Is Amazon the Official Cloud Standard?
By Ellen Rubin
The Structure 2010 show was memorable for CloudSwitch, highlighted by the launch of the commercial version of our CloudSwitch Enterprise software that lets companies easily use multiple cloud providers to run their enterprise applications. With a few clicks, users run their applications where they best fit, based on their specific business and technical criteria.
So it certainly got our attention when at the Hybrid Clouds panel, Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus Systems, made a claim that Amazon’s API should be the basis for an industry standard. Marten added that the industry should orient around Amazon’s approach much as IBM’s personal computer became the standard for the PC industry. (Generations of loyal Mac users are probably glad there was still room for alternatives!)
If there were an industry standard, Amazon certainly has a strong claim for it. They’re the clear leader, with technology second to none. They’ve made huge contributions to advance cloud computing. Their API is highly proven and widely used, their cloud is highly scalable, and they have by far the biggest traction of any cloud. So full credit to Amazon for leading the way in bringing cloud computing into the mainstream. But it’s a big leap from there to saying that Amazon should be the basis for an industry standard.
It’s clear to us that the enterprise market wants options, both to avoid being locked-in and because other cloud providers have much to offer. While Amazon delivers many great benefits, other cloud providers have differentiated based on compliance, service level agreements, dedicated environments, storage capabilities, connectivity options, and support. They’ve implemented their infrastructures and APIs around these areas of differentiation. They’re unlikely to want to adopt a general industry standard since in many ways this commoditizes what they’ve built and limits their innovation.
One of the problems with any cloud standard is that making it work is fraught with controversy and technical complexity. A cloud computing “standard” involves more than a single API or format; it includes a number of elements that together define how the cloud works. For Amazon, this includes the AMI virtual machine format, their EC2 API that defines cloud operations, as well as their storage APIs, which come in two flavors: S3 and EBS. Other clouds have their own set of APIs and formats, developed to reflect their infrastructure characteristics and needs of their target market. VMware, for example, has its vCloud API as well as its own physical machine description (VMX) and storage unit (VMDK). There’s a spectrum of technologies in play that cloud providers and enterprises would first have to agree to, and then do a lot of heavy lifting in order to comply. I have yet to see a compelling reason that would justify their time and cost.
Of course, Amazon isn’t actively promoting a standard, they’re just “doing their thing” — offering their cloud services to whoever is willing to pay for them, and continuing to innovate in the cloud. I suspect they’re content to leave well enough alone and let the market take its course, and we'll continue to see innovations in everything from billing to cloud infrastructure from them.
The irony behind this standards debate is that CloudSwitch technology makes it largely irrelevant. The days when using a cloud meant binding yourself to a provider’s proprietary architecture are over. Cloud providers can innovate for their market segments, and customers can choose the best solution without fear of lock-in. Why go backwards? CloudSwitch customers know better.