Bringing Standards to the Burgeoning Cloud

IEEE works to keep new cloud computing platforms running smoothly

27 July 2011

As Apple, Amazon, Google, and other companies race to offer cloud-based systems for storage, synchronization, and all sorts of applications, they’re encountering several pitfalls along the way. The not-unexpected hurdles include a plethora of file formats, applications that fail to operate with each other, and the inability to move data from one cloud-service vendor to another.

To help resolve such problems, IEEE has launched the Cloud Computing Initiative, the first broad-based project for the cloud to be introduced by a global professional association. It includes the sponsoring of standards, conferences, publications, and educational activities. At the start, a pair of new standards development working groups is focusing on two things: writing a cloud portability roadmap and producing an interoperability standard. The IEEE Computer Society is sponsoring both efforts.

“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,” says IEEE Senior Member Steve Diamond, chair of the initiative. Such growth is anticipated because the cloud allows companies to store massive amounts of data and software for their customers on remote resources rather than having to deal with the limits of local computers. But it won’t be a problem-free ride.

“Without a flexible, common framework for interoperability, cloud computing innovation could suffer,” Diamond continues. “By leveraging its uniquely deep and broad technological resources and expertise, IEEE is helping to minimize fragmentation and ensure that cloud computing realizes its full potential.”

Adds David Bernstein, IEEE senior member and chair of the two new working groups, “I think you have to look at cloud computing as the next generation of how the planet will consume computing. Right now, we’re seeing an explosion in what looks like infinite computing for tremendously complicated applications, many of them driven by smartphones and tablet computers. Because of today’s “app for that” culture, people are going to want the same kinds of global roaming, portability, and interoperability capabilities for storage and computing that they have with voice mail and text messaging.”

As more cloud computing vendors roll out services like Apple iCloud, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon’s Web Services, users might at some point want to transfer their data from one provider to another, but there is no standard yet to seamlessly perform that portability function. The IEEE P2301 Draft Guide for Cloud Portability and Interoperability Profiles now being developed will provide an intuitive road map for application portability, management, and interoperability interfaces, as well as for file formats and operating conventions, Diamond says. When completed, the standard will help vendors, service providers, and consumers involved with every aspect of procuring, developing, building, and using cloud computing products and services, he says.

The second effort involves IEEE P2302, the Draft Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation that will define the topology, protocols, functionality, and governance required for cloud-to-cloud interoperability and federation. “Intercloud” in its title refers to an interconnected mesh of clouds that depend on open standards for their operation. “Federation” allows users to move their data across internal and external clouds and access services running on still other clouds, according to the business and application requirements.

The P2302 working group is focusing on building a system among cloud product and service providers that remains transparent to users and among applications. The group plans to address transparent interoperability and federation in much the same way that standards for the global telephony system and the Internet do through best practices, naming conventions, registration authorities, and governance.

“These things have got to be worked on together in an environment where cooperation occurs openly without vendor control,” Bernstein says. “Only organizations like IEEE can facilitate such discussions.

“There’s a lot of vendor ‘play’ with cloud computing, even in the user communities, so it’s important that IEEE provide a member-driven level playing field equally accessible to academia, industry, government, and even the individual expert to help these standards happen in the most open and inclusive way possible,” he continues.

“We are trying to make standards in an industry that is moving very quickly. It’s a fool’s errand to have a group go off on its own and create a new standard well ahead of the industry’s implementation,” Bernstein says. “That’s why IEEE’s efforts include collaboration with some leading cloud and high-performance computing test beds, as well as cloud open-source projects. This type of collaboration is the new IEEE approach, and it seems to be gaining a lot of traction.”

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