Will Cloud Standards Solve Integration Issues?

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When I wrote an article about cloud computing earlier this year, one of the issues I mentioned was vendor lock-in. With the cloud's vaunted commitment to Web-based technologies, it doesn't seem as if this should be a problem. But it is. As Forrester Research analyst James Staten told me when discussing cloud development platforms such as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Salesforce's Force.com:


Right now, if you design applications on a certain cloud platform, it's the only place they'll run. You'll have to change the code to port it over to another PaaS.


Portability is important, writes Dion Hinchcliffe on ebizQ, because it could allay many other concerns about cloud computing, including worries over data security and service outages and downtime. He says:


If enterprises have the ready ability to switch as easily as they'd like between external and internal clouds or amongst external providers, it would alleviate one of the major stumbling blocks to real adoption of cloud computing -- and all its attendant benefits -- for core IT functions in most organizations. But to do this requires interoperability that does not exist today.


Though a cloud computing manifesto was released last March, it seemingly hasn't yet gained any real traction. But Hinchcliffe says there are a number of ongoing and largely under-the-radar efforts to create cloud standards. (Again, this seemingly flies in the face of the cloud's commitment to openness. Shouldn't discussions about open technologies be as transparent as possible? In reality, of course, transparency often makes it damned difficult to get things done. That's why politicians hammer out details of legislation behind closed doors before bringing it to the wide-open legislative chambers.)


Hinchcliffe singles out standards work being done on the Open Cloud Computing Interface (OCCI), a set of REST-based interfaces for the management of cloud resources including computing, storage and bandwidth, as one of the most promising standards stories. The OCCI "tries hard to be a minimal specification that is simple and straightforward," he writes. Version 5 of the OCCI was released last month and has earned the support of Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Eucalyptus, Rackspace and GoGrid, among others. Notably missing from its list of supporters, however, are cloud powers like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.


A few weeks before Hinchliffe published his ebizQ post, IT Business Edge's Loraine Lawson questioned whether cloud service portability was really that big of a deal. She cited a blog post written by Lori MacVittie, a technical marketing manager with F5 Networks, who insists the real question is one of application interoperability, which has long been a problem for companies and developers using traditional enterprise infrastructure and software.


Sure, it's tempting to blame the cloud for outages and service problems. People largely seem to blame Microsoft (and its all too aptly named Danger service provider/subsidiary) for the Sidekick data debacle. Yet MacVittie says the responsibility lies with T-Mobile. She wrote:


... It is the responsibility of T-Mobile to provide a means by which the data stored in its application can be transferred to another application-cloud-based or otherwise-and its data is properly backed up (which is yet another piece of this supposed cloudtastrophe puzzle that isn't being addressed enough). And that's it. It is the responsibility of other application providers to offer a means by which that data can be imported and transferred to their application, thus providing the portability that is apparently demanded by consumers. ...


Substitute businesses for consumers in that last sentence. Same deal applies. Loraine's interpretation: "The problem will need to be solved by pushing for application integration, and not by a generic push for interoperability."


Maybe such integration could come under the purview of cloud service brokers, an idea floated by Gartner analyst L. Frank Kenney that Loraine wrote about back in July. In theory, such folks would negotiate the relationships between cloud service consumers and providers, including integrating the various services that make up users' cloud environments. Until solutions like brokers emerge, however, cloud customers will rely on more traditional methods of vetting vendors. Frank Ohlhorst offers some good tips for assessing cloud providers over at our CTO Edge site.