Clawing Our Way to a More Open Cloud

One of the more intriguing yet vexing things about the cloud is its universality. By nature, public clouds in particular need to be as open and accessible as possible, but that will require a fairly robust set of standards to ensure interoperability and data fluidity.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Jul 13, 2011
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One of the more intriguing yet vexing things about the cloud is its universality. By nature, public clouds in particular need to be as open and accessible as possible, but that will require a fairly robust set of standards to ensure interoperability and data fluidity.

The question is, whose standards? And who, if anyone, should be charged with monitoring and maintaining compliance?

The question is becoming more than academic now that yet another group has emerged to pressure the industry into adopting a more standards-friendly posture. The Cloud Standards Customer Council consists primarily of top tier enterprise customers ? the ones who will purchase the lion's share of cloud services, which, presumably, gives them a fair amount of clout. The CSCC joins the field with a fair number of established organizations, such as the Storage Network Industry Association and the Open Data Center Alliance, in an effort to prevent top cloud providers and platform vendors from dominating what, by all reasonable expectations, should be a dynamic, interoperable data environment.

At the moment, there is a lot of interest on the part of the business community to get in on the cloud action, but that could change once the reality of cloud computing sets in. According to the SNIA, 75 percent of companies are ramping up cloud strategies to offload tasks like email, data protection and business apps like CRM. However, along with security, a lack of standards ranks high on the list of concerns, particularly when it comes to modifying applications to accommodate multiple cloud environments. This isn't a deal-breaker by any means, but it does hold the potential of slowing down what would otherwise be a white-hot technology shift.

Of course, the only thing more troubling about vendors ignoring calls for open technologies is when they embrace them, or, in the case of Citrix, buy into them. The company recently purchased Cloud.com for an undisclosed amount. Cloud.com happens to be a founding member of the OpenStack platform developed by Rackspace and NASA. Ideally, the merger will allow Citrix to better support open cloud platforms, but as we reported earlier, the company is working on its own version of the OpenStack controller, presumably one that will be optimized for the XenServer platform.

The cloud standards question becomes even more complex when you consider that many functions surrounding cloud access and operations require their own standards. A key one, according to Vortel CTO Mark O'Neill, is authentication. On the one hand, you have traditional industry standards like OAuth and SAML, but you'll also need to contend with proprietary solutions like Amazon's Query API. Unfortunately, certain applications are more suited to one standard over another, but implementing all available standards to ensure smooth access to both internal and cloud-based applications will be a lengthy and expensive process.

In an ideal world, the cloud would be as open and interoperable as the Internet. But while there is still hope, the odds are against it. The Internet had the luxury of evolving from a government program that valued resiliency and interoperability above all else, so it was already largely in place before commercial interests took over.

The cloud is designed from the ground up as a business solution. And in that vein, it will only be successful if someone can make money from it.

That's not a bad thing, but it doesn't make for an environment in which people willingly share control with potential competitors.

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