Architecture + Strategy

Musings from David Chou - Architect, Microsoft

Standardization in the Cloud – Necessity or Optional?

Standardization in the Cloud – Necessity or Optional?

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This is a widely discussed topic as well, along with many others. A recent panel discussion at GigaOm’s Structure 2010 conference had some pretty interesting comments about the question. Sinclair Schuller who was on that panel, posted the question, and his thoughts, on his blog - Do We Need Cloud API Standards?

Here is my take (though a bit more philosophical one):

My personal opinion is that “formal API standardization” is not “absolutely required”. Philosophically I’m with the “innovate now, standardize later” camp as I think the trade-offs still favor innovation over standardization in this area today, plus the rest of the IT world still operates in that mode, thus would cloud computing have a better chance at standardization?

Fundamentally though, I think we could ask the question a little differently. Instead of applying that question to cloud computing as a whole, it might make more sense, and more feasible, to look at certain areas/layers in cloud computing as places where standardization may add more value than constraints.

At a high-level, the industry is differentiating between infrastructure, platform, and software as-a-service offerings (i.e., IaaS, PaaS, SaaS). At this moment, specialization levels increase significantly as we move up the stack. Public PaaS offerings such as Windows Azure, AWS, App Engine, Force.com, etc., are already more different than similar, and the differentiations grow as we get into SaaS, and then into information management, and so on. The opportunity for standardization is really only available at the lower levels in IaaS offerings, as there is more commonality and established standards and processes in terms of how customers operate and manage infrastructure. For example, a lot of focus today is to support cloud federation to provide elasticity for private clouds, but that’s just one abstraction layer on top of provisioning and managing VM’s (over-simplifying a bit here). Though over time we might see stability and commonalities grow upwards, and towards the tipping point where standardization in some form may be more feasible for some layers.

However, at the same time, why standardize when, as others have pointed out, companies like Eucalyptus can help mitigate and manage the differences in underlying API’s and providing that abstraction at a certain level? After all, cloud-as-a-platform provides opportunities for people to build layers and layers of abstractions to add value in different ways. Also in a way, this is where cloud computing and traditional on-premise software operations differ, fundamentally. Cloud computing inherently allows us to work in a dynamic environment, where changes can be more frequent, and in fact preferred. On the other hand, on-premise software operations today tend to be more on the static side of things, and standardization helps to manage and mitigate changes and differences when we have a heterogeneous infrastructure to operate.

Thus standardization can be considered an established approach to help us better manage the on-premise world. From this perspective, is it necessary or beneficial to try to enforce this particular traditional approach to a different paradigm? That is of course, if we think cloud computing represents a new paradigm even though it’s built upon existing technologies and best practices. Personally I think cloud computing represents something different than just trying to host VMs in different places, and more benefits can be gained by leveraging it as a new paradigm (and that’s a whole other topic to dive into). :)

  • Great post!  Thanks for sharing your thoughts David!

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