Will it be a winner-take-all market for the cloud?

In this potential clash of the titans, the fight for open standards in the cloud market could easily fall by the wayside

Maybe it's just that there's been a ton of cloud news recently. Amazon announced its Relational Data Service based on MySQL, adding to its already significant lead with cloud-based storage and compute capabilities. Microsoft had its PDC with new announcements on Azure's availability next year. And Salesforce.com hosted a cloud conference with dozens of partners offering applications that run on Salesforce's cloud infrastructure. It seems a week doesn't go by without a multitude of cloud announcements.

After VMware announced its acquisition of SpringSource, it seemed like cloud computing would emerge as "clash of the titans" with billion-dollar players Amazon, Microsoft, VMware, and so on duking it out and leaving little room for smaller companies. Now I'm not so sure.

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In a post called "The War for the Web," Tim O'Reilly describes how Web 2.0 technologies have resulted in winner-takes-all outcomes. Google is the dominant search engine, Amazon leads in e-commerce, eBay in auctions. In open source, there's a similar phenomena with Linux having the largest share among open source operating systems, JBoss in application servers, and MySQL among Web databases.

The question O'Reilly raises is what happens when a vendor that's dominant in one space decides to leverage that power to take over an adjacent market. And will that limit customers' choice? This week, Salesforce.com announced that there are 135,000 custom applications running on its Force.com cloud platform. How much effort do you think Salesforce.com will invest in enabling those applications to run on competing platforms?

While the benefits of cloud computing are enormous in terms of reducing costs, increasing utilization, and providing scalability, there's a significant risk of lock-in. Given the early state of cloud technology, there simply aren't adequate standards to offset this. And that could provide an opportunity for other players such as Joyent, Rackspace, or Sun to provide an open cloud architecture.

In this area, O'Reilly has a surprising prediction:

Microsoft will emerge as a champion of the open web platform, supporting interoperable web services from many independent players, much as IBM emerged as the leading enterprise backer of Linux.

What do you think? Who will provide the open cloud?

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