Tech giants back standard for cloud portability

With backing from IBM, EMC, and Cisco, TOSCA specification aims to ease portability of services for hybrid clouds

Among the allures of cloud computing is the promise of easily and seamlessly moving services from one cloud to another. Realizing that kind of portability, however, is difficult. Every cloud service has its own distinct requirements, such as security, governance, and compliance, as well its constituent parts, including Web server, database, storage, and networking requirements.

In an effort to make cloud service more portable, a group of tech giants that includes IBM, Cisco, EMC, CA, SAP, and Red Hat today unveiled the first draft of open interoperability specification called TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications). Capgemini, Citrix, NetApp, PwC, Software AG, Virtunomic, and WSO2, among others, are also contributors.

TOSCA aims to let companies create interoperable descriptions -- in a sense, templates -- of their application and infrastructure services, the relationships between the parts of the service, and the operational behavior of the services. The open nature of the standard is intended to ensure service interoperability, regardless of supplier, provider, or host technology.

Chris Ferris, CTO of Cloud Standards at IBM, described TOSCA as a step up the cloud stack, following such open cloud standards as CDMI and OVF. "A number of initiatives are ongoing to help cloud standards," he said. "This is another standard along that progression, but it goes beyond just infrastructure. We're getting into provisioning of more comprehensive services."

One benefit of the standard, according to Ferris, is that it will better enable organizations to embrace the allure of hybrid clouds. For example, were a company to move a service in an SAP environment from a private cloud to a public cloud, it could use the standards to develop a template -- a description of all the moving parts that enable that service -- to significanlty ease the transition between clouds.

Absent from the list of contributors to TOSCA are Amazon and Microsoft. "They were invited," said Ferris. "We welcome any other companies to come. We feel that we have a fairly good constituency involved."

Notably, neither Microsoft nor Amazon backed the IBM-led Cloud Manifesto, a document released in 2009 in support of cloud computing interoperability. Microsoft deemed the document "flawed" when it came out and accused its supporters of developing it in secret.

The first draft of the TOSCA spec is available on the OASIS website. An OASIS TOSCA technical committee will further develop the specification within the open standards process.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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