Standards for clarity and interoperability
e-tech: Why are standards important for cloud computing?
Standards are important in the IT (Information Technology) sector because they enable products to interoperate. That is to say, information technology products from multiple vendors can work together when they incorporate standard interfaces. IT products rarely operate in isolation or solely with other products from the same vendor. Consequently, in today's interconnected world, standards are absolutely essential.
As an emerging vehicle for providing information technology services, cloud computing can benefit from standards. When people talk about cloud computing they mean various things. To provide clarity and a basis for developing future cloud computing standards, SC 38 is developing a definition of cloud computing. Currently under development by SC 38, ISO/IEC 17788: Cloud Computing – Overview and Vocabulary, includes a concise definition of cloud computing. Since the standards process is a process of gaining consensus among various different constituencies, this is a consensus definition.
According to this document that is being proposed as an International Standard cloud computing is described as: “a paradigm for enabling network access to a scalable and elastic pool of shareable, physical or virtual resources with self-service provisioning and administration on-demand”.
At the bare minimum, cloud computing is a form of information technology involving the use of resources that are not owned, controlled or maintained by a single user. Rather, the resources are accessed over a network and are shared among a community of users. With cloud computing those resources can be dynamically provisioned – if users need more computing power, more storage or more processing capabilities, then these resources can be provided. Cloud computing services may be provided by more than a single computer or even a single computing centre; users may actually be sharing resources across various facilities that may not even be co-located.
Standards to guide the Cloud transition
It is important to note the word "paradigm" in the definition of cloud computing outlined in the ISO/IEC 17788 draft standard. Cloud computing is a shift in the paradigm for providing IT capabilities to users, and a great deal of future IT activity is likely to take place within the context of cloud computing. Because cloud computing has the potential to disrupt the IT products and services marketplace, there are strong demands for near-term cloud computing standards, especially from governments.
The information technology industry has undergone significant changes throughout its history, such as the transition from the mainframe (centralized computing) era to the distributed computing era and personal computing. With cloud computing, we may be experiencing another important transition; the standards developed by SC 38 promise to be an essential part of getting that transition right.
e-tech: What is ISO/IEC JTC1’s role in cloud computing standards? What part is SC 38 playing? ISO/IEC JTC 1 recognized the emerging field of cloud computing (and the desire to develop cloud computing standards) when in 2009 it established SC 38: Distributed Application Platforms and Services. At the time, there were three different converging demands that were brought to the JTC 1 plenary. After six years of studying standardization requirements for web services – a technology for providing capabilities across the network through the World Wide Web – JTC 1 was considering whether to begin developing web services standards. At the same time, China proposed that JTC 1 work in the area of SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), another underlying technology closely related to web services. The third converging initiative came from Korea, with a proposal that JTC 1 look into the new area of cloud computing. Recognizing the strong relationships among these technologies, JTC 1 established SC 38 with the title of DAPS (Distributed Application Platforms and Services) so as to address these three areas: web services, service oriented architecture, and cloud computing.
Ongoing focus on cloud standardization
As the work of SC 38 has evolved over the last four years, I have found that the overwhelming focus of SC 38 today is on cloud computing. The work on web services is nearly finished and there is no new development of web services standards. The work on SOA in SC 38 is still ongoing, but winding down. However, there is a tremendous amount of interest and effort in the area of cloud computing.
To date, SC 38 has focused on preparing two important documents for cloud computing in collaboration with ITU-T (International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector): ISO/IEC 17788: Cloud Computing: Overview and Vocabulary and ISO/IEC 17789: Cloud Computing – Reference Architecture. In addition to preparing these documents, SC 38 has initiated work on the definition of a standard SLA (Service-Level Agreement) for cloud computing.
Adapting to meet changing needs
Recognizing the heavy shift in focus of SC 38 towards cloud computing, at the SC 38 Plenary in Kobe, Japan, in September 2013, I initiated a study group on future work in the area of cloud computing and related technologies. My anticipation is that the work of this study group will result in new projects being proposed, and that there may be new structures within SC 38 to develop these projects. The current working groups – one each for web services, SOA, and cloud computing – do not properly reflect the interest and level of effort that we have in the cloud computing area; new structures might better deploy our resources to carry out what is likely to be a more robust programme of work in the area of cloud computing.
e-tech: What is ahead for SC 38 in the next couple of years?
The first step in the standardization process is for the provider community and standards-setting organizations to come to a consensus as to which standards are required, beyond those standards that already exist or are currently being developed. Because cloud computing is still in the rapid innovation stage, this idea of consensus on required standards is extremely important to its success.
Future cloud standardization
Heading up the study group on future work in cloud computing mentioned above is someone from NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), the US federal technology agency. NIST is one of the big demand-pull organizations and represents a major market for most of the US providers; in addition, NIST is looked to in much of the rest of the world as a trusted player in defining requirements for users, especially for governments – many of which are represented by major players in JTC 1.
This study group should help SC 38 decide where to go beyond vocabulary and reference architectures. Over the next couple of years SC 38 will determine which standards are required for cloud computing and will play a significant role in providing those standards.
I do not expect SC 38 to define all of the standards that are required for cloud computing, but it should be in a position where it is able to recognize what standards are required. It can then become a consolidator of the standards that are produced from a wide and diverse community of standards-setting organizations and can develop the additional required standards not being developed elsewhere.
Coordination and leadership
SC 38 is uniquely positioned to serve as a consolidator of cloud computing standards because of the JTC 1 PAS (Publicly Available Specification) process. This allows specifications developed through consensus processes outside the formal structure to be transposed into JTC 1 and recognized as International Standards. To date, most of the international technical standards in the area of cloud computing have come as PAS submissions from consortia addressing the lower levels of the cloud computing technology stack; that is, those focusing on standards for infrastructure as a service.
The standards that have been worked on directly by SC 38 are the vocabulary and reference architecture standards, ISO/IEC 17788 and ISO/IEC 17789. Over the next year, I expect SC 38 to complete these foundation standards and to identify the requirements for additional cloud computing standards. Only then can SC 38 embark on developing these standards and/or fulfilling the need with standards brought in from elsewhere.
e-tech: Many standards organizations are developing cloud computing standards. Are they competing with SC 38?
I do think that we are in a new era, in that technology convergence is real. The mechanisms that we set up for international standards 50 or more years ago divided technological standardization into three fields, with ITU covering telephones and telecommunications, IEC taking on power generation and power distribution and ISO attending to areas not covered by the other two. When the need for IT standards was first recognized, ISO and IEC both claimed to have a stake in the sector. In order to avoid competition in this field, both organizations agreed to set up their first joint technical committee, known as JTC 1.
JTC 1’s global role
JTC 1 is the recognized source for global information technology standards. Its voluntary, non-regulatory, nature has allowed the IT industry to thrive over the years. The PAS process it adheres to enables consortia working in the area of cloud computing to have the results of their work considered by JTC 1 for possible acceptance as international standards. As a result, consortia see SC 38 as a vehicle for collaboration rather than as competition.
Consortia such as the Open Group, DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force), SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) are engaged in SC 38, both directly and through the PAS process. In this way, SC 38 is able to act more as partner than competitor in developing cloud computing standards. As a result, SC 38 is now positioned as the preferred vehicle for establishing new international cloud computing standards.
From SQL standard to cloud standards
e-tech: Can you tell us about your experience in developing standards, and why you are interested in cloud computing?
I became involved in developing standards in the area of database management, specifically in languages for accessing, storing, retrieving, and manipulating data. The result of those efforts was the SQL standard, in which I am still involved. I spent most of my career working for companies that had a stake in SQL.
One could argue that the SQL standard ranks among the most successful standards of the past 30 years. Nearly every product today that stores and retrieves data provides an SQL language interface. Even when new database management approaches emerge, they are characterized in the context of the SQL standard – for example, NoSQL databases.
The development of cloud computing standards may have an equally influential impact on the IT world. Cloud computing represents a paradigm shift and therefore could potentially cause discontinuity in the market. It is so important that it has the potential to substantially impact virtually everything that goes on in information technology. It is an area that is highly significant for my company, for the US, for JTC 1 and for the entire IT world – that’s why I’m excited to be engaged in cloud computing standardization in SC 38.