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IBM's Cloud CTO On Microsoft Azure: How Open Is It Going To Be?

Microsoft is having a hard time convincing skeptics that its Azure cloud services will support non .NET languages.

Consider a presentation given at this week's Cloud Computing Expo in New York by Yousef Khalidi, a distinguished engineer for Microsoft's cloud infrastructure services. Khalidi emphasized that its forthcoming Azure cloud platform will support both native and managed code, and not just .NET including Java, Ruby and PHP.

"I'm sitting here telling you, you can run anything you want on this platform," Khalidi insisted during a session Monday in response to a question by an attendee about Microsoft's support for different languages on its Azure Services Platform. The attendee seemed taken aback by that.

Kristof Kloeckner, CTO of enterprise initiatives and VP of cloud computing at IBM heard Khalidi's presentation and told me he liked what he heard but said he too has his doubts.

"I think the real question is going to be around how open is it going to be? What role are ecosystem partners going to play in Microsoft's environment? Certainly what I heard in the presentation that they want to support multiple languages makes sense. Whether that means a greater openness, I don't know. Let's just wait and see what they come up with."

Certainly Kloeckner can't be blamed for his skepticism. But it also underscores the fact that providers see a lot at stake and will use the interoperability card to jockey for position.

Kloeckner talked up the Open Cloud Manifesto, the controversial position statement signed by 70 providers ranging from startups to large organizations including Cisco, the Eclipse Foundation, EMC, IBM, the Open Group, and Sun Microsystems. But when key signatures in the cloud ecosystem were notably absent on that document -- Amazon, Google, Microsoft and -- the worthiness of the effort fell into question.

I talked with numerous attendees at the conference, both those who signed it and those who held off. All agreed interoperability is an important end goal but pointed out it is still quite early in the game.

"This manifesto is a work in progress, it's a draft. As a set of goals, I don't think anyone can disagree with it; as a prescription for achieving them, I think there's a lot of discussion still to take place," said Peter Coffee,'s director of platform research."

"Generally speaking, I think it's too early in the game to be talking about standardization; open source has really changed the way standards evolve," said Ian Murdock, Sun Microsystems' vice president of emerging platforms.

"I think we are still grappling at what levels do we need standards, what do they need to describe and what does it need to contain," added Thorsten von Eicken, CTO of RightScale Inc., a leading provider of cloud provisioning and administration software.

"What we believe strongly in is start with de facto standards, things that work with interfaces that exist where there is customer momentum, and then build from there, as opposed to with some committee approach out of thin air, where everyone tries to come up with the end-all-be-all."

For its part, Microsoft is pushing ahead. The company today opened access to those who want to test its SQL Data Services and other components of the Azure platform, according to the Azure Journal (until now an invitation was required). Developers can now sign up on the Azure Services Platform portal.

So is the skepticism about Microsoft well-earned or do you think the company is blazing a new path to openness with its cloud services? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2009 at 1:15 PM

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