Interoperability and the Cloud

Arthur Cole

Just what will it take to provide the kind of interoperability that IT managers consistently say they need to begin shifting significant workloads onto the cloud?

It's becoming more than an academic question as the nascent industry seeks to ride the wave of increasing infrastructure deployments resulting from the improving economy. But amid all the talk about improved data management and lower costs, there is still the widespread concern that cloud services invariably result in vendor lock-in and possible lost data if loads are shifted between varying services.

Several groups are already working on the problem, although it remains to be seen whether anyone will be able to square the desire of users for high levels of data flexibility and the need of providers to ensure a stable and secure environment.


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The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) seems to have taken the lead on this issue, having just released the Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI) as its latest Architectural Standard. Based on the REST protocol, CDMI seeks to provide a common metadata format across public, private and hybrid clouds, overseeing everything from data exchange and migration to service level management and encryption.

It should be noted, however, that the standard consists of a number of elements, leaving both manufacturers and service providers free to pick and choose which ones to adopt. Before you sign on the dotted line, it's best to make sure whether you are getting CDMI compliance whole or in part.

We can also expect some government regulation on the cloud. Over the weekend, newly installed Federal CIO Vivek Kundra outlined plans for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to take up issues like data portability, cloud interoperability and security at its "Cloud Summit" next month. The Obama administration has been talking up the cloud lately as a means to improve government services and lower costs. So even if formal regulations aren't on the agenda just yet, Uncle Sam's position as a top-tier consumer of cloud services will probably be enough to dictate industry standards and practices.

On a technical level, establishing a truly interoperable cloud universe is a simple matter, according to F5 Network's Lori MacVittie. But on a practical level, it will be extremely difficult. What's needed, she said, is a unified model to codify metadata -- something akin to the CDMI -- which would make interoperability as simple as a URL rewrite. Such broad industry consensus is never easy, but it is not impossible. Where would the Internet be today without HTML?

One way or another, the cloud is coming. The question of interoperability speaks more to its utility as a viable enterprise platform than its success or failure as a commercial concern. With true interoperability, the cloud will likely emerge as the standard enterprise infrastructure for the next half century. Without it, it will be relegated to adjunct status for today's internal enterprise environment.

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