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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.

Charles Babcock

April 4, 2011

5 Min Read

Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons

Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons


Slideshow: Cloud Security Pros And Cons (click image for larger view and for full slideshow)

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.

Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision

Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision


(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision

That makes the OVF standard a one-way street. You can send a workload into a cloud using OVF. To exit, the workload needs to be converted back to OVF and then transported somewhere else. Cloud vendors support the import operation but none have advertised a free option for export as well. Virtual machine formats vary enough from vendor to vendor -- perhaps by design -- in that the conversion can't occur without detailed expertise in how the header of each virtual machine format is constructed.

In addition, portability and interoperability would both be served by a common terminology and a set of metrics that allow a provider and customer to know what resources they are talking about, Bernstein said.

As an example, cloud providers Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, and Heroku use distinctly different measures and combinations of resources in their offerings, making it hard to compare services and prices.

Cloud computing today is at an early stage, similar to where the Internet was after a few years of early operation with the addition of the World Wide Web and popular browsers. "Cloud computing today is very much akin to the nascent Internet -- a disruptive technology and business model that is primed for explosive growth and rapid transformation. But without a flexible, common framework for interoperability, innovation could become stifled, leaving us with a siloed ecosystem," Steve Diamond, chairman of the IEEE cloud computing initiative, said in a statement.

The P2301 working group will provide a portability roadmap for cloud vendors, service providers, and their customers. Its work will result in a standard that will allow users to know they are buying resources and services that meet standardized definitions and measures, with the means to move them from cloud to cloud, Diamond said.

The P2302 working group will define topology, protocols, functionality, and governance for cloud-to-cloud interoperability and federated operations, also referred to hybrid cloud computing between public and private cloud data centers. The standard that results will provide an economy of scale that is transparent to users, Diamond said.

Bernstein said university labs and other test beds will be seeded with proposed IEEE standards, where they will be experimented with and tested. Software developed in the process may lead to independent open source code projects, he said.

In addition to being the chair of the two IEEE working groups, Bernstein is also managing director of the private consulting group Cloud Strategy Partners, with five principals.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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