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Why Microsoft should fear Ubuntu's Cloud efforts

As we try to figure out the future of the cloud, one thing is assured: developers will drive both deployment and consumption approaches. As is common to so many other major software shifts, developers lead, regardless of what vendors want the market to look like.

With the exception of Amazon and Google, neither of which are IT stalwarts, there hasn't been much to write home about from the obvious big vendors. IBM, Sun Microsystems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft have all made proclamations with only Microsoft offering much in the way of a system to test-drive, let alone deploy.

In the past Microsoft could show up late to a party and still win. That's becoming harder to do as it's forced to compete on so many fronts. Despite a vast developer army, Microsoft's efforts have been highly confusing and occasionally nonsensical. Microsoft needs developers to win in the cloud.

But Ubuntu, with legions of developers and more than 10 million users, has substantial market power to shift the Cloud into entirely different directions.

As fellow CNET blogger James Urquhart pointed out Ubuntu now has "cloud computing" inside.

* Ubuntu server will start promoting cloud computing through entirely open-source software.

* For those wishing to manage clouds, Ubuntu will apparently contain tools that leverage the Amazon APIs

* Canonical will create standard Amazon Machine Images from Karmic Koala, essentially creating "ready-to-run" appliances that will serve as "standard builds" to the Amazon community.

* The Eucalyptus project out of UC Santa Barbara will soon be included in every install package.

When I last spoke with Canonical chief Mark Shuttleworth, he mentioned that he had no interest in being a cloud provider. His take was that everyone should have the ability to choose the shape, size and vendor (including internal compute Clouds via Eucalyptus) of their Cloud efforts, and by integrating these tools into Ubuntu, he's helped to take that first step.

Much the way Amazon has become the default standard for Cloud deployment, Ubuntu's approach could very easily become the de facto developer standard. Odds are that vendors who favor open approaches--IBM, Dell, Sun will be amenable to this, but it's hard to see Microsoft or ultra-conservative companies like SAP hop on board. Of course, if they don't they could easily miss the ride.

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