by Kevin Fogarty

Cloud Computing Standards: Too Many, Doing Too Little

Apr 06, 2011
Cloud ComputingVirtualization

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.

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.

“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 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 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.

“Almost every vendor supports it at this point, but they all view it as an interim step,” Staten says. “They see it the way .RTF was a way to convert files from Microsoft Word to WordPerfect, but with a very limited feature set for the interim format.”

OVF defines things about the virtual machine including its size, requirements for CPU, memory, storage and networking for the VM itself and for the application that runs on it, Chen says.

The conversion isn’t simple enough to allow for frequent moves, however, and doesn’t cover interoperability functions at all.

“It doesn’t let me take a three-tier application, put it on one cloud, change my mind and move it to another and have all the security, authorization, resource allocation, monitoring, reporting and other things all work correctly on the new cloud,” Staten says.

IEEE and Others Chime In

The second of IEEE’s working groups — IEEE P2302, Draft Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation — is focusing on protocols for exchanging data, programmatic queries, functions and governance for clouds sharing data or functions, or federating one cloud to another more easily than is now possible.

DMTF is working on similar functions through a subgroup called the Open Cloud Standards Incubator, which is defining an architecture guide, virtualization management specification and specific protocols for clouds to communicate.

Each is essentially pretending it’s the only group that can produce a credible, practical set of standards for cloud that is timely enough to be useful for customers, Staten says.

Other groups are also working on a subset of cloud standards, but none are comprehensive and none are widely accepted, Chen says.

Among the other players are 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 InitiativeThough DMTF and IEEE are more credible than most, either could fail easily by trying to define or limit the flexibility of cloud platforms they’re standardizing, Staten says.

“This market is way too immature for any standards body to be able to say ‘Thou Shalt Do it This Way,’ anyway. IBM got together a bunch of vendors a couple of years ago to write a Cloud Manifesto to say we need to stop creating new things and figure out what this cloud thing is going to be.”They got laughed out of the market,” Staten says.

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