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Proposed spec aims to nix cloud lock-in

A cadre of tech companies led by IBM(s ibm), and including CA Technologies(s ca), Cisco(s csco), Citrix(s ctxs), EMC(s emc), NetApp(s ntap), Red Hat(s RHT), and SAP (s sap)  — is throwing its weight behind a proposed standard to ensure applications can move between clouds.

The group, under the auspices of the venerable OASIS standards body (responsible for such standards as WS-Security and the OpenDocument Format), takes aim at one of the chief concerns enterprises have about cloud computing: a fear that a given cloud is like a roach motel in that they can check their apps in, but checking them out may be a whole other matter.

The proposed Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications (or TOSCA) promises a sort of cloud nirvana: the ability to move applications across private and public clouds that use different vendor technologies without worrying about upsetting security and compliance safeguards they’ve already taken.

While legacy IT vendors are well represented on TOSCA, it’s interesting to see who’s not there — Amazon(s amzn), Rackspace(s rax) and Microsoft(s msft) — for example. Amazon and Rackspace are the two largest cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service players and Microsoft has poured resources into its Azure platform as a service. Oracle (s orcl), another major legacy IT player that’s trying to transition into the cloud, is also missing from the list.

“The first thing to note is the players. The tech companies that were truly innovative in delivering cloud computing services aren’t here,” said Carl Brooks, cloud analyst for Tier1 Research, a division of 451 Research. “That’s telling because it shows that this kind of interoperability effort isn’t about actually meeting customer demand, it’s about positioning and making a statement.”

Brooks added, that application portability is nevertheless a worthy goal, and one that most companies will require.

Paul Lipton, the CA VP who co-chairs the TOSCA Committee, said legacy IT players have a lot of experience dealing with interoperability issues but that all companies are welcome to participate in the effort. As for Amazon’s MIA status? “You’d have to ask Amazon why they’re not here,” he said.

IDC analyst Mary Johnston Turner said application portability is critical, and this group is starting to address it. “A lot of what goes on now with cloud is really siloed: an app here, an app there. We all talk about the hybrid cloud, but without application portability it won’t happen because it’s really hard to actually move workloads around.”

The presence of these legacy enterprise players in TOSCA is important, she said, because these companies support many core, mission-critical production systems and at least they are on the same page about this effort.

It’s smart for this group to focus their collective energy on the cloud application portability problem. Users increasingly expect, and will inevitably demand their applications run on whatever cloud they want. Still, unless and until some of the major, newer cloud powers sign on, it’s unclear what traction TOSCA will get.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user theaucitron

6 Responses to “Proposed spec aims to nix cloud lock-in”

  1. Robin Basham

    Vendor lock-in is largely caused by passive configuration management, which is my nice way of saying “NO configuration management”. Templated environments are not recoverable environments. We have to examine all the steps between.

  2. James Bryce Clark

    Thanks, though the article may be a tad naive about expecting a drive for real portability to start with the biggest IaaS incumbents. Until customers demand it, why should they? And they can’t demand it until we show feasibility … Thus, a standards project. This worked the same way with databases and XML export formats. It took a while for the biggest incumbents to admit that standardized export might be OK. Stick around :)

  3. SteveJobs Syndrome : “a fear that a given cloud is like a roach motel in that they can check their apps in, but checking them out may be a whole other matter.”

    Will make cloud computing much less popular than many people believe.