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December 4, 2012

Do Cloud Computing Providers Need Standards? Part 2

By Cloud Computing Standards

In the first part of this cloud series we gave you the established names in cloud computing, as well as the startups.  What all these companies are doing is giving businesses and individuals the chance to use cloud services and helping them take advantage of cloud computing benefits.

The numerous players in the cloud computing sphere give rise for the need to standardize cloud computing.  Why?

Imagine this scenario: You have chosen a cloud computing provider and have put up your application on that platform.  You have made all the configurations and they are now working.  Now, you changed your mind, or stumbled upon another provider that would be cheaper to use in the long run, or the first provider you worked with suddenly closed shop.

Do you think you would be able to transfer your virtual machine from the first provider to the second one that easily?

The answer is, probably not; not without a set of standards in place that would ensure that moving from one provider to another would be a painless, simple, and easy process.  More likely, you would be going back to square one and rebuilding your virtual machine from the ground up because the two providers were not compatible.

Case in point, Microsoft provides Azure as a platform-as-a-service offering.  Azure uses Windows Server applications and Hyper-V.  Meanwhile Verizon Business uses vSphere.  If you are going to transfer a virtual machine hosted on Azure to, say, Verizon Business you will be out of luck.

Where We Are For Cloud Computing Standardization

Do not get it wrong. There is no shortage of proposed standards for cloud computing. In fact, the following are just a few of the noteworthy ones:

  • The Green Grid brings together end users, technology providers, utility companies, facility architects and policy makers to create a set of standards that would allow for a more efficient utilization of resources.
  • Cloud Security Alliance, CSA, lays out the best practices for cloud computing security.
  • The Distributed Management Task Force has suggested the use of the Open Virtualization Format, which provides a method for moving virtual machines from one platform to another.
  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association works to develop, nurture and advance worldwide technologies.  According to InfoWorld, the IEEE has set up two working groups for cloud computing standards and interoperability.  The P2301 Workgroup will be involved in standardizing cloud management and portability with the use of various interfaces and file formats. The P2302 Workgroup, on the other hand, will focus on interoperability and federation.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology is a non-regulatory federal agency that pushes for standards in science and technology. They have published the NIST Cloud Computing Standards Roadmap and they advocate for the use of specific cloud computing best practices and standards for government use.
  • The Storage Networking Industry Association has its Cloud Data Management Interface.  CDMI has already been ratified by the International Organization for Standardization, and provides protocols on how a company should move data between public and private clouds.

The list of organizations with their own sets of proposed standards is much longer than this!

Problems with Cloud Computing Standardization

Admittedly, interoperability and standardization among different cloud providers is not an issue that will be resolved anytime soon, that is if it is going to be resolved.  With the number of cloud service providers doing different tasks differently, it is unlikely that they would just agree on one set of cloud computing standards.  This is especially true if they were working on a different set of principles than the proposed standards.

On top of the many organizations proposing different standards, these standards that govern cloud computing are just coming into existence. It is quite reasonable to think and predict that it will take years, or decades even, to get developed.

Kevin Fogarty at writes that having too many cooks spoils the broth.  Quoting Forrester Research’s James Staten, Fogarty sums it up by writing that everyone has their own set of standards and there are overlaps. What makes matters worse is that the different organizations are not looking to work together to set the standards quickly.  For instance, on top of the different sets of standards already mentioned above, there are already protocols and standards set forth by established, previously accepted standards such as the SOA, XML and other Web 2.0 specifications.

Fogarty also writes about how some of the current proposed standards are lacking.  For example, the OVF might allow you to move virtual machines from one provider to another, but it is very complex and therefore it would not be easy to do frequent moves.  Yes, it can move your application, but not with all the configurations, security, resource allocation, monitoring, authorization and other stuff that would enable it to work correctly on the new platform.

This is not to say that various providers would adhere to even a fully developed set of standards.  It will be possible that some providers will continue using their own proprietary systems in a bid to set their cloud offerings above or apart from the rest.  Most providers would not be comfortable competing in an increasingly crowded space based exclusively on prices and rates.

Another problem with regard to standards in cloud computing is that this area is a very dynamic one, with new services coming into play and a lot of innovations being introduced.

While You Are Waiting

The lack of standardization is a big problem and it is one of the reasons why most companies are holding off getting into the cloud.  In a article, it has been noted that 32% of companies have concerns about being locked in with a specific vendor.

Does this all mean that you should skip going on the cloud now and just use your in-house resources?  It does seem silly to forego on the benefits of using cloud computing services just because service providers cannot agree on a single standard.  But more than silly, it puts your business on an operational disadvantage.

So What Do You Do in the Meantime?

  • Plan your cloud undertakings very carefully. You might want to ensure that you plan out what services, applications and systems you want to get on the cloud.  This will help you choose a service provider that will meet your current and future needs.
  • Check out the proposed standards from notable organizations. See how these standards can help you with regard to interoperability.  As early as it is, you might want to look into OVF and CDMI, along with other standards, to see what practices they suggest too.
  • Choose a provider that offers the most options for interoperability. You might want to avoid service providers that are using vendor specific systems if you want to have the flexibility to move from one platform to another.

The cloud industry urgently needs a specific set of standards to which service providers adhere. To do that, everybody from regulatory bodies to industry organizations to end users and cloud services companies should work together to make that happen. This is easier said than done, but hopefully as time wears on and cloud computing becomes more and more mature, concerned parties would get their act together and implement these much needed standards.

About the Author

Michael Gabriel Sumastre is a skilled technical blogger and writer with more than seven years of professional experience in Web content creation, SEO and research paper writing. He has written more than a thousand articles related to tech and gadgets, cloud computing, IT management, SEO, SEM and software solutions. He ghostwrites books / e-books and has a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. Michael is also an expert in webmastering and loves to ride his sportsbike. He maintains his portfolio and personal blog at

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