Cloud Computing Standards: Too Many, Doing Too Little

The IEEE created a ripple in the cloud computing community this week by weighing in with its own proposals for cloud computing standards. But there's already the OVF standard and a few others -- creating duplication and not enough progress, analysts say.

By Kevin Fogarty
Wed, April 06, 2011

CIO — Two years ago, when the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) announced a standards-building effort for cloud computing, most people involved in cloud computing didn't even have a common definition of cloud computing. Now there are so many categories of cloud computing and so many competing standards that users have a good chance of finding a standard that matches a particular need, but not much chance of moving among them easily, says James Staten, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research (FORR).

"It's not that there aren't any standards [for cloud computing], it's that everyone has one and there are already some in place that cover the same ground," Staten says.

ITIL covers many procedural and operational issues that also apply to cloud, Staten says. Web services specifications, SOA, XML and a range of other Web 2.0 specifications also apply.

So will the specifications being developed by a pair of working groups at IEEE, which announced this week its intent to create comprehensive standards for migration, management and interoperability among cloud platforms.

"IEEE tends to be regarded as one of the more credible of the standards bodies because it's not in the pocket of the vendors," Staten says. "They're typically pretty slow; well in arrears of where the industry needs standards to be."

Remember, although "the cloud" is billed as a generic computing platform, each cloud uses a specific type of hypervisor, set of online resources and resource managers that make it difficult to move a virtual machine from one cloud to another, according to Gary Chen, research manager for enterprise virtualization software at IDC.

Microsoft's (MSFT) Azure platform-as-a-service uses Hyper-V and supports applications running on Windows Server or as .NET-based services, for example. Verizon Business offers infrastructure-as-a-service running on VMware's (VMW) vSphere.

Moving a workload from one to the other would mean creating a new virtual machine and reinstalling the application, because the underlying virtual machines aren't compatible, Chen says.

Even moving from one vSphere-based cloud to another is difficult because the application would be looking for databases, middleware and other services that are idiosyncratic to each cloud, he says.

What OVF Aims to Do

The ability to migrate VMs from one cloud to another was the first priority for DMTF because it would give customers a way to avoid being locked in to a single cloud provider, according to Winston Bumpus, president of DMTF and director of standards architecture at VMware.

Since it became available a year ago, DMTF's Open Virtualization Format (OVF) has become a relatively standard way to allow VMs to migrate, though its functions remain pretty basic.

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