Cloud Standards or Innovation – take your pick

By Subraya Mallya - November 2010 | Topics - Cloud Computing

Last week I attended CloudExpo West in Santa Clara and had an opportunity to listen to many sessions, talk to quite a few vendors and those seeking cloud solutions. Amongst other things, lack of standards repeatedly came up as one the gating issues for wider adoption of Cloud in enterprises. I have continuously maintained that – Cloud Standards are for laggards. Crazy as it might seem, that is the reality.  Let me explain.

Cloud Computing is a burgeoning new field where a lot of innovation is happening by the day – heck by the hour. We keep seeing amazing new cloud based innovation, be it NOSQL database based predictive analytics or new virtualization technologies, Orchestration technologies, Data protection, Platforms – you name it. As companies race to create the next big innovation, stopping them on their tracks to draft and comply with standards is completely counter productive. The whole idea is to better the solution that someone else has come up with or continually break new grounds.  That should be the whole idea behind technology industry. Isn’t it?

Chicken or Egg?

The key question is do we wait for standards to evolve or adopt technology and let standards catch up as the technology matures?. No sooner did we come up with some agreeable standards, the next innovation would disrupt it. So in reality, the only companies who can afford to be fully compliant to standards are the ones who are following the leaders.

Amazon AWS is far and away the leader in Cloud Computing (except SaaS) and pioneer in terms of the services it offers. While it would have been great if someone had already defined the standards prior to them and Amazon just had conform, but unfortunately Amazon did not have that luxury. So in the absence of a prevailing standard Amazon, co-created with their customers, what should amount to a standard in terms of Cloud Services. They have been enhancing and adapting their capabilities ever since. The overwhelming acceptance of their service and adaptation by the technology providers should be proof enough that they are doing the right thing.

My Point of View

If you ask me, all this noise about lack of standards is just posturing, in part by the rest of the industry in an attempt to arrest the market dominance of Amazon, and in part by lethargic IT organizations that want to hold off the need to change. It is easy to just raise the “No Standards” red flag and buy time. Frankly the whole Private Cloud mirage is another such misguided journey. There are only a handful of IT organizations that can really do what Amazon has done, in a Private Cloud setup. Netflix, a very progressive IT organization realized it and are happy for it as you can see in my previous post.

To make my point, let me take Cloud APIs, which is often brought up as an area with no standards. I think there is absolutely no need that each vendor support the exact API specification as long they can support the functional need. If you consider this small subset of APIs

  • Instance Management: StartInstance, TerminateInstance, SuspendInstance, ResumeInstance, DescribeInstance,  ListInstances
  • IP Address Management: AllocateAddress, ReleaseAddress, AssociateAddress, DisassociateAddress
  • Firewall Setups: CreateGroup, DeleteGroup, DescribeGroups
Note: This is just a representative set of APIs from Amazon AWS, I am using to make a point. There are many more MUST-HAVE APIs for supporting functionality of Elastic Block Storage, Elastic IP, Image Management, Security Groups, Key-Pair Management, Availability Zones, Tags etc to make a Cloud Infrastructure provider viable.

Portability and Integration are brought up as two things that require standards. A move from one vendor to another or a new integration is a very calculated move. A company goes through proper due diligence, evaluation, pilots and then makes the actual move from one vendor to another. So as part of move/integration if API calls have to be rewired, tested isn’t it routine work for any migration.

I feel, the industry and customers are missing out on the opportunity to progress their organization to the next frontier if they keep sitting on the sidelines or taking wrong exits (Private Cloud), while mistaking the maturity curve of Cloud as lack of standards. Standards always trail innovation. A standard is established when functional parity is reached amongst a critical mass of vendors. Until such time we want them to innovate and break the prevailing standards and solve complex problems.

I would love to hear from you, if you disagree or think I am completely out of this planet.

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