IEEE's cloud portability project: A fool's errand?

The IEEE hopes to solve the cloud interoperability problem, but vendors have every reason to sabotage it, and users don't seem to care

IEEE, the international standards-making organization, is jumping with both feet into the cloud computing space and announcing the launch of its new Cloud Computing Initiative. The IEEE is trying to create two standards for how cloud applications and services would interact and be portable across clouds.

The two standards are IEEE P2301, Draft Guide for Cloud Portability and Interoperability Profiles, and IEEE P2302, Draft Standard for Inter-cloud Interoperability and Federation.

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The goal of IEEE P2301 is to provide a road map for cloud vendors, service providers, and other key cloud providers for use in their cloud environments. If IEEE P2301 does what it promises and is adopted, the IEEE says it would aid users in procuring, developing, building, and using standards-based cloud computing products and services, with the objective of enabling better portability, increased commonality, and interoperability.

The goal of IEEE P2302 is to define the topology, protocols, functionality, and governance required to support cloud-to-cloud interoperability.

Don't expect anything to happen any time soon. The standards process typically takes years and years. Even the first step has yet to occur for these standards: the formation of their working groups. However, IEEE is good at defining the details behind standards, as evidenced by its widely used platform and communication standards. By contrast, most of the standards that emerge from organizations other than the IEEE are just glorified white papers -- not enough detail to be useful.

The cloud industry has already been working toward interoperability, as have some other standards organizations. But none of those efforts has exactly set the cloud computing world on fire. I like the fact that the IEEE is making this effort, versus other standards organizations whose motivations are more about undercover marketing efforts than unbiased guidelines to aid users. 

But reality gets in the way, and I have my doubts that anything useful will come out of the IEEE efforts in any reasonable timeframe. The other standards groups involved in cloud computing have found that many of the cloud providers are more concerned with driving into a quickly emerging market and being purchased for high multiples than about using standards. 

I suspect that most major cloud providers will send reps to IEEE working groups. But as we've seen countless times in other standards efforts (think of the tortured histories of HTML and 802.11), it's a long journey from kicking off an effort versus having vendors, service providers, and even users defining and adopting useful standards.

In many respects, the use of standards is counterproductive to achieving market penetration. I mean, why support a standard that makes it easy for users to move off your cloud platform? Or to support a standard that allows your client to communicate with your competitor's cloud? Fat chance of that being accepted, at least in the short term.

If these interoperability and portablility standards are going to take root, there has to be a grassroots movement from the cloud user community to demand that these guidelines be followed. Right now, users don't seem to be thinking about that, and it may be a while before they ask the tough questions around interoperability and portability. 

It's just a reality check, guys. Don't kill the messenger.

This article, "IEEE's cloud portability project: A fool's errand?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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