In an open letter of sorts, Red Hat is warning U.S. policy makers and government leaders about so-called cloud lock-in -- the use of proprietary APIs (application programming interfaces) and other techniques to keep customers from switching cloud providers. The open letter, in the form of a blog entry from Red Hat VP Mark Bohannon, contains thinly veiled criticism of Microsoft and other companies that are launching their own public clouds.

Bohannon penned the blog to recap a new TechAmerica report, which seeks to promote policies that accelerate cloud computing's adoption. The blog is mostly upbeat and optimistic about cloud computing. But Bohannon also mentions some "strong headwinds" against cloud computing -- including:
"steps by vendors to lock in their customers to particular cloud architecture and non-portable solutions, and heavy reliance on proprietary APIs.  Lock-in drives costs higher and undermines the savings that can be achieved through technical efficiency.  If not carefully managed, we risk taking steps backwards, even going toward replicating the 1980s, where users were heavily tied technologically and financially into one IT framework and were stuck there."

Microsoft Revisited


By pointing to the 1980s, Bohannon is either referring to (A) old proprietary mainframes, (B) proprietary minicomputers or (C) the rise of DOS and then Microsoft Windows. My bet is C, since Red Hat back in 2009 warned its own customers and partners about potential lock-in to Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud for platform as a service (PaaS).

For its part, Microsoft has previously stated that Windows Azure supports a range of software development standards, including Java and Ruby on Rails.

Still, Bohannon reinforces his point by pointing government officials to open cloud efforts like the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA); Red Hat's own OpenShift PaaS effort; and Red Hat's CloudForms for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

Concluded Bohannon: "The greatest challenge is to make sure that with the cloud, choice grows rather than shrinks.  This effort will be successful so long as users are kept first in order of priority, and remain in charge."

I understand Bohannon's concern about cloud lock-in. But I'm not ready to sound the alarm over Windows Azure. Plenty of proprietary software companies and channel partners are shifting applications into the Azure cloud. We'll continue to check in with partners to measure the challenges and dividends.