Nick Hardiman takes a look at the evolving cloud computing standard. Is an industry-wide standard possible? Who has the authority to issue standards?
In the last couple years all the governance and standards-making organizations started getting their cloud act together. I had a look around — I found an alliance, an association and a council. And a task force, forum, group, initiative, institute, organization and program.
How is the average enterprise guy supposed to figure out who is doing what, let alone which are useful to follow? I work in the commercial world, and I am not used to seeing such an array of organizations. Which one is the authoritative source? And even if one is authoritative, whose agenda are they pushing?
Do we even need these organizations? Why can't we just live with our current set of proprietary cloud solutions from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and the rest?
To understand what is involved in creating standards and why you would want them in the first place, let's look at some of the major issues and primary players in the cloud computing industry, and in particular, at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).
Proprietary solutions vs. open standards
How can the whole industry agree on a standard, such as an interoperability strategy? Should they even try? What's wrong with letting market forces take care of progress? After all, cloud computing has a long way to go, but it is an operational model that is already widely used in business, government and education. The first big problem recognized by many researchers is interoperability.
Big players in a new market fight to control the market, or as much of it as they can secure. So far, this has been great for the rest of us. The competition between vendors has given us a huge amount of computing power that is instantly accessible and easy to use. Many proprietary solutions spring up attempting to lock in customers to one vendor's solution. Most fail over time and we are left with a few that just do not work well together. Interoperability is a casualty of the fight.
It happened with operating systems, networks, mobile phones, and a host of media formats — from paper tape to video tape — that are all now dead. If the cloud industry ends up with a few formats that don't play well together, we get confused. If the cloud industry gets a unified base to work on, billion dollar industries can be built on top, and we get new jobs.
Creating a unified base takes many ingredients — education, test equipment, research publications, trial and error, and so on. It's not something a commercial enterprise can take on — even an industry consortium like the Cloud Security Alliance, made up of the hyperscale vendors, can only focus on one area of the big picture. This work has to be left to government bodies like NIST and professional bodies like the IEEE.
The aim of the IEEE is to help technical professionals to innovate. The IEEE is a very big and very old organization — it dates back to the 1800s — with the mandate of advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. The advancement of technology. All technology. For all of humanity. It's a bit difficult to get bigger. If you want to find a professional organization to believe in, the IEEE really takes some beating.
The IEEE is the largest professional organization for technology. In fact, it's huge. Godzilla-size huge. There are 10 geographic organizations, 38 societies, many published standards, hundreds of publications, thousands of technical meetings each year and 400,000 members.
The IEEE recently focused on nurturing initiatives. Their New Initiatives Committee set up the Cloud Computing Initiative (CCI), in the same spirit as the Smart Grid initiative for electricity.
I am assuming that this technical organization, whose members win Nobel prizes and whose history includes a century of technical milestones, has the brawn and the brains to do a good job with cloud computing. That being the case, I recently took advantage of the opportunity to talk with the IEEE CCI Chair Steve Diamond. In my next post, I'll share some of what I learned in that conversation.