Andy Oram posted this solid piece last week after attending the VMWorld conference. For the meat of it, he spoke with William Shelton, Director of Cloud Computing and Virtual Appliances at VMware. From their conversation it is clear VMWare is moving to help support a more open market for platforms supporting applications in the cloud. This answers some of the points David Young of Joyent posed back in May with which I happen to agree.
Cloud computing not only begs for freedom for end users as laid out in the Franklin St. Statment. Application providers taking advantage of platform providers also require freedom to move as needed, for reasons of better stability or lower cost. That ability to vote with their feet and wallets will create a strong driver for platform providers to improve and innovate, as VMWare seems to be attempting here. Anything less allows platform providers to stagnate and ossify, resting on the relatively security of lock in.
There is a great counter intuition here that arises over and over when dealing with the software that is free as in speech.
It may seem like non-free software raises significant enough friction for users and customers to move away that they will not. Up to a point, I guess this is true but that point is not so far out that a business model should be built relying on that friction. In contrast, using free software, in the cloud or anywhere else, seems to invite a world where customers roam constantly, availing themselves of their freedom in a way that is completely bereft of any kind of loyalty. That isn’t any more realistic than lock in alone as a long term business strategy.
No matter how strong your lock in with a customer, if you treat them poorly, eventually they will revolt and find an alternative. Count on it. And no matter how free to move on a customer may be, if you serve them well, they will reward you with loyalty and good will.
See the common denominator? To paraphrase (and slightly twist) Ranum’s Second Law, technology alone cannot solve business problems. I guess part of what fascinates me here is how often this tension between true innovation and using extra market forces to clamp down customers plays out and in how many different spaces.