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Why the IEEE's cloud computing Initiative matters

Industry association IEEE has launched its Cloud Computing Initiative, which proposes the development of a guide and standard for cloud computing.

Thinq_ had a chat with David Bernstein, chair of the IEEE Cloud Computing working group, and Steven Diamond, chair of the IEEE Cloud Computing Initiative, about why the organisation is launching this initiative, how it will benefit consumers and the industry - and what makes the introduction of a standard for the cloud so important.

Bernstein told us there were two reasons the organisation decided to invest in the cloud. First, to help serve governments and industry groups which are looking for a set of standards and guidelines for the adoption and development of cloud services.

It was believed that a formal framework of profiles was needed, which is why the IEEE P2301, the draft guide for cloud portability and interoperability profiles, was proposed.

Second, the IEEE wanted to dive into areas that have not been addressed elsewhere by other standards bodies or industry groups, such as in the code of practice put forward by the Cloud Industry Forum.

Bernstein said that many governments and organisations had highlighted “a lack of reference material” for the cloud, and that the presence of a published reference document would help the industry.

He also said that there are a number of publications out there from industry trade associations, which some see as standards, but which really aren't. Instead, said Bernstein, these are designed to “serve industry” alone.

This can lead to a confusing situation for companies wishing to enter the cloud, said Bernstein, because as yet there's no culture of ensuring compliance with a set of standards. The organisation “wanted to bridge this gap” by putting forward relevant guidelines.

Lack of co-ordination
Diamond added that his outfit already runs a number of projects focused on cloud computing, “such as education, publications and standards” - but said that it had “identified a lack of co-ordination” among these. He said the Cloud Computing Initiative wanted to consolidate these into a more cohesive initiative and provide additional resources to help the cloud move forward.

Asked why a standard for cloud computing is necessary, Bernstein told us it needs more than one: “IEEE is focused on promoting standards... plural.”

"We believe there are many ways to do things, which ensures competition and serves the industry well. This applies to other areas, such as building computers,” he said. “There are multiple ways to make one, but only a few of them work really well."

Diamond believes a set of common practices, complying with a larger architecture, benefits everyone involved - and this applies across the board for all areas of technology.

He cited a recent ITC study which identified the lack of security and standards as the two most pressing issues for the cloud. Seventy per cent of the survey's respondents said cloud standards were “important” or “very important”, leading the IEEE to label the lack of standards a “critical issue”.

Even the European Union has called for tighter regulation of the cloud, which it claims is critical to Europe's growth.

Benefits of common standards
Asked what the benefits for consumers and for the industry as a whole would be from the introduction and adoption of common standards, Bernstein said the best way to highlight the advantages is to compare them to the Internet when it first started.

A number of service providers such as AOL were available, but the consumer experience at the time was not as good as it is now, because there was a lack of standards for interoperability. The lack of standards for routers, email, the web, domain names, HTTP and HTML, for example, meant that some content was not viewable by all.

The situation improved as standards were approved and adopted, and the same kinds of benefits will be seen today by users of the cloud – primarily interoperability, which means “better choices, better access”, and greater mobility.

A second standard, IEEE P2302 - the draft proposal for cloud interoperability - promotes a situation in which the cloud is universally accessible.

Bernstein gives the example of a person flying halfway across the world and taking out their smartphone. Voice calls and the Internet now work without problem, because there are standards in place for mobile phone calls and data roaming. Storage roaming, on the other hand, can prove problematic, and users often need to retreat back into their “walled garden”.

“Users will want to employ local cloud providers for uploading their files, rather than sending things [across the world],” Bernstein told us. Compute and storage roaming will be a necessary step, he said - and is dependent on the introduction of standards.

Local cloud economies
Guidelines and standards would also benefit the industry worldwide by helping “create economies for interoperable equipment in different industries,” according to Bernstein.

At present, he said, there is “a handful of large providers”. But with standards in place, new providers of equipment, network and cloud services would emerge, along with different kinds of content, experiences and products to push the industry forward.

Asked if IEEE what would attract industry groups to take on board its standards - and, indeed, if IEEE could force companies and organisations to adopt them, Bernstein said it won't be “handcuffing people and taping them to their chairs” until they embrace the organisation's ideas.

"The standards are entirely voluntary for all considered, including users, vendors and participants,” he said. "Anyone is free to adopt them if they find value in it”. Since many cloud companies are participating in the development of the standards, he argues, they are more likely to take them on board.

Diamond reckons there will be many companies trying to take advantage of the cloud as its growth accelerates, while Bernstein thinks that the cloud appears to be a “new, huge way for the planet to consume computing.”

According to Bernstein, server computing is still exploding, with “no signs of a decrease in people buying servers for businesses”.

At the same time, he sees a massive explosion in cloud delivery-related applications. According to Bernstein, there's a “huge desire to build large systems”.

“Demand for the cloud is there in a big way,” he says.