June 21, 2012

Why We're Fighting for an Open Cloud

A few months ago I announced a new Linux Foundation conference called CloudOpen built to spotlight and advance the conversation on the open projects, companies and technologies that make up cloud computing. I am pleased to announce the schedule today. In the process of recruiting speakers and sponsors, I spoke to dozens of amazing companies, both new and old, doing amazing things with the cloud. Two things became very clear to me:

1. We are in an inflection point in the industry much like where we were in 1999/2000 when the economics of the technology industry changed due to open source software.

2. Users need to be aware of this shift and fight for the freedom they gained via the open source software revolution, lest the advantages that came with it be lost.

A little more than a decade ago, enterprise software users were forced to choose a hardware/software combination for which they knew they would be locked into ever-increasing prices and restrictions. They had absolutely no control. But as Linux and open source software emerged and gained support from hardware vendors, control shifted to the user. Suddenly there were many choices for hardware provider, processor, software stack and license. Prices came down and companies -- like Google, Amazon and Facebook -- were built with commodity hardware and open source software.

Soon the earliest cloud providers – companies like Amazon, Google and Salesforce – used Linux and open source software to provide cheap infrastructure for hosting their customers’ data and apps. This eliminated the need to buy hardware, too. You could outsource everything – both the hardware and software. And, it was cheap. Companies like Instagram, Pinterest and others grew their user base and businesses without purchasing hardware or software or building large operations teams.

But during any technology shift, users can either gain or lose power, and cloud computing represents both an opportunity and a  threat. An opportunity to have more computing power, more cheaply and efficiently. But a threat to give up the freedom won by the open source software revolution. In fact, cloud computing platforms can deliver much more vendor lock in than the old client/server vendor-led worlds ever did.

But why does an open cloud matter if you are receiving great service with more power at lower prices?  

1. Technology is never done. Relying on one company to take you through this transition might be good today but users must look to the future – 5-10 years from now. We have seen with Linux that open works. Collaborative development solves more problems, more efficiently. You need open development in the cloud to solve the ever increasing complexities of computing because one company will never be able to solve all your problems.

2. Vendors will be vendors. If they can, they will raise prices. If your provider or technology stack doesn’t make it realistic to move your apps or your data, you’re held captive. You need open standards, open APIs and open participation to ensure this interoperability and to have a say in the your technology’s future. You also need it to ensure interoperability between public and private clouds.

We’ve experienced a revolution and know what can be achieved with openness and collaboration. The cloud can bring even more efficiency and innovation. This can be a virtuous circle for everyone - that addresses cost and lock-in but also ongoing technology innovation. To facilitate this cycle, we’ll need a vibrant open ecosystem to continue improving.

Let’s not forfeit 10 years of progress. Join us to keep the cloud open. You can find resources on our Fight for an Open Cloud page, with new additions weekly as we prepare for CloudOpen, to tell the world -- and your vendors -- that you want the cloud to be open. Join us in San Diego where the conversation will continue. The schedule is announced today with leaders from many of the companies, projects and stacks that are leading the open cloud. I hope to see you there.