IEEE leaps into mob offering 'standards' for Cloud

Are too many standards worse than too few?

The IEEE, home of the most objective technology standards and least interesting discussion about them, is wading into a standards effort that has stymied the industry with too many standards rather than too few.

VMware and Citrix both support the cloud-interoperability spec the DMTF announced two years ago to bring order to a market that couldn't manage to come up with a standard definition of "cloud," let alone any standard specs for getting two of them to work together.

The spec released a year later, the Open Virtualization Format was less of a real "cloud" standard than it was a way for customers to get their virtual machines off one vendor's platform and over to another if they had to.

The that may not have solved all the interoperability problems, but it did deal with one issue. End-user companies that, at the time, were just beginning to dip their toes into the cloud (while trying not to mix their metaphors) worried about getting locked in to one cloud provider. OVF was intended as a way out of that, according to Winston Bumpus, president of DMTF and director of standards architecture at VMware.

The result so far hasn't been a lot of portability or lock-in avoidance, according to David Bernstein, chairman of the two IEEE working groups announced Monday to develop the cloud standards.

One of the two groups will work on allowing apps and virtual machines to move from one cloud to another; the other will develop ways to apps on two difference clouds to trade data or programmatic requests securely.

DMTF did ship a standardized container format for virtual machines that allow one VM to be converted into a format that can be interpreted by the hypervisor running under another vendor's cloud.

The format is more of a conversion method than one that works for interoperability, though.

The real interoperability spec is still under development by the DMTF's Cloud Management Working Group, which is working on specs to let cloud-based apps trade data and queries.

OVF became an import format to let one virtual machine be exported from a cloud running on one vendor's hypervisor and be recognized well enough on another cloud to be converted into the new hypervisor's format without being rebuilt from scratch.

That's a clunky workaround for real portability and interoperability, not a way to make cloud the third leg of a platform built on cloud, smart mobile devices and high-speed connectivity that are creating a "new age of innovation," according to a statement from Bernstein, who is also managing director of consulting company Cloud Strategy Partners.

"Without a flexible, common framework for interoperability, innovation [in cloud computing] could become stifled, leaving us with a siloed ecosystem," according to a canned statement from Steve Diamond, chairman of the IEEE cloud computing initiative.

The IEEE's two working groups are the IEEE P2301 and IEEE P2302 within the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA). The groups will focus on interfaces for apps, management, portabality, interoperability, file formats and operation conventions.

P2301's goal is a roadmap for products – development plans for vendors and service providers buying developing and using cloud-computing products.

P2302 will work on interoperability among clouds -- topology, protocols, functionality and governance.

The two-part problem facing both IEEE and DMTF, though, is that the cloud market is still too immature for standards that might slow down the pace of development, and there are lists of standards already ratified that cover similar areas, according to Forrester's James Staten.

ITIL, XML , Web-services standards and SOA specs all cover cloud-ish processes; all could be wrapped together into a credible cloud-standard spec that would leave only a few holes for a tech group like IEEE to plug, Staten said.

In the meantime, there are still other cloud standards available or being developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Open Grid Forum's Open Cloud Computing Interface working group, the Open Cloud Consortium, OASIS, Storage Networking Industry Association, the Open Group, the TM Forum's Cloud Services Initiative, and, as far as I know, the Winnie the Pooh TutTut It Looks Like Rainclouds working group.

Can't wait to see all the standardization.

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