The rapid rise of cloud computing alternatives to traditional on-premise data centers has sparked a new round of debates regarding industry technology and software standards. Industry standards have always been a source of intense arguments among vendors and concern among users. And, the advent of the cloud creates another layer of complexity and an area of dispute about which architectural approach and implementation method should be considered the best standard for organizations exploring their cloud options.

The definition of standards in the technology industry has long been determined by a combination of market forces. On one side, you have various vendor interests attempting to promote their proprietary solutions as the ideal framework to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. On the other side, you have an assortment of influential ‘user’ organizations, both commercial and public sector enterprises, seeking to establish a set of flexible parameters that enable them to move more freely from vendor to vendor without risking being locked into a particular cloud architecture in the future.

In search of standards

These countervailing forces have made it difficult to settle on a single standard at any stage of the industry’s evolution. Instead, multiple, competing standards have forced organizations to choose the standard that best meets their specific business needs. The same pattern appears to be emerging in the cloud environment.

Because even the basic definition of the ‘cloud’ has become debatable, a number of industry standards groups have emerged  to tackle the issues of cloud standards. These include:

  • The Cloud Standards Customer Council
  • Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF)
  • Cloud Management Working Group (CMWG)
  • Cloud Auditing Data Federation Working Group (CADF)
  • The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
  •  Global Inter-Cloud Technology Forum (GICTF)
  •  International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Open Grid Forum (OGF)
  • Object Management Group (OMG)
  • Open Cloud Consortium (OCC)
  • Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS)
  • Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA)
  • TM Forum

Each of these groups is examining specific technical angles of the cloud question, leaving the task of assembling an holistic view of today’s cloud standards to IT and business decision-makers.

Urgent questions demand attention now

Several variables are adding greater urgency to the standards questions in the cloud environment. First, today’s expanding array of cloud solutions are often being deployed on top of a previous generation of installed hardware systems and software applications. So, being able to integrate the new cloud solutions into the on-premise systems and software is imperative. Second, the rapid rate of ad hoc cloud adoption among corporate end-users and independent business units is also creating additional integration and alignment issues in many enterprises. Third, many existing vendors and service providers are simply rebranding, or ‘cloud-washing,’ their legacy products and services to quickly position themselves as cloud players.

The two primary vendor-independent, cloud standard alternatives are CloudStack and OpenStack. Both rely on Open Source components and boast a cross-section of vendor and enterprise supporters.

Various vendors are also attempting to establish their own de facto cloud standards.

Choose a solution that supports multiple approaches

Given that it is unlikely that any one standard is going to win universal acceptance,there are several strategies to help you choose the right cloud service solution—one that supports multiple approaches. Consider working with a cloud provider that:

1. Supports multiple approaches, so they can cater to their customers’ evolving needs as well as the evolving capabilities of the alternative deployment models.

2. Offers consulting capabilities that enable them to fully understand the customer’s business and technology requirements, so they can recommend the appropriate deployment standard to meet their specific needs.

3. Participates actively in the key standards groups, so they are not only knowledgeable about the latest developments, but are also in a position to influence the emerging standards.

4. Understands the technical and political dynamics of industry standards, and has designed their services to respond to the ongoing changes that are common in the standards arena.

If you’re in the process of choosing a cloud solution, have you considered the impact of standards? What are your concerns? How are they being addressed?