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Clouds are amorphous. They don't have well-defined boundaries. So it is with cloud computing, though that didn't stop a few leading cloud computing vendors from trying to nail the concept down.
On Tuesday at the Web 2.0 Summit, O'Reilly Media founder and conference co-chair Tim O'Reilly plumbed the depths of the cloud with Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, and Andy Jassy, senior VP of Amazon Web Services and Amazon Infrastructure.
It was a group of cloud believers, which explains Benioff's repeated use of the word "sacred" to describe cloud computing. "This is about democratization," said Benioff. "We make hardware and software too expensive."
O'Reilly was more concerned with the profane than the sacred, with the perils of lock-in. Where are we in the shift toward an Internet operating system, he asked, and who's going to control it?
Maritz suggested the battle over points of control -- the theme of this year's Web 2.0 Summit -- is a passing phase, something that the industry will grow out of, as it grew out of the 1960s notion that if you wrote code for IBM you had to use IBM hardware.
Jassy insisted the battle has already been decided, at least at Amazon Web Services. "When we started AWS, we heard very loudly from developers that they did not want to be locked in," he said. "...It's trivially easy to move away from our services if customers are not happy. We want to earn that business every day, every month."
O'Reilly observed that when someone develops a salesforce.com app, he or she is not going to be running it elsewhere. Benioff responded that customers have different needs and goals, and that not all software is the same. Nonetheless, he maintained the the cloud gives developers a choice of what they write in and where the code executes.
"Cloud computing to me is something that's democratic," said Benioff. Then he described Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, as the prophet of a false cloud for selling expensive hardware and promoting a vertical computing stack. He quoted Amazon CTO Werner Vogels as having said that if it's about more hardware, it's not about the cloud.
O'Reilly wondered if that means the hardware market will shrink. Maritz hedged, noting that while the cloud allows people to get more done with less infrastructure, democratization and greater efficiency could stimulate demand. Jassy took a stronger stand, insisting that the cloud will empower more startups and more innovation, leading to greater hardware demand.
Benioff insisted that everyone is moving to the cloud, just that there are some outliers. And echoing Martiz's obsevations, he dismissed the concept of points of control that served as the organizing theme of the conference.
"I don't believe in the points of control metaphor for this industry," he said, characterizing industry gate-keeping as transient. "I think it's post traumatic stress disorder from Microsoft."