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Simon Phipps

With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

The Open Cloud Initiative

Will the new Open Cloud Initiative be able to unite the software freedom community behind its move to define a freedom-loving cloud?

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Yesterday saw the launch of the Open Cloud Initiative here at OSCON in Portland. It has the potential to steer the evolution of cloud computing just as the Open Source Initiative did. With every cloud provider today either using centralised service or proprietary software as a way to lock in customers, this is extremely timely.

I've been rather quiet on ComputerWorldUK the last week, mainly because of the huge distraction of getting to and then participating in the raft of events happening in Portland, Oregon this week around O'Reilly Media's Open Source Convention, OSCON. At the weekend I attended the third instance of the Community Leadership Summit, followed at the start of this week by a variety of smaller meetings catalysed by the critical mass of open source luminaries present in the city.

Last night, a group of people I know pretty well decided it was time to launch a new initiative
"To find a balance between cloud computing users and providers by deriving a community consensus “Open Cloud” definition and advocating its universal adoption".
Their new non-profit is called the Open Cloud Initiative, in homage to the Open Source Initiative (where I am a Director) and the role it has played over the last decade providing the pragmatic vision that has allowed the philosophical and ethical vision of software freedom pioneered by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation to become one of the driving axles of technology today. With word circulating OSCON that the OpenStack project is facing a future under the sole control of RackSpace because of their failure to entrust the project into community hands, this is a timely and important move.

In discussion with one of its founders, former Microsoft open source leader Sam Ramji, he explained the link was even closer than just a nod to the name of OSI. The Open Cloud Initiative aims to reinterpret the principles of software freedom for a new generation of computing, just as OSI did back at the end of the 90s. The mechanisms of source distribution that allow open source licenses to leverage copyright law are largely absent in cloud computing, so OCI aims to  "develop and maintain a set of open cloud principles by way of an open community consensus process" as well as to "Persuade organizations and vendors to comply with the open cloud principles".

Exactly how they will do this last part will be the most interesting part. OCI has been founded for the most part by people I'd consider to be from the BSD-ish end of the software freedom spectrum, and just as OSI was adrift from the FSF for many of its early years becuase of a similar weighting among its founders so OCI risks failing to gain strong support from the open culture movements. They need to also embrace the ideals of those seeking to be prescriptive about software freedom in the cloud, represented for example by the originators of the GNU Affero GPL variant (AGPL).

It's way, way too early on launch day to tell whether they will succeed in their mission, but personally I welcome the new Initiative and wish it every success as it seeks to rescue us from a future where cloud computing means closed computing.

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