Big businesses get serious about an open cloud

The Open Data Center Alliance aims sway IT vendors toward supporting a cloud-computing world where openness reigns

If you were a business operating in the perfect cloud computing world, everything would work in harmony. The stuff under your roof or hosted elsewhere would all operate with plug-and-play simplicity, thanks to open standards. You wouldn't be shackled to any one vendor because its products or services weren't "optimized" to support another vendor's.

Such is the vision of the newly formed Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA), a group headed by large, deep-pocketed companies, including BMW, China Life, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, Marriott International, National Australia Bank, Shell, Terremark, and UBS. Notably absent from the group's headline members is any of the big IT vendors -- except Intel, which is serving as the alliance's technical adviser.

The group's formation is notable for couple of reasons: First, it signals that cloud computing has indeed captured the hearts and minds of major organizations worldwide. Second, it establishes an organized front for for companies outside the IT industry to flex their economic muscle and push vendors toward embracing open standards in the data center and cloud environments, in the name of flexibility. This vision arguably butts heads with the direction taken by major vendors such as IBM, HP, Cisco, and the like, who would like nothing more than to lock customers in to their own technologies.

"How do we foster interoperability and flexibility and ensure security without sacrificing choice? How do we find more open solutions as we battle increased integration challenges and costs?" posits Mario Müller, vice president of IT infrastructure at BMW, on the ODCA blog. "The Open Data Center Alliance members have come together to find answers to these challenges."

The ODCA's mission includes defining data center and cloud computing requirements, then modeling solutions in an "open, industry-standard, and multi-vendor fashion." The group then aims to "influence industry innovation focus" by promoting the models it comes up with.

The company's Usage Model Roadmap, which is currently in Version 0.5, details requirements for cloud solutions. It includes documentation discussing the guidelines for technology deployments.

Among the solutions proposed by the alliance is unified networking, which aims to address the redundancy found in data center networks, due to conflicting traffic and storage protocols. "Unified networking seeks to minimize the number of ports required to the fewest amount of links for efficient performance and minimum cost, while consolidating the dominant network (IP) and block and file storage protocols (FC as FCoE, iSCSI, NFS, CIFS) onto a single L2 backplane (10 Gb Ethernet)," according to the ODCA.

The group also proposes a model for trusted compute pools to support the secure live migration of virtual machines within a data center or between clouds. In order to ensure security, the Alliance argues, the pools of machines must embrace open and consistent transport and security standards, thus ensuring data moves from point A to point B reliably and securely, no matter the vendor label on a given machine.

One final model: cloud on-boarding, through which enterprise IT could tie legacy environments to cloud services in an on-demand, fully managed manner. Yet again, this sort of model would require the IT providers to embrace open standards to ensure each element communicated seamlessly and securely with one another.

The ODCA has other models up its sleeve, and it's putting technical groups to work in earnest to advance the road map to Version 1.0 and beyond. Whether the collective's economic clout will prove sufficient to sway IT vendors toward openness remains to be seen. It is looking to expand its ranks by adding new members.

This article, "Big businesses get serious about an open cloud," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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