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Dustin Amrhein

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Open Standards For The Cloud

Distributed Management Task Force tackles open cloud standards

I recently read the Open Cloud Standards incubator charter proposed by the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), and I think this is a great effort to propel the cloud computing effort forward (read the charter here). In the interest of disclosure, I’m not just saying this because I happen to be employed by one of the supporters of the movement. It’s time to acknowledge that open standards are not an inhibitor to innovation, but instead they facilitate the kind of technological adoption that makes innovation both possible and profitable.

The incubator charter sets its eyes on standards around cloud resource management. Its main focus will concern the management of cloud computing elements that make up the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) layer, but it will also discuss some elements of the Platform as a Service (PaaS) layer. The charter lists among its deliverables a cloud taxonomy, cloud interoperability white paper, informational specifications, and security requirements for cloud resource management. The hope is that such standards would increase cloud interoperability, mitigate the potential for vendor lock-in, and guide companies who already deliver resource management products and are looking to extend such capabilities to cloud resource management.

In particular, there are a couple of deliverables that sound interesting. The first, a cloud taxonomy including terms and definitions, is a necessary step to move forward any cloud computing standardization efforts. There is too much disagreement among the cloud industry at large as to exactly what defines and makes up cloud computing. While healthy discussion and debate on this subject are good, it is time to agree on a standard definition that all can at least accept. Without a common, acceptable definition, standards movements will be crippled since it’s hard to govern something we cannot define.

The charter also proposes information specifications that would define profiles for the management of resources within a cloud computing environment. If these types of management standards were produced and subsequently adopted by a multitude of cloud providers, consumers could define a common cloud interaction layer and freely switch in and out the provider. In addition to these new specifications, updates to existing standards in DMTF are among the deliverables. The existing specification that is explicitly called out in the charter is the OVF packaging standard. I can only hope this means a standard packaging for virtual images deployed in a cloud environment. If that is indeed the goal, by combining a common cloud management mechanism with a common cloud packaging strategy, consumers would be provided the ultimate choice among cloud providers. They could package and deploy services meant to run in the cloud in such a way that the task would be repeatable across any cloud provider adopting the DMTF’s standards. In addition, the mention of updating existing specifications sends a clear message that cloud computing standardization efforts must not duplicate existing standards work. Instead, new specifications are introduced where necessary, and existing specifications are updated to accommodate this new computing paradigm.

I’m excited about the incubator charter announced by DMTF. I’m sure this is just the beginning in what will be a long journey of providing for an open cloud, but it is a necessary first step. I for one don’t buy the argument that open standards stifle innovation. Instead, I believe open standards increase technological adoption, and more consumers mean more opportunities, and demand, to distinguish offerings by creative innovation. What do you think about cloud computing standards?

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Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at You can follow him on Twitter at