By Chris Harding, The Open Group
At the end of last year, Gartner predicted that cloud computing would become an integral part of IT in 2013 (http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?doc_cd=230929). This looks a pretty safe bet. The real question is, why is it taking so long?
Cloud computing is a simple concept. IT resources are made available, within an environment that enables them to be used, via a communications network, as a service. It is used within enterprises to enable IT departments to meet users’ needs more effectively, and by external providers to deliver better IT services to their enterprise customers.
There are established vendors of products to fit both of these scenarios. The potential business benefits are well documented. There are examples of real businesses gaining those benefits, such as Netflix as a public cloud user (see http://www.zdnet.com/the-biggest-cloud-app-of-all-netflix-7000014298/ ), and Unilever and Lufthansa as implementers of private cloud (see http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240114043/Unilever-and-Lufthansa-Systems-deploy-Azure-Private-cloud ).
Slow Pace of Adoption
Yet we are still talking of cloud computing becoming an integral part of IT. In the 2012 Open Group Cloud ROI survey, less than half of the respondents’ organizations were using cloud computing, although most of the rest were investigating its use. (See http://www.opengroup.org/sites/default/files/contentimages/Documents/cloud_roi_formal_report_12_19_12-1.pdf ). Clearly, cloud computing is not being used for enterprise IT as a matter of routine.
Cloud computing is now at least seven years old. Amazon’s “Elastic Compute Cloud” was launched in August 2006, and there are services that we now regard as cloud computing, though they may not have been called that, dating from before then. Other IT revolutions – personal computers, for example – have reached the point of being an integral part of IT in half the time. Why has it taken Cloud so long?
One reason is that using Cloud requires a high level of trust. You can lock your PC in your office, but you cannot physically secure your cloud resources. You must trust the cloud service provider. Such trust takes time to earn.
Another reason is that, although it is a simple concept, cloud computing is described in a rather complex way. The widely-accepted NIST definition (see http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-145/SP800-145.pdf ) has three service models and four deployment models, giving a total of twelve distinct delivery combinations. Each combination has different business drivers, and the three service models are based on very different technical capabilities. Real products, of course, often do not exactly correspond to the definition, and their vendors describe them in product-specific terms. This complexity often leads to misunderstanding and confusion.
A third reason is that you cannot “mix and match” cloud services from different providers. The market is consolidating, with a few key players emerging as dominant at the infrastructure and platform levels. Each of them has its own proprietary interfaces. There are no real vendor-neutral standards. A recent Information Week article on Netflix (http://www.informationweek.co.uk/cloud-computing/platform/how-netflix-is-ruining-cloud-computing/240151650 ) describes some of the consequences. Customers are beginning to talk of “vendor lock-in” in a way that we haven’t seen since the days of mainframes.
The Portability and Interoperability Guide
The Open Group Cloud Computing Portability and Interoperability Guide addresses this last problem, by providing recommendations to customers on how best to achieve portability and interoperability when working with current cloud products and services. It also makes recommendations to suppliers and standards bodies on how standards and best practice should evolve to enable greater portability and interoperability in the future.
The Guide tackles the complexity of its subject by defining a simple Distributed Computing Reference Model. This model shows how cloud services fit into the mix of products and services used by enterprises in distributed computing solutions today. It identifies the major components of cloud-enabled solutions, and describes their portability and interoperability interfaces.
Cloud is not the only new game in town. Enterprises are looking at mobile computing, social computing, big data, sensors, and controls as new technologies that can transform their businesses. Some of these – mobile and social computing, for example – have caught on faster than Cloud.
Portability and interoperability are major concerns for these technologies too. There is a need for a standard platform to enable enterprises to use all of the new technologies, individually and in combination, and “mix and match” different products. This is the vision of the Platform 3.0 Forum, recently formed by The Open Group. The distributed computing reference model is an important input to this work.
The State of the Cloud
It is now at least becoming routine to consider cloud computing when architecting a new IT solution. The chances of it being selected however appear to be less than fifty-fifty, in spite of its benefits. The reasons include those mentioned above: lack of trust, complexity, and potential lock-in.
The Guide removes some of the confusion caused by the complexity, and helps enterprises assess their exposure to lock-in, and take what measures they can to prevent it.
The growth of cloud computing is starting to be constrained by lack of standards to enable an open market with free competition. The Guide contains recommendations to help the industry and standards bodies produce the standards that are needed.
Let’s all hope that the standards do appear soon. Cloud is, quite simply, a good idea. It is an important technology paradigm that has the potential to transform businesses, to make commerce and industry more productive, and to benefit society as a whole, just as personal computing did. Its adoption really should not be taking this long.
The Open Group Cloud Computing Portability and Interoperability Guide is available from The Open Group bookstore at https://www2.opengroup.org/ogsys/catalog/G135
Dr. Chris Harding is Director for Interoperability and SOA at The Open Group. He has been with The Open Group for more than ten years, and is currently responsible for managing and supporting its work on interoperability, including SOA and interoperability aspects of Cloud Computing, and the Platform 3.0 Forum. He is a member of the BCS, the IEEE and the AEA, and is a certified TOGAF® practitioner.