Driving Toward Cloud Interoperability

Arthur Cole

Is there a chance that cloud computing could actually become an open source paradise?

That notion has been driving a lot of development lately, leading some folks to speculate that the cloud could finally come through on the promise that so many IT platforms have longed for but failed to deliver.

The reasoning is simple: cloud computing is difficult to justify if it produces the kind of vendor lock-in that will ultimately make it more expensive and less flexible than the virtual IT platforms arising in most data centers today.

Jerome Wendt, an analyst with DCIG, laid out a good case for open cloud platforms earlier this month. He argues that reports from early cloud backup providers indicate that while these services can lower costs at the outset, capacity requirements quickly rise to the point at which monthly fees start to exceed the cost of an in-house backup infrastructure. But without an open format, that internal system will have to use the same software as the cloud provider, which may or may not be available at a reasonable price, if at all.

As we've reported before, a number of efforts are under way to bring some kind of interoperability to the cloud. Most of these are centered around the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) and its <strong>Open Virtual Format (OVF)</strong>. The latest is a coalition of cloud users and providers that calls itself the Enterprise Cloud Buyers Council, which includes Microsoft, IBM, HP and Cisco, as well as giants like AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent, Deutsche Bank and Nokia. Word is that the group is looking to foster compatibility across virtual, management and control layers, but with some of the leading proprietary systems vendors in the group, it's a tossup as to whether a truly open platform emerges.

Other efforts at opening up the cloud come from vendors looking to use it as a means to improve their positions against entrenched providers. Fujitsu, for one, has a hefty share of the Japanese market for traditional IT equipment, but has never gained a strong foothold in North America. But through a new series of cloud initiatives, backed by its own API recently submitted to the DMTF, it stands a good chance of becoming a strong player in the cloud services realm.

Smaller organizations see open source cloud solutions as a way to break the hold that larger vendors have on major clients. WSO2, for one, is porting much of its traditional Apache-based middleware portfolio over to the WSO2 Cloud Platform. Right now, the package includes things like identity management and service governance, while data management, hosting, billing and other service are slated for 2010.

Fear of vendor lock-in consistently rates as one of the top reasons for hesitancy in setting up cloud platforms, along with security and performance concerns. In the traditional data center world, a single vendor can be seen as a plus because it removes much of the hardware and software needed to integrate disparate platforms.

Out on the cloud, however, a single provider introduces a limit on scalability -- if not a practical one than a financial one as costs for services increase according to data load. And since scalability is the prime driver of cloud services in the first place, a lack of interoperability could just be what kills the golden goose.

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