Cloud Standards Dominate Interop Discussion

Cloud standards, or the lack thereof, dominated a good deal of the cloud discussion at Interop Las Vegas 2011 this week, with many vendors and industry experts calling for some kind of standardization in the wild west that is cloud computing.

While cloud standards were a lightening rod long before Interop, industry watchers at the show said the time is now to start establishing some sort of standards around cloud computing to boost adoption and increase user confidence in the cloud. The push for standards is to break down the walls of proprietary clouds and help cloud buyers and users avoid being tied to one vendor via lock-in.

Currently, the cloud computing market lacks true standards. Several groups have stepped forward to start working on standards, and the IEEE has put its hat in the cloud standards ring and has begun developing cloud computing standards.

"You absolutely do need to have standards," said Vinton Cerf, a founder of the Internet and Google vice president and chief Internet evangelist during a roundtable discussion after his Interop keynote presentation.

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During his presentation, Cerf compared cloud computing today to e-mail in the 1980s, when e-mail systems were siloed and not connected to the Web. That ended in 1988, MCI granted permission to connect its electronic mail system to the Internet, breaking "the policy log jam." From there, other mail providers followed, and within a year most e-mail systems were interconnected, Cerf said.

"Today cloud is like e-mail in 1980s. It's not interconnected and now you can't interface between clouds," Cerf said during his keynote. "That will change as the same pressures that got to e-mail get to the cloud."

Cerf said cloud standards will come. Google is leading the way with its "data liberation" policy that dictates if you put data in the cloud, you can take it out whenever you want.

For the cloud to succeed, Cerf said he sees standards emerging around cloud portability and the ability to leverage clouds from more than one provider and "run processes in more than one cloud at the same time."

He said standards must address: "How do we move data back and forth between clouds?"

And Cerf wasn't the only one banging the cloud standards drum at Interop this week.

Simon Crosby, CTO of Citrix's Datacenter and Cloud Division, said Citrix is working with Rackspace's OpenStack, an open-source cloud computing project, which he said will pave the way for cloud computing standards. OpenStack comprises dozens of contributing companies writing code and contributing to a cloud computing stack. Along with fostering an open source cloud computing environment, OpenStack strives to create a standard for cloud computing.

"We're trying to standardize the cloud," Crosby said during a roundtable discussion at Interop. He said Citrix is working with OpenStack to see where it goes. Still, Crosby said, it's immature to define standards until a unanimous approach is reached.

"There's a long way to go, but standardization will emerge," Crosby said.

Next: The Cloud Can't Be Proprietary, Standards Are Necessary

Citrix President and CEO Mark Templeton said there are already various standards camps emerging among cloud providers. He said one is around Amazon Web Services, which offers proprietary cloud computing; the second will likely be around VMware technologies; a third will potentially stem from Microsoft Windows Azure and Hyper-V environments; and the fourth is OpenStack, which Templeton called a "galaxy of swirling gases coming together."

Meanwhile, during his Interop keynote address, Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group, shared details of the Open Data Center Alliance imitative. While not a standards-creating body itself, Skaugen said it will work with existing standards organization to help develop standards for clouds and data centers regardless of hardware and software vendors. Intel isn't a voting member, but in an advisory position.

The Open Data Center Alliance calls itself an independent consortium comprising leading global IT managers that have come together to resolve key IT challenges and fulfill cloud infrastructure needs into the future by creating an open, vendor-agnostic usage model roadmap. Members include AT&T, BMW, Capgemini, Shell, Terremark and a host of others totaling about 150 and representing $85 billion of global IT spending.

"We want to ensure an open, interoperable, standards-based cloud infrastructure. And we want the cloud to evolve in an open, industry-standard way," he said.

According to Skaugen, cloud business models have to change in order to create a network of compatible clouds that function in a similar fashion to the Internet. But currently, clouds from various vendors don't work together, and standards must emerge to facilitate interoperability.

"We can't let the cloud evolve in a proprietary way," he said.

Intel has also launched the Cloud Builders initiative to help create "proven, open, interoperable solutions" in the cloud, Skaugen said. Through the Cloud Builders program, Intel is working with industry leaders like Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, NetSuite, VMware and more than a dozen others to create an open, standards-based cloud. Cloud Builders offers white papers, tips and best practices guides for standards-based cloud computing deployments that Skaugen said are open and help avoid lock in.

"Lock in is at the top of the list of why people are not moving to the public cloud," Skaugen said, adding "The infrastructure really needs to evolve."