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Cloud: The Quest for Standards


Note: This is my first attempt to write about the Cloud technology, please feel free to correct me if my understanding of any of the aspects is not correct.

Many of us in the industry think about Standards as a hindrance to technological growth. Creating Standards has been a long drawn process for any technology that is set for robust growth. Cloud Services is one of those areas where we expect an exponential growth over the next few years. It’s better to control the behavior of growth rather than taming or enabling haphazard growth.  Standards typically help and are known to work in the favor of the consumers.

cloud_computing_growth

Why Standards

Example

Everyone in the industry or home users heard about the battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, years of consist & persistent fight between two major groups. Toshiba and alliances supporting the HD-DVD format while Sony and alliances supporting the Blu-Ray disc formats.

Billions of dollars of investment, millions in marketing, millions in legal battle, millions in customer investments, millions in HD-DVD investments, futures & employment dependent on those technologies.

In the end, HD-DVD loses the battle, Blu-Ray wins. Well who else lost, the consumers, the investments, the video game developers, the alliance partners and that means all of us. All the way around, YOU as a consumer is never a winner in this battle.

Example

Lets look at the WIFI technology 802.11 a/b/g/n. When all these WIFI technologies started, how excited were we, wow now I can connect my laptop over the air and browse the Internet and do not need a physical cable.

Imagine not having the 802.11 standards in place during this boom. You buy a Linksys WIFI for your home and install a Linksys Air card in your laptop and all works good. You go to the Starbucks around the corner and they have Netgear and your laptop WIFI stops working. You go to the office and they have a complete separate set of devices that are incompatible with your existing WIFI. All around it would have been chaos.

Wow, its good we didn’t go through that. Why, because there were standards. Interoperability was the key. Everyone made products, brought enhancements, but at the end of the day, they were all compatible with the users or consumers or customers.

Cloud

Standards

A Standard is typically a document that defines a certain set of shared protocols, resources, API’s, interoperability, security, methods, practices and other aspects relating to usage.

A Standards committee is normally formed with various manufacturers, service providers and experts that act as governing bodies defining and deciding on common technology practices.

Though do not get me wrong, Standards will not define your product features.

The Cloud Standards

Though some experts differ on the opinion for having a Cloud Standard early enough in the game, which is right now. I truly believe, in the best interest of the consumers, customers and investments, a common governing body should start deciding on the standards for Cloud Services.

Hypervisor

Hypervisor is the underlying technology, which enables virtualization in the cloud.

Question: Can a Standard be incorporated to enable applications to move from Hypervisor to Hypervisor (Vmware vSphere to Citrix Xen or Microsoft Hyper-V) without going through a redesign?

Result: That will enable your applications to move around the Cloud infrastructure irrelevant of the underlying technology provider.

Today: This cannot be done

Service Provider

Some of the famous and emerging Service providers today are Amazon, EMC Atmos (Beta), Nirvanix, Terremark, Savvis, Rackspace.

Question: Can you move your applications from Amazon to Rackspace and how easily can this be achieved.

Result: Free movement of the application irrelevant of the underlying Service provider, very hard to achieve.

Today: This cannot be done

Security

Security within the Cloud Infrastructure enables user, applications, application owners and other related applications to interact with each other based on standard protocols of communications.

Today: There are no standard security protocols used within the Cloud Infrastructure that are common amongst all service providers. Every security centric provider and service provider alliance will enable you with a certain security mechanism.

Storage

Underlying storage may ways be different, no real dependencies on use of Storage as it relates to Cloud and Standardization. Though Amazon uses a certain set of Storage, while Terremark and Savvis may use a certain kind, it should not create dependencies on application movements.

API’s

Application movement between private clouds. Application movement between public clouds. Application movement between private and public clouds.

Question: Can you move your applications from Terremark to Amazon’s EC2 and then back to the private cloud.

Result: The re-engineering of the application and the related API’s will enable that movement

Today: Very hard to do, or a very tedious process, No standards around it today.

Cost Models

Yet another driving force with Cloud based services. Some Service Providers today charge based on computational power, some on storage capacity, some on bandwidth, some on a mix of all

Question: Is your application hosted in Amazon’s EC2 costing you the same money that a similar application at Terremark would cost you.

Result: Standard pricing practices needs to be established. Pricing can vary based on feature sets.

cloud-question-mark-cloud-computing

Standards vs Dominance

So if you enable a certain technology to grow by itself in an uncontrolled manner, it just becomes a dominating factor and tends to mold people, industry, customers, ideas all in one direction. Typically that direction is where the dominance is.

If we wait too long for an establishment of a Standard for a certain technology, more or less that technology will be the Standard and everyone will need to adapt around it. Have you heard “Survival of the fittest and Dominance of the Strongest”?

The Customer

Remember you are talking about large scale investments with Cloud Services being developed, designed and implemented.

We should see exponential growth with the Cloud Services market over the next few years. This means billions of dollars will be poured into R&D, Infrastructure, Services and other related areas enabling Cloud Services.

This is the ripe time when things are yet not out of control, the more players join the mix, and the more dominance effect will persist.

This is the time to act and act in our favor to preserve the investment in technology that we all expect and hope to see growing. SNIA and DMTF is currently working on the Cloud Standards initiative (EDIT 09/17/09 at 11:15 AM).

It seems like as this post is being released, the first CDMI (Cloud Data Management Interface) draft is ready and released by SNIA. Glad to see the progress.


Unrelated to this discussion by a really funny Youtube Video by Mr. Larry Ellison of Oracle on Cloud Computing

Other Reading on Cloud (EDIT 09/17/09 at 11:15 AM)

http://cloud-standards.org/

http://www.snia.org/cloud

http://samj.net/search/label/cloud

http://thecloudclinic.com/tag/cloud-standards/

Note: This is my first attempt to write about the Cloud technology, please feel free to correct me if my understanding of any of the above aspects is not correct.