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6/7/2011
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User Alliance Wants Cloud Interoperability

Lockheed Martin, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, and China Life say they'll spend with suppliers that follow the group's requirements.

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An alliance dominated by large cloud users and representing $100 billion in annual IT spending is asserting itself to bring greater interoperability to cloud computing in the face of supplier foot dragging.

The Open Data Center Alliance, a vendor neutral group with a steering committee composed of Lockheed Martin, China Life, Deutsche Bank, CapGemini, the Australia National Bank, and other powerful users, has issued requirements for eight cloud use cases.

"We have outlined specific innovations in security, automation, common management, and service transparency required for widespread adoption of cloud services," wrote Adrian Kunzle, managing director and global head of engineering at JP Morgan Chase, a steering committee member, in a blog Tuesday in support of the requirements.

He left little doubt how they should be used: "We are advocating our members to begin immediate use of these documents in their planning and procurement of cloud solutions," he added.

The alliance is addressing head on the problem of public clouds defining standard servers, workload formats, SLAs and security measures each in its own way, with no common metric allowing one to be compared to the other. In addition, with each cloud selecting one virtual machine format to support, using the format makes for a barrier to exiting one cloud and using another.

A half measure in addressing the issue has already been supplied by the DMTF standards body with its vendor-neutral Open Virtualization Format for cloud workloads. Workloads converted into the OVF "migration" format can be recognized in clouds using different hypervisors. But in each case, the cloud will convert the neutral format into its own preferred virtual machine format before running it. With OVF, workloads can check into the cloud, but like visitors to the Hotel California, they can't leave.

"Moving workloads is not that easy, not without a lot expensive software to help you do it. OVF is starting to help but at a very basic level," said Jason Waxman, Intel's most frequent spokesman on cloud issues, in an interview. He is general manager of High Density Servers in Intel's Server Platforms Group.

The ODCA was established seven months ago to counter vendor lock-in and speed public cloud development. Intel was an instigator of the organization and remains a background technical advisor, but it doesn't sit on the steering committee or vote on decisions. If the cloud market grows faster, it is likely to benefit Intel, since the public clouds built to date have been based on its x86 chip architecture, not Oracle's Sparc or IBM's Power chips.

Noticeably absent from t he ODCA membership were the major cloud suppliers, including Amazon Web Services, whose EC2 cloud is the leader in the marketplace; Rackspace, a supplier of managed services and Rackspace Cloud; and Microsoft, supplier of Azure cloud services. Rackspace is backing an alternative to standardized cloud requirements by contributing code and sponsoring the Openstack open source project, an effort to generate a widely shared software base for cloud services.

Cloud suppliers that have signed up as ODCA members include Savvis (now part of CenturyLink); Dell, which supplies cloud servers; EMC, which partners with Cisco in supplying server and storage packages through their VCE partnership; Parallels, supplier of virtual machine software for the Macintosh that allows it to run Windows applications; AT&T, provider of the Synaptic Compute Cloud; and Red Hat, supplier of the open source KVM hypervisor used in some cloud implementations. Red Hat is the only direct hypervisor supplier in the alliance; absent are Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix Systems. Marvin Wheeler, chief strategy officer of cloud supplier Terremark and chairman of ODCA, said in an interview that his firm's new owner, Verizon Business, plans to adhere to the standards expected to emanate from the ODCA's use case requirements.

Wheeler said by increasing transparency between clouds and allowing shared workloads, generally adhered to cloud standards could reduce the cost of cloud computing for users by $25 billion over within five years. ODCA's work "will accelerate cloud investment and adoption," he said.

Instead of drafting cloud standards itself, ODCA is defining use case requirements and then letting an established standards body tackle the related standards process. Those bodies include: DMTF, Oasis, the Cloud Security Association, and the TM Forum's Enterprise Cloud Leadership Council (ECLC).

Sean Kelley, CIO of the Platform Services Group at Deutsche Bank and chairman of the ECLC, said the council "shares the same priorities as the Open Data Center Alliance of defining IT requirements and enabling the optimal, flexible management of a cloud ecosystem," he said in the ODCA announcement.

Membership of ODCA has expanded rapidly to 250 members, the bulk of them cloud users, Wheeler reported.

In the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: More than half of federal agencies will use cloud computing within 12 months, our new survey finds. Security, ROI, and management challenges await them. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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