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Cloud Control: Customers versus Vendors

New Associations Differ in Approach and Likely Outcome

Cloud computing associations are popping up all over.  Earlier this month it was the Open Data Center Alliance, which, despite its name, aims to play a role in shaping the future of cloud computing.  Then, this week we saw the launch of the Asian Cloud Computing Association, which, despite its name, could have an impact on cloud computing around the world.

These two organizations differ most in terms of who each thinks should direct the evolution of cloud computing.  The Open Data Center Alliance is all about customers using their collective buying power to influence vendors, while the Asia Cloud Computing Association is all about vendors using their collective innovation to entice customers.  The customer versus vendor polarity of technology markets has been always with us, but perhaps never as strongly as it is with cloud computing.

As I discussed in my article on the debut of the Open Data Center Alliance, it is a customer-dominated group that aims to pool the $50b/year that represents the collective IT buying power of its members to assert a new measure of control over technology product and service vendors.  They describe themselves as "vendor-agnostic," implying a shared lack of faith or belief in any particular vendors, and they invite membership applications from companies who are "unencumbered by vendor interests."  The most accurate term might have been "vendor-neutered."

There is something decidedly defensive, maybe even obdurate, about this group's tone and language where vendors are concerned.  They seem to want vendors' offerings to be standardized, interchangeable solutions, differentiated more by price/performance than by functionality - the very definition of non-strategic technology.  And, they want vendor innovation to fall within those parameters.

One of the primary goals of the Open Data Center Alliance is to "Influence industry innovation focus with a collective membership commitment to utilize the Alliance's Usage Model Roadmap to drive purchasing decisions of data center solutions."  (The italic type and the implied chagrin are mine.)

I feel for them, I really do.  But, they should hate the players, not the game.  Predatory practices and pricing have always been far too commonplace among leading proprietary technology vendors, and I can appreciate this group's desire to change that.  However, necessity, not buying power, is still the mother of invention.  Buying power gets you Costco and Wal-Mart, not Apple and Oracle.  Innovation is, to some degree, intrinsically Faustian.  The alliance's solidarity could possibly force lower prices and higher interoperability from the vendors, but standardized innovation?  That sounds like a specious oxymoron and not a good foundation for cloud computing's future.

Now, let's zip to the other end of the spectrum where we find the new Asia Cloud Computing Association, a.k.a. Asia Cloud.

The Open Data Center Alliance is an organization founded and almost entirely populated by customers that seeks to recruit other customers and to assert requirement for the future of cloud computing to vendors around the world.  In stark contrast, Asia Cloud is an organization founded by vendors that is seeking to recruit other vendors, plus customers, policy makers, and researchers, to collaborate and agree on requirements for the future of cloud computing in Asia.  As such they represent two very different approaches to the same abstract goal of defining the to-be cloud.

Let's take a look at the vendor-driven approach of Asia Cloud and see where that might lead.

First, Asia Cloud was not founded by a cozy club of symbiotic companies - far from it.  Its charter members are Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, EMC, Microsoft, NetApp, Nokia Siemens Networks, Rackspace, Verizon, REACH (Asian satellite and voice services provider), SMART (Philippine telco), and Telenor Group (multinational mobile operator).   Asia Cloud aims to be vendor-neutral by including, rather than excluding as many vendors as possible.

Asia Cloud call itself a "collaborative forum" that combines the expertise of these and other vendors with that of customers, policy makers, and researchers to "accelerate the growth of the cloud market regionally by helping remove obstacles and leveraging opportunities" and by addressing "privacy and security concerns, compliance and regulatory mandates, licensing models, service levels, and other market risks."

Further, Asia Cloud intends to collaborate with other industry associations through an Alliances Committee and to conduct outreach and education campaigns through a Marketing Committee.

Internally, Asia Cloud is organizing a set of working groups which they describe like this:

  • Public Policy and Regulatory Working Group: will work to ensure that the interests of the cloud computing industry are represented and to contribute to public policy.
  • Security Working Group: to develop and promote cloud-friendly security governance and best practices to enterprises and policymakers.
  • Taxonomy Working Group: to support standardization and to develop a cloud computing framework.
  • Carrier-Grade Cloud Group: to identify and promote requirements for cloud computing solutions for carrier-grade applications.

This organizational scheme is not very different from that of the Open Data Center Alliance, which has a similar set of working groups, but the tone of their mission statements differ considerably.

The ODCA sees itself as a tribe of CIOs and data center managers, "creating a vendor-agnostic Usage Model Roadmap to guide us as we define open, interoperable, standards-based solutions to provide our businesses with greater efficiency, reduced costs, less complexity, increased flexibility, more choice and faster time to market."

Contrast their insular defensiveness with the expansive inclusiveness of this portion of Asia Cloud's mission statement.

"To establish collaboration among cloud stakeholders in Asia to accelerate the growth of the cloud market by:

  • Providing a platform for the members to discuss implementation and growth strategies, share ideas, establish policies and best practices relating to the cloud computing ecosystem;
  • Ensuring that the interests of the cloud computing community are effectively represented in the public policy debate;
  • Working with other societies and organizations that have similar interests and goals to Asia Cloud;
  • Promoting the common interests and benefits of the Members."

Where the ODCA seems to be massing to fight a zero-sum game with vendors, Asia Cloud seems to be focused on creating a win-win situation for everyone.  I'm betting the latter approach goes further faster and to the greater benefit of the largest number of organizations.

More Stories By Tim Negris

Tim Negris is SVP, Marketing & Sales at Yottamine Analytics, a pioneering Big Data machine learning software company. He occasionally authors software industry news analysis and insights on Ulitzer.com, is a 25-year technology industry veteran with expertise in software development, database, networking, social media, cloud computing, mobile apps, analytics, and other enabling technologies.

He is recognized for ability to rapidly translate complex technical information and concepts into compelling, actionable knowledge. He is also widely credited with coining the term and co-developing the concept of the “Thin Client” computing model while working for Larry Ellison in the early days of Oracle.

Tim has also held a variety of executive and consulting roles in a numerous start-ups, and several established companies, including Sybase, Oracle, HP, Dell, and IBM. He is a frequent contributor to a number of publications and sites, focusing on technologies and their applications, and has written a number of advanced software applications for social media, video streaming, and music education.

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