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Lack of cloud standards and interoperability hinders cloud adoption

Archana Venkatraman

The lack of established cloud standards and interoperability has made it difficult to move workloads between private clouds and public clouds and some experts say these problems hinder cloud adoption.

 Without any industry-wide cloud standards,

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vendors have built proprietary cloud services on software stacks that are not compatible with the stacks used in public clouds -- making interoperability difficult, said Clive Longbottom, managing director of Quocirca Ltd., a research and analysis firm in Reading, UK.

 “It is a bit of a mess out there,” Longbottom said. “A majority of customers are just looking for a ‘standard’ across their own kit, with little view to what they may need in the future.” 

 Many cloud adopters do not consider open-source stacks such as OpenStack that are used by the public cloud providers, but instead choose a proprietary one from familiar vendors such as VMware Inc., Microsoft or IBM, experts said. 

“Then, when it becomes obvious that virtual machines would be better off if hosted outside in a more public environment, the problems start because the existing VMs have to be completely re-ported to work in the new environments,” Longbottom warned.

Cloud interoperability standards would allow IT to move applications and workloads back and forth between private and public clouds and from one public cloud to another. Such application migration among clouds would allow IT to select the best cloud technologies and avoid vendor lock-in.

Meanwhile,  cloud adoption is on the rise as IT wants a solution for a lack of space in the data centre, increasing energy prices and a pressure to move to a cloud-like environment.

Private clouds pay the price

For now, poor cloud standards and interoperability and subsequent vendor lock-ins are the prices businesses pay for the customisation they receive in private cloud services, said Frank Jennings, chair of code governance board at Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), the industry body that advocates the adoption and use of cloud computing services.

“The very nature of this tailored, bespoke approach may lead to systems which aren't necessary interoperable with a competitor's systems,” Jennings said.

The problems caused by a lack of cloud standards and interoperability are evident, especially with the government’s G-Cloud initiative.

“Many of the putative suppliers have chosen a cloud stack that isn’t directly compatible with the stack used within the central G-Cloud itself,” Longbottom said. “This means that different levels of integration are being put in place -- from direct coded integration to a more enterprise service bus type of bus and connector approach.”

Cloud standards on the horizon

Standards follow technology market demands, so it is common for there to be a lack of standards at the early stage of a new technology, said one expert.

In addition, “the rate of change is so fast that standards cannot keep up,” said Hamish Macarthur, founder of Macarthur Stroud International, an IT research company based in Surrey. 

But, interoperable technology standards in cloud computing may be achievable in the next two to three years, Macarthur said.

CIF is involved in promoting interoperability and cloud standards, but “these things take time,” Jennings said. Another global industry body, the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) is also working with the industry providers to develop open cloud standards.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) have the early vote of confidence from the markets and standards could be based on its platform, according to experts.

“Long term, it would not be surprising to see API and architectural standards that evolve from the AWS and GCE models," said Randy Bias, co-founder and chief technology officer of Cloudscaling, an open cloud service provider based in San Francisco, CA.

Until standards are put in place, experts urged private cloud adopters to take precautionary steps.

Assess not just the SLAs, the technology and the APIs of the cloud services but also consider the risks, liabilities and vendor lock-in before signing a contract, Jennings said.

IT should look to stacks from cloud providers that have already talked about private/public cloud interoperability and providers that demonstrate a strong commitment to open standards, experts said.

“[Companies] must find out what services or tools the provider can offer for workload interoperability with the major public cloud stacks,” Longbottom said.

The customer, in theory, could ask for the private cloud supplier to use tools and platforms commonly used in the industry and agree the specification accordingly.  “But this doesn’t happen enough,” Jennings said.

If all else fails, don’t agree to buy the provider’s services, Macarthur said.