. Whereas IBM doesn't have much of a feel for how to play wikis, unconferences and all the other Gen-Y paraphenalia of the wisdom of crowds.

Fortunately, I do believe it'll be a very good thing if IBM and the other established vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, Sun, Oracle and the rest don't end up owning the cloud interoperability game. I remember all too well the long standards dance around web services and SOA that several of these companies led us through in the early years of the decade (UPDATE: as does Gartner's Darryl Plummer: This has all happened before...). Look where that got us: a load of failed big SOA projects, a laundry list of useless WS-standards, and everyone has ended up using REST and POX anyway. It will be much better if cloud standards are allowed to surface organically, just as they always have on the Web.

But that's exactly what IBM is so scared of, especially as it can see Amazon's cloud API already gaining ground as a de-facto standard (UPDATE: in a perceptive analysis, Sam Johnston examines the evidence that the document is really, as Gartner's David Smith suggests, a Private Cloud Manifesto).

Early last month, Nick Carr wrote how Amazon's growing acceptance by mainstream vendors parallels what happened at the outset of the PC era when IBM anointed Microsoft as the owner of the operating system. What Nick's posting didn't go on to describe was the searing pain that still lives on in IBM's corporate psyche over how Microsoft used that endorsement to usurp IBM's erstwhile dominance (by the way, Microsoft learnt a lot too from the experience — don't imagine there isn't a fair bit of schadenfreude in its puncturing of IBM's little manifesto plot).

Now other vendors are starting to use Amazon's architecture as a reference point, with Sun the latest last week to make its cloud services compatible with Amazon APIs (was that why rumors were swirling that IBM might buy Sun?). As Dion Hinchcliffe writes, this is the beginning of a platform war of huge intensity. IBM knows Amazon has won the early battles and is desperate to fight back before it cedes too much ground. But instead of firing the shot that launches its first big push, the Open Cloud Manifesto has turned into a damp squib that has hurt IBM's standing in the cloud community.

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Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

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