The IEEE wants to establish sufficient standards for cloud users to be able to move between services.
CIOs are already addressing the opportunities and challenges of cloud computing. It is now time to consider the next phase of the cloud: the Intercloud. In the same way the Internet enabled interoperability between proprietary networks, the Intercloud will enable proprietary clouds to interoperate, and it will encourage third-party services such as cloud marketplaces.
The IEEE is developing the IEEE P2302™ Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation. Also, a recently announced complementary IEEE Intercloud Testbed initiative is under way to ensure that the standards work under real-world conditions. A number of interesting technologies and concepts, such as the eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) and the Resource Description Framework (RDF), are under evaluation as part of a comprehensive architecture and engineering plan. However, the real value of the Intercloud ultimately lies in the benefits to cloud customers and the providers and vendors that service them. These benefits will come into focus as standards and technology mature in the years ahead. Nevertheless, a few major ones can be identified now.
One key benefit might well be simplicity. Similar to the way IP provided a lingua franca that eased distributed application development, the Intercloud can provide a layer of abstraction and standardization that might further reduce complexity, accelerate development, and increase manageability. In other words, IT shops will increase their productivity and agility.
IT organizations will also accelerate their time to market as they are able to use the Intercloud to create complex workflows and composite services based on end-to-end applications forged from multiple cloud providers at multiple layers. Reduced time to market, in turn, can translate into lower cost, lower risk, higher marketshare (and thus revenue), and greater profit. Moreover, such composed capabilities will be able to leverage best-in-breed capabilities, regardless of provider.
CIOs will benefit from stronger cloud service provider capabilities as providers augment their footprint, enhance availability through on-demand sister sites in specific metropolitan areas, acquire additional virtual capacity in the event of demand spikes, or recover capacity lost to outages or disasters. Footprint augmentation can be done transparently through federation with resources and capabilities from other providers that meet its customer requirements.
By enabling portability of workloads across clouds, Intercloud standards will also reduce issues -- real or perceived -- associated with provider lockin, enabling CIOs to switch cloud providers with minimal overhead based on their evolving requirements and selection criteria. This will be beneficial to cloud service providers, because it will remove one of the remaining barriers to cloud adoption. In some cases, it will also help drive a shift to cloud-neutral co-location facilities, due to data transport costs between non-co-located providers and additional data gravity concerns such as latency.
By facilitating the development of cloud markets, CIOs will be able to switch providers to optimize cost continuously in a world of price volatility due to pricedowns and dynamic pricing such as for-spot instances. A quantitative analysis I recently performed shows that, in such a world, markets don't need to be very large. A market with only four providers can offer 60 percent of the financial benefit of one with an extremely large number of service providers.
In the event of severe cloud provider operational issues or bankruptcies, such as what happened with Nirvanix, customers will have an easier time moving processing capacity and stored data and objects to solvent providers. CIOs will also improve their business continuity and disaster recovery posture, as they create enterprise architectures that leverage multiple providers. This will help to insure against outages that span a single provider, typically due to software, upgrade, or configuration issues. Such provider diversity will also help drive technology diversity, leading to reduced risk.
CIOs will have a greater choice of providers. The expertise required to develop for and operate each individual, proprietary cloud will give way to greater cloud flexibility and greater generality of developer/operations skills.
Anyone following cloud computing knows that it is increasingly being adopted by a broad variety of businesses ranging from SMBs to global enterprises. This next phase in the evolution of the cloud will help make cloud computing even better suited to enterprise adoption.
Joe Weinman is a senior vice president at Telx, the author of Cloudonomics: The Business Value of Cloud Computing, chairman of the IEEE Intercloud Testbed executive committee, and a regular InformationWeek contributor.
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