IBM Cloud Computing Reference Architecture 3.0 – Why does it matter?

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smartcloud logoWhat is CCRA?

IT architects are continuously challenged to rapidly deliver reliable, scalable and economical cloud solutions for varying business requirements. Reference Architectures are a proven means to provide a blueprint for rapid solutions design. The IBM Cloud Computing Reference Architecture (CCRA) is an endeavor wherein IBM has distilled experiences from cloud engagements and experts across the globe into best practices, formalized through a common services method framework.

A brief history

Initially, the CCRA focused on the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) layer and the decomposition of its cloud management layer into the Business Support Services (BSS) and Operations Support Services (OSS) components. This was done to be able to scope client solutions properly. Subsequently, with each version the CCRA was extended both in terms of depth and breadth. It is now drilled down to the physical level with concrete product recommendations and includes layers beyond IaaS.

From the expert

I interviewed Dr. Stefan Pappe, IBM Fellow, CCRA Overall Co-Lead and the leader of the Specialty Service Area (SSA) for Cloud Services in IBM’s Global Technology Services. Stefan and his team have been a driving force behind CCRA for several years.

Q1: What are the distinguishing features of CCRA 3.0?

We collaborated with our colleagues who deployed CCRA and who gave us very valuable feedback and based on that we made several enhancements.

We have now a consistent story and asset alignment from sales to delivery. We started with the marketing and sales messages, which are structured in the well known four adoption patterns, which are: Cloud Enabled Data Center, Platform Services, Cloud Service Provider pattern and finally the SaaS pattern.

We aligned our technical deliverables directly to these sales and client adoption patterns, acknowledging the fact that cloud is not a technology play only, but very much a transformation of our clients, which we need to start with a consultative discussion. With this new structure we now have the opportunity to stay in the same train of thought, from pre-sales to post-sales. We also created a “quick pack” together with IBM Education to address FAQs of our sellers and make them comfortable with using the RA. We also started a series of IBM Redguides to promote the IBM way for implementing clouds.

Another effort we made was to improve the consumability of the RA. We drilled down to concrete integration sub-patterns with concrete product and interface recommendations, to remove ambiguities and to introduce a high level of prescriptiveness. We also called out where a specific integration point and interface is already hardened and available as an asset and where there needs to be additional field work within the individual projects. We use these explicitly called out interfaces to drive requirements into the teams across the brands to help us to harden the open integration points and support with assets over time.

Q2: What are the benefits of CCRA for clients considering IBM for cloud infrastructure solutions?

For our clients, the RA is a proven means to guide and govern implementation and ongoing maintenance in their cloud projects. It offers a blueprint on how to build a cloud, with canned best practices and lessons learned from our past IBM projects and consists of work products, formally describing different architecture levels.

For an integrator, such as IBM’s Global Services engaging with a client, it‘s a means to transfer skills from our cloud experts to client experts. The client is ensured that IBM as a component provider uses the RA as an internal standard, all architects and developers adhere to. And lastly, for client projects the RA can also be internal governance means, to ensure that all business units within a client adhere to a well-defined standard cloud approach.

Q3: One of the key inhibitors of cloud adoption is security. How does CCRA 3.0 bolster client confidence?

Yes, security is among the most discussed items in cloud. The RA security team supplied a lot of new content and worked hard on the next version of the RA. From a client perspective, there are certain new threats coming through a shared infrastructure, which cloud providers tries to minimize. These can be addressed in client discussions, by reusing the RA material on security, on a very concrete component by component level, to identify and scope the risks and discuss the relevance for a particular client workload.

In addition, there is sometime also a more of a soft-factor discussion, resulting from the expected loss of control, when clients go from an in-house to service provider model. They lose some of their architectural control by the need (and the opportunity) to adhere to the cloud standard, in areas like infrastructure selection and loss of selecting and controlling operational procedures. This is something beyond security, but regularly thought about in the security context. Here the IBM SO Delivery can help to discuss our standards and procedures to gain trust with a client.

Q4: How does CCRA 3.0 compare with other industry RA? 

There are various reference architectures out there in the market — varying in level of detail, the audience they’re addressing and the cloud deployment models they focus on.  There are reference architectures which are on a very high level (almost marketing) level of abstraction. This addresses the CIO level and higher.  There are other reference architectures, focusing on very low-level technical details on how to configure devices and software in the best way. There are reference architectures that focus on a solution architect audience, but with a focus on IaaS-centric private clouds.  Many reference architectures focus on one particular deployment model.

The IBM reference architecture primarily addresses CIOs and solution architects who need to define and build cloud implementations consisting out of multiple capabilities and products, which need to be integrated to address the customer needs.

Q5: What is your vision for the next release of CCRA?

This is more of a plan in execution, as opposed to a vision, since we started to work on the next RA version already. We strive to:

  • Close the integration and interface gaps we identified in 3.0, together with IBM services teams
  • Include the new IBM products, especially the OpenStack-based ones, like SmartCloud Orchestrator, SmartCloud Provisioning, or IBM PureSystems family
  • Extend the SaaS content with IBM’s latest Software Solutions
  • Include emerging adoption patterns, like mobile, social, analytics and the Cloud Operating Environment paradigm
  • Extend the cloud adoption and transformation guidance for custom private versus standard offering clouds


As Stefan has highlighted IBM believes CCRA has a crucial role to play in ensuring that IT architect taps into the global cloud knowledge base, and does not deliver a first-of-a-kind solution but a proven pattern. Providing cloud solutions in line with CCRA adoption patterns helps in making subsequent implementations faster and less error prone, and deliver on specifications.

Monica would also like to thank Michael Behrendt CCRA Lead Architect IBM Software Group, for providing the necessary inputs for this article.

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