10 years ago:

Overall, Wardley called for a more open means of moving information between large, computing services providers. A broad list of companies, including Sun, IBM, Ning, and Amazon.com, offer up various forms of utility computing services where you can use the companies’ server and storage infrastructure to run your own applications or calculations. This is kind of the next wave beyond hosting providers and companies such as Salesforce.com that host particular applications.

Hardware vendors have talked for a long while about computing following the electricity industry, creating a type of grid that consumers and companies can plug into with ease. This vision remains rather far off, although Amazon.com and the like are making strides.

From Ashlee Vance, of course, 2007.

And, then, Wardly with some analysis in 2010:

The system was going to be GPLv3’d precisely because of the “SaaS” loophole. The intention was to allow multiple providers to make operational improvements to the code base for reasons of service competition whilst ensuring portability through a separately established assurance authority with a trademarked compliance stamp. As part of this, an exchange was to be established.

The use of open source, extensive APIs (covering management, development and monitoring), all objects and code freely portable and an assurance authority was specifically designed to create a competitive marketplace.

Everything was looking good. Zimki was backed by a well resourced company, Fotango, for which I was the acting CEO. We’d recorded 16 highly profitable quarters, had significant cash reserves and were ready to take on this market. Unfortunately, the parent company Canon had reasonably decided that this utility computing world was not core to its objectives and it had a different focus. The consequence of this was that Zimki was never open sourced, the service was terminated and the company outsourced.

Had Canon taken another path then it could well have become one of the largest cloud providers in today’s market, rivaling those of later entrants such as Google (with AppEngine), Microsoft (with Azure) and more recently VMForce. But that’s innovation for you, it’s a gamble and outcomes are uncertain. Bizarrely, the termination of Zimki reinforced the importance of portability and a choice of providers in the PaaS space.

Probably the most important lesson learned from Zimki was that lock-in can be created in multiple forms, including lack of access to code & data, high exit costs, additional services and management tools. The only viable way of preventing this and creating a marketplace with competition in service provision, is if the entire service is open sourced and built with the ideas of portability from the beginning.

All of this is good background reading for his mapping work as it’s the core use case. Notably, he strips out all these names (esp. Canon) from his retelling. Or, at least, mentions them rarely enough that I didn’t know them.