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May '11 Microsoft Interoperability Council meeting report

Andy Hopkirk reports from the May meeting of the Microsoft Interoperability Executive Customer Council (IEC)

May’s Council was very much focused on cloud-related matters and interoperability, the impact of consumerisation of IT and the every growing diversity of end-user client devices, the state of play with HTML5 standards development and implementations in browsers, and an update of work going on in open source community engagement and behind the scenes in the IEC work stream on cloud use-case scenarios (an interesting white paper coming soon, I expect).

Microsoft’s general strategy in the cloud arena can be very briefly summarised as providing a great software platform and great systems management tools whether you’re open source or Microsoft-flavour oriented, or both. It’s not a bad strategy at all, and one not a million miles away from the developer and end-user utility focus that made the IBM-PC ecosystem so ubiquitous and Microsoft the company it is today.

HTML 5 standards development and their implementation in browser technologies will be an interesting space to watch. It’s not one standard, it’s a large bundle of standards, thereby begging questions about when it’s possible to ever say ‘It’s done’? That opened up a potentially significant practical and policy discussion about how to live with the ever growing rate of innovation that’s creating effectively inherent standards specification instability – i.e. how can you ever build/ use/ integrate/ interoperate ‘completed’ products on such shifting sands? I’m thinking one answer perhaps is going to be found in achieving a series of working consensuses between the many players in the marketplace (supply-side and end-user) about what is ‘stable (reliable)’ and what is ‘changing (not reliable)’ at any given moment? That puts a premium on open channels of communications such as the IEC.

Microsoft’s new Sr. Director for Open Source Communities, Gianugo Rabellino, is already facing another consensus building challenge. He set out his twin tasks of engaging inwards towards Microsoft’s product and service groups and outwards towards open source communities interested in working with/ on Microsoft technologies. His objective is essentially to get them better understanding each other’s perspectives and technical capabilities, so opening both up to working together where there’s mutual benefit in doing so, e.g. on interoperability challenges led by end-user demands articulated at such as the IEC.

We heard about some really interesting work going on in Germany…

The Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems in Berlin (FOKUS, ) is pioneering a novel approach to realising what I’d call ‘effective security by obscurity’. The new trick is bit level shredding and later reassembly of data. This opens up scenarios involving distributed cloud storage of the ‘shreds’, making a virtue of there being multiple cloud storage services (even relatively insecure public ones) none of which stores all of the parts necessary to reconstruct the whole data. Neat. They’re also exploring and working towards demonstrating a number of public sector oriented cloud use-cases utilising both Microsoft and open source cloud platform stacks, e.g. such as Open Data and (public + private) hybrid clouds in an eGovernment Cloud Mashup.

NCC members in central/ local government and in large commercial enterprises who are thinking about future Shared Services centres should have a look at what Dataport ( ) is doing now out of Bremen in northern Germany. Its grown quickly to be a big operation - £250 million and 1600 staff in 2010. It’s a full-service provider of central IT-infrastructure, 100’s of line of business applications and voice / data communications. Its mission is “providing best value for money and sustainability through crossborder cooperations”. The borders in question are those between 5 German regional states with different governments, budgets and political agendas, but all wanting high security and high availability applications for their police, justice, tax and revenue departments and more. Dataport’s looking at sophisticated interoperability-designed cloud/ datacentre-based platforms and application solutions to help meet two key strategic business development goals: (i) consolidation, centralisation and delivery automation of infrastructure services and (ii) a systems infrastructure and applications architecture suited for Shared Services that also meets Germany’s Federal Guidelines for IT security and privacy. Sounds familiar?

The full agenda can only be briefly alluded to here. The IEC is Microsoft ‘taking council’ from its customers at a strategic level. If there’s a strategic interoperability issue that’s bugging you now, or you see looming in the future, let me know about it and maybe we can do something about it via the IEC channel – The next IEC meeting is in October 2011.



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