A group of prominent cloud vendors has banded together behind an open source project that promises to make application services available across clouds. Zend Technologies, the supplier of the PHP scripting language, launched the Simple API project Tuesday, and IBM and Microsoft were among the first vendors to sign on.
"We're very excited to participate. This is a very important effort," said Vijay Rajagopalan, principal architect for Microsoft's interoperability strategy team, in an interview. Microsoft will supply the project with a PHP software development kit for its Azure cloud, which is due to become operative in the second half of November.
Simple API will seek to counteract the tendency of each cloud to have some proprietary parts, making it difficult for an application to work with services in more than one cloud at a time.
The Simple API is intended to provide a common API set from which developers may call application services, regardless of which cloud they reside in. Files generated by an application running in one cloud could be stored on Amazon's S3, Rackspace's Cloud Files, Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network, or Microsoft's Azure Windows blobs. Rackspace and Nirvanix are also members of the project.
Simple API will also provide access to cloud document storage services, such as Amazon's SimpleDB or Windows Azure's tables.
In addition, in its initial phase Simple API will also provide access to simple queue services, including Amazon Simple Queue Service, which moves messages between two remote computers ensuring delivery, and Windows Azure queues, a similar message-queuing service.
"We started this open source effort to deliver sets of APIs to enable the next generation of applications," said Andi Gutmans, CEO of Zend Technologies, in an interview. The next generation of applications will be able to make use of application services wherever they find them in the cloud, rather than being dependent on those immediately available. At the start, a limited number of cloud services are covered by the API, but Gutmans said open source development will ensure that Amazon's EC2 is included as well.
Gutmans said the Simple API project is engaged in an ongoing discussion with Amazon "and the door is always open" for Amazon to join the project. Amazon's infrastructure APIs, the mechanisms that tell the Amazon cloud to load a job that's arrived from an outside source and run it, have been duplicated by the Eucalyptus open source project.
The work the Simple API for Cloud Application Services project plans to do "is highly complementary" to the work accomplished by Eucalyptus, said Gutmans. Instead of enabling EC2 to run a workload, as Eucalyptus does, Simple API combined with adapters produced by the project will allow an application running elsewhere to make use of an application service in the Amazon cloud. Both the project and cloud suppliers themselves will provide adapters to allow Simple API to access a particular cloud.
Through Simple API, applications will be able to switch which service they want to use from one cloud with a different one without any changes required in the application's interfaces, Gutmans said. "The lack of portability across cloud application services for even the most basic operations has been an impediment to broader adoption of cloud services," he noted.
Kristof Kloeckner, CTO of IBM cloud computing, said Simple API's ability to invoke services across cloud providers "can significantly reduce the costs for application development… IBM will be contributing adapters for IBM's cloud service interfaces, as well as adapters to IBM's data storage products."
Microsoft is contributing a PHP adapter that works with Simple API to its Windows Azure cloud.
Lew Moorman, chief strategy officer for Rackspace Cloud, said PHP, already widely used to build Web sites and in Web applications, will frequently be selected as the language for cloud applications. Rackspace is one of the leading third party providers of monitoring and management tools for Amazon's EC2 operation, as well as offering its own cloud services.
Gutmans said an initial reference implementation of Simple API is available for review, comment, and contribution. Developers may deploy applications relying on Simple API to Amazon's EC2 by using a freely available Zend conversion tool to create Amazon Machine Images, the virtual machine format that EC2 uses. It's the Zend Server Community Edition Amazon Machine Image for EC2.
Both IBM and Micrsoft have lagged behind Amazon and other suppliers in getting their cloud services up and running. Microsoft will officially launch Azure at a Professional Developers Conference Nov. 16-19 in L.A. Simple API helps both Microsoft and IBM get back in the cloud computing race and ensures applications designed to work with Amazon will work in their clouds.
Simple API may also become an enabler of private clouds, where an application running on enterprise premises can call external cloud services or shift part of its workload to an external cloud.
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