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Chipzilla: Standards void threatens cloud future

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Structure 2010 Chipzilla is sweating. Intel is worried that without software standards, cloud computing could hit the buffers and curtail the serious amounts of money it stands to make.

Intel high-density computing group chief Jason Waxman told Structure 2010 on Thursday that without common agreement on security, management, data federation, and multi-tenancy, there will be API and platform lock-in.

This will scare customers and block new service providers from joining the game, he told the conference in San Francisco, California. Waxman appealed to others to work with him on standards to forestall this coming cloud apocalypse. He even handed out his email address, so here it is: first name dot second name at Intel dot com.

"Many customers especially those building private clouds are sitting on the side lines because they are worried about vendor lock in," Waxman said.

"With brokers, it then becomes a case of moving from becoming locked into a cloud API into a cloud vendor. Having more standards will bring more vendors into the market."

All of which could put a serious hole in Intel's overall business and Waxman's in particular: Waxman's focus is blade servers, internet datacenters, and the technology that will be used in dense data center architectures of the future.

The ministry of silly numbers last month reckoned Intel – with other server makers – will profit handsomely from cloud computing. IDC claimed revenue from sales of servers for cloud computing will hit $12bn by 2014. Of this, it will be the "private" cloud – server infrastructures owned and operated by customers – that will dominate and grow fastest, up 62 per cent to $11.8bn. Public clouds, run by service providers, will grow a modest 23 per cent to $718m.

No wonder Waxman is concerned over the lack of vendors coming into the market – service providers have more budget than users and would be impelled by paranoia over Amazon's success into buying larger amounts of Intel-based servers to catch up.

Software vendors, though, are in no hurry to help or move things along. Representatives of Microsoft, the world's largest software company rolling out its own cloud, and Oracle – the arms dealer ready to sell the technology but unwilling to fight – indicated both are ready to press on regardless of lock in and let standards catch up down the road if they can.

Microsoft's distinguished engineer Yousef Khalidi said during a Structure panel: "We believe standardization will catch up, although it's early days yet." For Khalidi, it's more important the APIs are "well documented" – a classic Microsoft fallback that puts the onus on you to wade through pages of Microsoft literature if you care about systems working together.

Oracle's senior director of product marketing Michael Piech – in charge of WebLogic Server tools and Java at Oracle and also a former a BEA Systems senior director of product marketing – said that be believed standardization would "creep up the stack".

Big vendors have historically enjoyed a somewhat relaxed attitude to standards. While participating in standards bodies, they've push their products ahead of relevant standards actually being completed updating product later. This happened on web services and in service oriented architectures.

On the cloud, the last thing Microsoft, Oracle, or any other big cloud provider or enabler want are standards that let developers move their applications or data from one service provider to another just because they don't like niggling things like service outages or price hikes.

And, with private and public clouds expected to expand anyway, the companies have no incentive to push for standards as it'll be their software that's used regardless.

Support for standards depends on where you're sitting. Byron Sebastian, chief executive of Ruby-on-Rails host Heroku that runs on top of Amazon's EC2, called lock in "bad" for developers. Sebastian is a former vice president and general manager of BEA's tools business WebLogic Workshop who joined BEA when it acquired his then-start up Crossgain.

"We don't feel like Heroku has the right to tell you where you should run your application... we think cloud will push the industry further towards open standards, APIs and programming languages and we intend to be part of that," said Sebastian also on the panel.

Neutral third party RackSpace, a provider of web an application hosting, supported standards for the ability to more applications. RackSpace president and cloud chief strategy officer Lew Moorman said standards and portability reduced the risks for customers committing to the cloud. "It's just too big of a bet," Moorman said of such services minus standards.

Maybe hardware's the better devil to know, and it's time to drop Waxman a line. ®

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