Cloud Working Group Developing Standard APIs

The goal is a set of standard application programming interfaces, usable by all vendors, for each phase of cloud operation.
The DMTF, a standards body formerly known as the Distributed Management Task Force, is trying to cut through the varied and conflicting terms used in cloud computing to supply both a common vocabulary and a set of public APIs that could be used by many cloud vendors to supply standard cloud services.

In two documents issued Monday, "Architecture for Managing Clouds" and "Uses Cases and Interactions for Managing Clouds," the DMTF lays out what it has concluded are the essential functions for cloud computing and the language that can be used to describe them. The documents were produced by a unit of DMTF known as the Open Cloud Standards Incubator, formed in April 2009, and will serve as the groundwork for the next step: drafting APIs for infrastructure-as-a-service through a newly appointed Cloud Management Workgroup. "If we come up with a good API, all the cloud suppliers would be able to implement it," said Winston Bumpus, president of the DMTF. The specification would actually cover a set of APIs, with an interface for each phase of cloud operation, such as one for handling the submission of an external workload, loading it into a virtual machine, starting the virtual machine, storing its results, and terminating it.

In the future, predicted Bumpus, cloud users will face an array of different suppliers that they can be used in the same way without stopping to reconfigure workloads or rework applications. It will be possible to move from cloud to cloud, invoking a set of standard APIs.

Today, pretty much the opposite is the case. VMware is busy providing cloud software to new suppliers who will run VMware virtual machines, while Citrix Systems is allied with Microsoft in producing a virtual environment that run both Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hypver-V virtual machines, each using varying API to admit and handle the workloads involved. "We're very optimist we're going to solve this problem," said Bumpus in an interview. He is director of standards at VMware as well as president of the DMTF.

Such a grand plan lacks one backer, however, and that's Amazon Web Services, supplier of the market leading EC2 infrastructure as a service cloud. "No, they are not participating. I have reached out to them," Bumpus said. But he doesn't expect an API set from DMTF will have to go out and compete head to head with Amazon's own APIs. If the working group's APIs are well drafted and widely followed, the pressure will build on Amazon to support it.

The DMTF's incubator documents establish such things as a service catalogue will be basic to the operation of each cloud in the future. Security will be resolved through communications with a security manager server, etc.

Bumpus said participating companies have already submitted recommended APIs for many functions. VMware submitted the VMware Cloud API last September. In November, Fujitsu, a recent entrant in cloud computing, submitted its own API set. HP submitted APIs in January, Telefonica in March and Oracle in July.

Working with these varying API implementations will be difficult, but Bumpus points out that all are based the Representational State Transfer(REST) protocol to HTTP-based web services, and all try to accomplish similar goals. "There are differences, but not meaningful differences" that can't be resolved in committee, he said.

The resulting API set may one day allow the establishment of more public -- and private -- clouds, with users having a much firmer idea of how to interact with them. "I see a change in how we view and do computing," said Bumpus. Government requirements will help drive suppliers toward a common standard, enabling "new compatibilities that we find hard to imagine today," he said.