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Who Should Define Standards for the Cloud?

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Phil Wainewright: With HP pushing for cloud security standards and IBM taking a stand on cloud interoperability last week, the issue of cloud standards has moved to the fore. Is now the time for the industry to work together to define standards for cloud computing or should we just wait for standards to emerge organically through broad market adoption?

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  • There is no question that the cloud computing industry has to mature before it wins widespread acceptance and broad-based adoption among enterprises. A key element of this maturation process is a set of 'standards' which ensure that customers can expect a consistent level of reliability, security, performance and interoperability. The challenge is making sure that the standard-setting process is customer-driven rather than vendor-driven attempts to convert various proprietary preferences into de facto standards. You can find more of my thoughts on this topic at http://www.thinkstrategies.com/blog/2009/04/setting-standards-for-the-cloud.html

  • Having been directly involved in establishing standards for the precursor to Software-as-a-service, ASPs, via the ASP Industry Consortium and Oasis back in the "dark ages" pre-dot.com, I concur with Jeff that the most lasting and useful standards are those that begin with a concerted effort between customer technical leaders and vendors. Both SAML and SPML, two useful standards for users of software as a service, had that approach.

    IMO, the three things that make the standard most useful are vendor-customer interaction, reference implementations, and starting with a clear, containable and manageable use case for the standard to address.

  • Personally, I don't think there is a definitive answer to this question; at least not at this point in time. Whether defined by an individual company or by a group, there are plenty of examples of standards that have failed in both cases. For example, CORBA (POA, IIOP, etc.) defined with the full backing of the OMG never really reached its full potential. On the other hand, Java (and its family) created initially by one company, Sun Microsystems, have become de-facto standards that are now supported by a whole community. Cloud computing is still in its infancy. Yes, it shows great promise, but so did Robotics and AI. Cloud computing still needs to prove itself to be viable beyond a few initial applications. As it proves itself, standards will emerge; some defined by an enterprising company and some by a group. The good news is that we have both going on right now. Companies such as Amazon and Google are leading the way with a solid beginning. At the same time, there are community efforts as well with the Open Cloud Manifesto and Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum. What is certain is that plenty of standards will emerge but only a few will survive. Only time will tell which standards will succeed.

  • I 2nd Jeff & Kelly. Standards are for consumers. If vendors could eliminate standards they would as it makes their lives more difficult, more expensive and limits their opportunity for vendor lock in. Vendors do invest a lot of time and energy here because their customers demand it; it becomes a requirement to doing business. Ultimately, standards need to be based on real world requirements for interchangeability and interoperability in order to be of value.

  • I see two parallel trends.
    One trend coming from the vendors and international organizations that will try to create standards that will eventually aim to make the life of the vendor easier. Topics like security and stability would be the first.
    The other trend is coming from the customers. This would be based on customer demand for better service and will evolve into a minimal Service Level Agreement that any vendor could improve. I am afraid that this trend will get power only when the big corporates become customers of the cloud.
    You are welcome to read more in my blog.

  • My personal view is that any co-ordinated industry attempt to define standards in advance of market momentum is doomed to failure - and as in the case of web services/SOA can actually inhibit adoption, because customers sit around waiting for the standards to be defined before they're willing to buy anything.

    The only standards that matter are those that the market embraces, and what's important right now is to fuel innovation around interoperability so that customers have lots of options to choose from. Then the best solutions will rise to the top.

  • The right ownership for this should be with a consortium of major players that are aligned with some standard bodies as well like OMG. However it is key that this happens in as open fashion as possible to yield interoperability and not as a marketing initiative for the big boys. I would expect factions to develop as is happening today with the Cloud Manifesto published by CCIF.

  • Standards organizations are stewards not inventors. Trying to control the evolution of the market by predefining standards is at best difficult to do. Whether people admit it or not, there are entrenched interests across vendors that create unattractive compromises. Second, the cloud market is too new for a committee members to have common, credible experience on what is really required.

    It will be market forces that will create standards. The standards-creation market forces are no-strings-attached commoditization and the gorilla. The gorilla force is a technology that gains twice as much market share as its nearest competitor and draws in developers to create solutions off the stack. The combination of market share and developer network creates a de-facto standard. No-strings-attached commoditization is where useful technology is placed into the public domain for the benefit of entrepreneurs and innovation. Both the gorilla and commoditization are a direct response to customer demand which will ultimately determine how fast these standards develop.

  • I tried to sleep on this, but did not wake up more enlightened. I tend to think of the Cloud as an aggregation of technologies and practices, not as some kind of a monolithic entity. Standards exist already for many Cloud elements, and new elements will get standardized as the existing ones were, depending on their adoption level and technical complexity. Just let it be, and the stakes will do their work.

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