Standards for the Cloud
Cloud Computing is still in its infancy. With very young technologies it is always difficult to determine when to work on standards. Standards are what permit additions to a cloud’s platform or software to be compatible with what already exists and to what will happen next. As such, they are not merely useful, but a requirement for an efficient computing environment.
When you use a public cloud, you are agreeing to the standards (or lack of them) that the cloud employs. Most users don’t think very much about this, but it can have a great deal to do with whether your information (and the work behind it) is trapped in that cloud or whether you can move it to another environment, perhaps your on-premises data center, or another cloud. Private clouds, by definition, are private and their owners can choose their own environment, with as little standardization or as much customization as they desire. But the choice of customization without the selection of widely used standards can lead to dead-ends where information is trapped, not readily available for use in another environment.
Standards are how cloud computing offers interoperability – being able to talk to and compute across multiple clouds. Without that standardization, time and money must be spent on building, supporting, and using conversion tools. Standardization is also how we achieve portability, being able to move programs and data to another environment.
But standards are also important for using more sophisticated tools. As customers come to own or use multiple clouds (a hybrid cloud computing environment), they must deal with managing their multiple computing environments, hopefully in a single dashboard; that is most easily done when standards are in place. Metering (for chargeback) and monitoring (to be certain the systems are behaving properly) also depend on standards.
With that in mind, IBM is participating in an early effort called The Open Cloud Manifesto; you could think of it as a pre-standards idea. Its mission is to open and encourage a dialogue around the core principles of cloud computing to insure that widely accepted standards will, in time, occur. There are more than 400 members, including many familiar names, but some of the largest companies are missing. They may yet join, but discussions that might lead to a standards effort will be less than successful if too many of the big players choose to go their own way.
It’s hard not to recall the UNIX wars, when there were two vying standards bodies and a fragmented UNIX enjoyed less success than it might have enjoyed. We need to avoid that possible fragmentation in cloud computing.
Cloud Computing is becoming ubiquitous. We expect more than 70% of organizations to use cloud computing for at least some of their computing, storage, or applications over the next few years.
Efforts for cloud standards in many directions are ongoing. For example, in addition to the Open Cloud Manifesto, IBM is working in DMTF to level the playing field for software vendors, as well as open source projects like Simple Cloud API and Apache libCloud. These efforts are intended to offer customers flexibility and choice and to support concepts important to smooth enterprise computing, such as SLAs (Service Level Agreements).
At the same time, we want to encourage the experimentation that allows an infant industry to grow and become more important to its users, and build to the standards that will support that growth. It's an evolving job and one we give a high priority.