Cloud Computing Standards: How Important Are They?
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
- Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), British physicist and engineer.
Lord Kelvin, father of the absolute temperature scale now named after him, got it right more than a hundred years ago. Measurement is critical to improvement, whether it be a product or process. Even the management doctrine of “What cannot be measured cannot be managed” has its origins in Kelvin’s pronouncement.
Well, why are we quoting Kelvin in an article on cloud computing? For the simple reason that cloud computing, in spite of its meteoric rise, is facing some issues related to measurement, specifically the lack of standards.
Standards, as you know, are very important of measurement. Measurement can give you little information unless you have something to compare it with – a standard. As an analogy, consider that you measure the amount of drinking water in a bottle and find it to be 1 gallon. Now, is this too much or too little? Well, that depends entirely on the circumstances.
If the water is meant for one person for one day, it’s enough, perhaps even a little more. However, if it’s meant for ten people, it’s too little. Now, if you knew beforehand that the standard requirement for such a group is eight gallons, you can easily say that the amount of water you have measured out is too little. As you can see, standards help make decisions.
There is another benefit of standards – interoperability. If you buy a Sony DVD player that only plays Sony DVDs, you cannot use it to play Samsung DVDs, even if they are offered to you at a lower price. In other words, due to your initial decision of purchasing a Sony player, you are tied in to that manufacturer unless you want to incur additional expenses in procuring another player. This is equivalent to not being able to play Betamax tapes on a VHS player.
Now, these are two issues that businesses hesitant to adopt cloud computing fear – the lack of standards that make assessment of the technology difficult, besides the concern that a choice made today would prevent them from switching technologies or providers in future, unless they pay big money for such changes.
Is cloud computing completely without standards? No, it is not so. Cloud computing uses Internet standards like TCP/IP as well as several established standard Web and Web Service data formats and protocols. Programming interface standards like single-vendor .NET standard and multivendor standards like UNIX, Linux, Java and SQL are also used. However, standards for configuration and management of cloud services are lacking.
Also, the industry is feeling the adverse effects of having no established contextual standards to assist the integration of cloud services into existing IT infrastructures, to support the exchange of information between different clouds, or to allow swift procurement and contract negotiation. This also makes the legal framework for cloud computing somewhat nebulous, an area briefly touched upon in my earlier article discussing the morality and legality of Amazon’s action on WikiLeaks (See: Cloud Computing and WikiLeaks: Was Amazon’s action justified?)
Another problem that has been identified recently is the propensity of service providers to label their services as “cloud computing” without any hard facts to back up such claims – a phenomenon given the name of “cloud washing”. Due to lack of standards, it is often difficult for a customer to make the right choice.
Now, it is not necessarily a bad thing for an emergent technology not to have standards, as it allows for different options to be considered before selecting the one that is best for the industry. But looking at the problems mentioned above, problems that create doubts as to the veracity of cloud computing itself, the cloud computing community should press for the codification of standards.
It is noteworthy that standards play a huge role in the widespread adoption of any new technology. While standard railway gauges opened up new vistas in the real world, TCP/IP did the same in the virtual world. It is time cloud computing standards did the same.
By Sourya Biswas