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April 4, 2011

IEEE Declares War on Cloud Computing Challenges

Nicole Hemsoth

News emerging from any number of quarters , from vendors to trade associations, about cloud standardization is in no short supply. For the most part, a great deal of the progress taking place has come from isolated pockets with specific goals. Groups that tackle smaller strands of cloud computing do tend to collaborate but in the opinion of the IEEE, there is still a great deal of work to do to bring cloud computing into focus and open it to innovation.

The IEEE, the world’s largest professional association devoted to technological advancement, rallied its troops with a new, broad cloud computing initiative that was released this morning.  This effort has particular focus on lending some much-needed clarity to the complex topic as well as an extensive interoperability angle. The IEEE feels that their size, diversity and membership will drive progress toward a more robust cloud computing ecosystem—and are certainly not thinking small.

Two new standards development projects are at the heart of the announcement. IEEE P2301, which is called the “Draft Guide for Cloud Portability and Interoperability Profiles” and IEEE P2302, termed “Draft Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation” will both work toward minimization of a fragmented, siloed ecosystem according to the Steve Diamond, who serves as chair of the cloud computing initiative.

In advance of this announcement we talked to David Bernstein, IEEE P2301 and IEEE P2302 WG chair, and managing director, Cloud Strategy Partners. He feels that cloud computing is a game-changing shift in computing and feels it is “one of three aspects of the ‘perfect storm’ of technology waves currently sweeping across humanity; the other two being massive deployment of very smart mobile devices and ubiquitous high-speed connectivity.” In the eye of this storm, of course, is the cloud, which will serve as the heart of both movements.

Bernstein understands full well that the size and scope of the project is incredibly dense and multi-faceted. As a former VP in Cisco’s CTO office running the company’s Cloud Lab and previous executive positions at AT&T, Siebel Systems, Pluris, and  InterTrust he also sees the challenge on the vendor side in tying all of the disparate aspects together. Furthermore, Bernstein notes that he has seen the historical processes of IEEE progress during his involvement as a key contributor for OpenSOA, OASIS, SCA, WS-I, JCP/J2EE and IEEE POSIX.

He compares the gravity of the IEEE’s cloud computing goals to the same process behind the construction of the global long distance and mobile phone systems and the public internet. On that level, it’s not hard to see how important the organization feels clouds will be in the future if they will take an effort on such gigantic scales.

A Standard to Procure Against

One of the first items on the IEEE cloud agenda is to clarify exactly what cloud are, how the ecosystem breaks down, and how to view and understand the principles behind decisions about adopting or creating technology.

IEEE P2301 will provide a roadmap for vendors, service providers, governments and others to aid users “in procuring, developing, building and using standards-based cloud computing products and services, enabling better portability, increased commonality and greater interoperability across the industry.”

Bernstein describes P2301 as an umbrella initiative that will form a guide for portability and interoperability via profiles to aid in procurement processes. He noted that within the U.S. government, there are some broad-based cloud computing goals but governments need to be able to procure against standards and as of now, there is too much fragmentation among the various efforts to create such guides.

He makes it clear that this procurement-driven effort is based on the need for a guide but that there is no aim to help users choose among vendors necessarily, but rather to present a guide that sets forth some specifics that allow room for users to decide.

Groups like the Cloud Security Alliance, the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), and others have done some good work but what they put out is not cohesive enough to wrap procurement policies around since there isn’t the same version control, voting processes and other approval and refinement practice in place. To put this in light, Bernstein says that despite the solid efforts of a group like the Cloud Security Alliance, a government cannot say “let’s use the xx standard to procure against” which is a problem as the U.S. in particular moves forth on its Cloud First policy.

Bernstein says he remembers the old UNIX days when, like today, there were any number of groups with their missions and profiles and remarks that there are similarities with where we are in the cloud today. He claims that we are at a very natural point in the evolution of where a process like this should be with a great deal of splitting and divergence among groups, vendors and progress on standardization efforts.

In his opinion, the IEEE is really the only solution to bring together the many parties involved with standardization of clouds. This is in part due to the group’s global scope, their many publications and other forums and the volunteer nature that encourages member involvement and input. He says that “The Cloud Security Alliance is an ad-hoc association, the DMTF is a pay to play trade association and so is the Open Grid Forum. Inside we know the guys in all those organizations and there is some coordination” but he claims that of those there is not a top-tier international organization with the power to pull all of these disparate missions together.

An Eye on Interoperability

One of the “big picture” first projects the IEEE will tackle is rather dramatic in scope. The issues of federation, interoperability and portability are at the heart of hundreds of debates, papers and conference but it is a slow road to results—a point that Bernstein agrees with. He feels that even though the path to portability is a long one, the roadmap that the IEEE has followed with any other number of standards will apply here and will be hastened by widespread collaboration and information-sharing, some of which is enabled by the cloud.

IEEE P2302 will set forth the base “topology, protocols, functionality and governance required for reliable cloud-to-cloud interoperability and federation.” The working group behind this hopes to build an “economy of scale among cloud product and service providers that remains transparent to users and applications.” The organization hopes that this will help support the still-maturing cloud ecosystem while also pushing interoperability in the same vein as previous efforts like the SS7/IN for telephone systems did years ago.

“We’ve reached out to a lot of our members and companies and found that there’s a lot of confusion within our constituency about cloud computing, especially for those who are trying to advance the technology, either as service providers, researchers or governments. All stakeholders are having a difficult time sorting out the technologies and how they fit together in addition to just being able to identify the exact standards issues.”

Bernstein claims that while there are a number of organizations tackling specific issues in the broad cloud interoperability space, there have been a couple of items that have been overlooked or not given appropriate weight. These include, as he states, interoperability-related topics. While there are actually a number of different organizations with interoperability at their core, he says that his group seeks to fill gaps in such efforts. Weak areas include a lack of measurements, for instance.

He compares the IEEE approach to interoperability to the way other standards have been pushed through. He says, “Think about it—when you get off a plane somewhere your phone just works. That’s because under the covers year ago we worked to solve exactly that problem—tackling the mobile infrastructure topology to create roaming capabilities. Even with the internet there’s this same thing with DNS and peering with autonomous system numbers and routing protocols.

Bernstein continued to put cloud advancement in context, stating, “All of this took a long time but this is how innovation evolves… We’re at the same place with cloud today; there are walled gardens of great innovation—like then it is still something of closed system because that’s just how things develop.”