Open, honest standards are vital to the widespread adoption of technologies, because they foster interoperability, innovation and evolution. New technologies are built on top of standards, because standards provide a stable base. Standards represents best practices and pragmatic compromises. They provide everyone – software companies and enterprise alike – with the assurance that what they build today should be usable tomorrow.
We need cloud computing standards to ensure that virtual machine images can be ported from one cloud provided to another. We need standards to make sure that applications can be migrated from the data center into the cloud – and back again. We need standards to allow enterprises to compare one cloud provider to another, and to deploy applications across multiple providers with ease. We need standards to allow a third-party ecosystem to flourish.
We need those standards. But we don’t need them yet – even though some enterprise customers (and third-party service providers) are already clamoring for them. Indeed, at IDC’s Cloud Computing Forum yesterday in San Francisco, I listened as IDC analysts pounded the cloud companies to “listen to their customers” and create standards immediately.
Bad idea! Standards, hastily enacted, can stifle innovation. Cloud computing is in an early experimental growth stage. Sure, we have some well-entrenched early success stories, such as Amazon, Google and Salesforce.com, but it would be a potential tragedy to allow the early work of three companies to be codified as standards. We need time for their cloud offerings to shake out for a few year. We need time for new players to enter the market with new technologies – and new ideas. We need time to broaden the base upon which the standards are made to go beyond commercial interests.
It’s always suboptimal when a few big companies get together to create standards, whether de facto through their market power, or de jure by browbeating a standards body. I’d love to see more work from the academic community, from open-source projects, from other organizations, before we insist that cloud companies freeze their experiments and call them standards – standards that we will have to live with for years to come.
Instead, cloud providers should open up their formats and APIs, publishing them for all to use – and then let a thousand flowers of innovation bloom without the worry of premature standardization to crush the new ideas.