Efforts afoot to advance cloud standards

Efforts afoot to advance cloud standards

Launching a public cloud deployment is no "plug and play" matter for most business users, says Nicos Vekiarides, CEO of TwinStrata, one of dozens of companies that help manage cloud deployments for businesses.

TwinStrata uses APIs from each of the about a dozen IaaS providers it works with and has made a program that allows users to migrate data or workloads into the cloud.

But it doesn't have to be that way, some say. The continuing evolution of the cloud industry means that standards haven't quite caught on yet. So, gateway services like the ones provided by TwinStrata are needed for many businesses that don't have IT shops that can spend time managing data to meet the provider's specified API. As the cloud market matures, so too will standards in the industry, experts expect, making migrations to the cloud, and transferring of data among clouds easier.

"Standards always move a little slower than the industry as a whole," Vekiarides says. "That's one of the consequences of being on the bleeding edge of technology."

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The cloud industry is in the early stages of deploying standards for everything from storage to networking and security. Today there is no one standard way for companies to format their data for it to be easily moved between a variety of cloud providers. If a customer has data in AWS S3, for example, it can't necessarily take the data and put it in a Rackspace or Terremark cloud using the same API calls.

Andi Mann, a vice president of enterprise and cloud solutions for CA Technologies, says that points to the lack of standards in the industry. Is that a problem? Yes and no, Mann says.

It can be a problem because customers want interoperability between providers and they don't want to be locked into a single provider. But, standards can have a dark side too.

"There is a valid argument that standards can stifle a level of innovation, especially in the early stages of industry," Mann says. "Things change so quickly, it can be a challenge to let people innovate, but still maintain standards." Mann suggests moving slowly but surely to standardization.

A baseline of standards, Mann says, would allow an enterprise customer to have a federated cloud strategy that allows multiple cloud platforms to work together. Allowing data transfers between the systems "would be a strong starting point," Mann says. Vekiarides, meanwhile, says if storage standards do emerge in the industry, customers may still want tools provided by service providers like TwinStrata, such as optimization of cloud deployments.

Other companies seem to be capitalizing on the lack of standards. HP, for example, this week announced its converged cloud strategy, which it says is meant to help manage public, private and hybrid cloud deployments. HP blogger Terrence Ngai says standards have made life easy for consumers in other industries: "You can buy a new mattress from any manufacturer and it would still fit in your bedframe; a new memory card would still work in your camera; and a new wireless access point would still support your wireless devices. This is interoperability and portability in action." Not so in cloud yet, though, he writes.

There is some hope for standards efforts. A variety of organizations are attempting to push for standardization, including the Storage Network Industry Association, a nonprofit organization that has been involved with storage standards since 1997. The Cloud Data Management Interface, for example, is an effort by the SNIA to allow for a common toolset for deploying, retrieving, updating and deleting items stored in a cloud that each service provider would offer in APIs. Other standardization efforts as well, including by the Open Virtualization Format, which are underlying APIs that allow for easier migration of jobs between virtual machines.

The Cloud Security Alliance is even pushing for cloud providers to publish their security standards, a process that has been a slow one to catch on.

The problem is, generally, providers don't have an incentive to adopt standards, says Wayne Adams, chairman of the SNIA and a senior technologist at EMC.

"Vendors like it when they lock you in," he says. "Adopting standards in some ways could have the effect of eroding their market." It's a chicken and an egg situation, he says. Providers don't comply with standards unless customers request it; customers don't request it unless providers are complying with the standards. It's what he calls an "adoption curve." "At some point providers look around and see their competitors adopting standards and say, 'I need to too.'" But, we're not quite there yet.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social media. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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