On February 23rd, Infoworld blogger and cloud expert David Linthicum posted an article that, until today, I had been studiously trying to prevent from playing over and over like the proverbial stuck record in my rather inquisitive mind.
My inquisition, and subsequently my inability to let this escape my attention, was not necessarily raised the screaming headline “Yahoo’s open source IaaS could up the ante in cloud services” (which in itself takes a couple of minutes to sink in – you can’t mean that Yahoo! surely ?) but more by a section toward the end of the short copy that offers this rather mind-bending punch line:
What really matters is not that there’s a new open source cloud computing software stack but that Yahoo is providing its cloud computing software stack as open source software. This may change the expectations you have for the larger providers, such as Amazon.com and Google. And it could push them to open-source their engines.
I read the last sentence of that excerpt time and time again. Confused, I read on:
The core value to Yahoo’s move is one of protection. If you deploy your infrastructure via IaaS, you’re putting some of your IT infrastructure at risk. The cloud provider could go out of business, be mean to you and make you leave, or just become too costly. By having an open source stack as an option, some of that risk goes away, and cloud computing becomes an easier sell within the enterprise or government agency.
It’s a valid point and one not lost on many people. But there is open source as a liberal concept and then there is open source as a product reality. For Yahoo! open sourcing the project is a smart move, even if it smacks a little bit of a spent force’s desperation play. It’s especially smart as they are so far behind and so late to an already crowded market, that it wise to make as minimal investment as possible and then rely on a good old “community spirit” to pitch in and help. But, seriously, are we going to see anything that is so innovative, so earth-shatteringly different that it forces the established leaders, the bleeding edge innovators and those with handsome revenue streams to throw their hands up in collective disbelief and pitch all their years of hard work and future planning into the open source community as they finally acknowledge that vendor lock in is the root of all evil and that Yahoo! has created the cloud platform equivalent of USB such that they should repent and replatform ?
Let me check. <runs small program>. Computer says “no”.
Why on earth would Amazon, who continues to be wildly and unimaginably innovative, and who today took another massive step towards smashing down the few remaining barriers of complexity with the announcement of the CloudFormation product, change direction or strategy and be forced to open source their platform ? Can you imagine it ? AWS is still relatively enterprise unfriendly, but that is changing at pace. I believe we are at the beginning of a new wave of innovation that will continue to attract customers, large and small, and that, of course, means more $$$ in revenue. Easy life.
I am not sure that Amazon have ever publicly stated their adoption or otherwise of an open source mentality, let alone a strategy, but if I were in charge of AWS, would I be worried ? Absolutely not. I would march on regardless, irrespective of the cries of foul from those who believe that the AWS platform is destined to keep customers locked in and remorselessly slay those smaller tech startups who once proudly peddled their wares atop the elastic beast ? There are just too many good things about the way they are doing what they are doing to let a little thing like vendor lock in spoil the fun.
There have been many questions asked of AWS before around the availability of their platform for powering private clouds. I wrote about my experience of that very question here. It would be a fantastic option for enterprises, but I am afraid that there is just far too much complexity, much more than you or I could ever realize and the way that complexity is masked from the everyday AWS user is an amazing testament to how much effort goes in to their innovation.
Love them or hate them, AWS are undeniably the public cloud provider that everyone wants to be. They are the success story of this phase of the cloud generation and they are the deserved kings of the castle. In the fullness of time, AWS may well face the classic Innovator’s Dilemma, but it is hard to imagine that they will be toppled by an open source effort led by a company famous for….well, not much anymore.
Let’s see if I am right or wrong.