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4/4/2011
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IEEE Targets Cloud Interoperability Standards

The engineering organization aims to develop a cloud portability roadmap and interoperability standards, while breaking down single-vendor formats.

Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons
Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons
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The venerable IEEE is wading into the chaotic and roiled realm of cloud computing, seeking to set standards through a cloud computing initiative launched Monday that will focus on cloud interoperability.

IEEE is the professional engineering organization that formulated 802.11 Ethernet, which became the standard for the global implementation of Wi-Fi, David Bernstein, chairman of the initiative's two working groups that were announced Monday, noted in an interview.

The working groups are: P2301, chartered to draft a standard for establishing portability, or the ability of a workload sent to one cloud to be moved into another. Its output will be known as a "Draft Guide for Cloud Portability and Interoperability Profiles." The second working group, P2302, will concentrate on allowing a system in one cloud to work with a system in another. It will produce a draft standard for "Intercloud Interoperability and Federation."

Both areas have been partially addressed elsewhere -- by the DMTF standards group with its open virtualization format (OVF) for moving virtual machines around, or the advisories and best practices of the Cloud Security Alliance for handling workloads securely, conceded Bernstein. But that's part of the problem.

"There are a lot of different activities. The IEEE will reference the great work done elsewhere," but groups, such as the Storage Industry Networking Association or the Telecommunications Management Forum have a specialist function and are not literally cloud standards bodies, he said. They don't necessarily document the origins of their recommendations and/or provide strict controls over their documentation. The Cloud Security Alliance "functions like a user group" in coming up with best practices, but doesn't necessarily apply strict version control over its documents, the way a standards body such as ISO or ANSI must, Bernstein claimed.

Other attempts at cloud standards are executed by self-selected vendor groups, with a restricted membership or a "pay to play" approach. The IEEE working groups are open to IEEE members who may vote on as many standards as they wish. Non-members may submit comments and proposals as well, Bernstein said. An individual professional membership is listed on the IEEE website at $180 a year.

Bernstein said it's advisable for the IEEE to pursue an interoperability standard because "it's a very specific piece of the puzzle, a very important piece" that no single standards group has addressed so far.

Portability is an issue because thus far clouds have tended to be environments seeking workloads that run under one type of hypervisor. A workload for Amazon's EC2 can't be shifted into a Savvis, Terremark, or Verizon Business cloud without first being reformatted. The DMTF's OVF partially addressed the problem by providing for an import format that allows a virtual machine to be recast into a form that can be recognized by at least three major hypervisors -- VMware's ESX Server, Microsoft's Hyper-V, or Citrix Systems XenServer. Each hypervisor imports the virtual machine in OVF, then reconstructs it in its own preferred format.

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