NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- We like to think of cloud technology as being open source, but most of it is proprietary. Amazon.com ( AMZN) Web Services is proprietary. The Google ( GOOG) Compute Engine is, too. Microsoft's ( MSFT) Azure was optimized for Windows. Salesforce.com ( CRM) runs on Oracle ( ORCL). Until this week, open source was a small rebel band fighting several death stars in the cloud. Then, as AllThingsD reported, IBM ( IBM) stepped in. IBM's support of OpenStack, an open source cloud infrastructure originally designed at NASA, was not unexpected. The company has been a big sponsor of the OpenStack Foundation for almost a year. Red Hat ( RHT), the Linux vendor that IBM has been close to for a decade, is now the second-largest committer of code to OpenStack. And, as GigaOM notes, Big Blue is still going about this the old IBM way, with a "customer council" and its own set of deliverables aimed at locking up as much of the private OpenStack market as possible. But for open source, open standards and (most important) open competition this is a very big deal. IBM won't be controlling the next evolution in computing and, perhaps, neither will anyone else. The other cloud giants will now adapt to a world where OpenStack, and open source, is a major player. They will interoperate with open source, as Amazon allows Eucalyptus, an open source but AWS-compatible cloud, to interoperate. As Google Compute Engine interoperates with Puppet Labs' open source code. As Microsoft Azure supports open source. No cloud will be an island. This will allow companies such as Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) and Dell ( DELL), which are building their own cloud networks based on OpenStack, to survive in a cloud-based world. It will force Oracle and Salesforce.Com to interoperate with other clouds. It will restore some of the luster Rackspace ( RAX), the original corporate sponsor of OpenStack, has lost to its Amazon price war. Just as important, IBM's announcement means enterprises and governments will be able to build their own private clouds knowing they have interoperability across the industry. Amazon's aggressive pricing has delayed the day of the private cloud, or a hybrid cloud that goes back-and-forth between public and private resources, but IBM is now committing itself to seeing that day, so planners can now plan for it.
Gartner Group estimates the public cloud market for 2013 at $131 billion, and, combined with the private clouds, hybrid clouds, and cloud applications emerging from all this, we're talking about a multitrillion-dollar opportunity. This was not a big story in the wider world, or even among investors, who seem much more interested in the fate of J.C. Penney's ( JCP) Rob Johnson or Pershing Capital's Bill Ackman than in some technology announcement. People like to read about people. Technology is boring by comparison. But for someone who has covered computing his whole working life, and studied the history of computing from its beginnings, this is a very big deal. IBM built the very first computer monopoly with its mainframe business and played the "great game" of control over base technology for half my life, until a "kid with a clue" named Bill Gates outmaneuvered it. The company has now spent two decades rebuilding itself as a force in services, in support, in the behind-the-scenes grunt work that turns computing into business value, and cloud was its chance to get back into the game, to take control. That IBM chose cooperation, and assured that interoperability at least will remain the norm as cloud technology moves forward, is an historic turning point. Bullish for IBM, yes. But bullish for many others as well. At the time of publication, the author was long IBM, RHT and GOOG. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.