Standards-Based Virtualization: Critical To The Future Of Cloud Computing

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Winston Bumpus, Director of Standards Architecture at VMware. In this piece, Winston describes how the lack of standards inhibits customers from taking advantage of the full potential of cloud computing because of concerns regarding lock-in and huge investments in proprietary tools, formats and infrastructure.

Cloud computing is here. The vision of flexible, self service IT infrastructure is now within our reach. The term of cloud computing may be a new term, but the concept has been around for a long time. So what is different now? I would say two things are really allowing this to be a reality: virtualization and industry interoperability standards.

Virtualization has been a real game changer for IT infrastructure. It has changed the processes and the cost points. This has happened with the isolation, consolidation and mobility that virtualization provides. Removing the rigid bonds between hardware and the application systems that run upon them has allowed for quicker and easier deployment and increased mobility of workloads. These capabilities have truly enabled this vision of cloud computing.

Even the US government is now heavily pursuing cloud computing as a means to save cost, in crease agility, while reducing the carbon footprint and energy needed to support government computing. In a recent announcement, Vivek Kundra, the Whitehouse appointed US Chief Information Officer, rolled out another piece of their cloud computing vision with the launch of APPS.gov. Standards will be important for agency and cloud service provider interaction and portability.

Developing Standards that Enable Interoperable IT Management

Although cloud computing exists today, it has not achieved its full potential and has limited the possibility for greater adoption. This is due to the lack of standards which inhibit customers from selecting a cloud vendor without concern for lock-in and huge investments in proprietary tools, formats and infrastructure.

To enable this new paradigm, we need to work as an industry to develop, adopt and deploy interoperable IT management standards. Only when we have these standards, will customers be able to choose cloud technology which will enable that on-demand flexibility that they require. This also allows vendors of IT technology to focus on functionality, reliability and performance improvements rather than focusing on formats, agents and protocol development.

With the ever-increasing need for flexibility, availability and performance in today’s distributed enterprises, management standards for IT professionals are now more important than ever. Deploying systems, tools and solutions that support management standards helps reduce system management complexity and lower overall IT costs.

The Growing Importance of IT Standards

Gartner developed a model that describes five levels of infrastructure maturity that will enable the dynamic IT infrastructure. It starts at level 1, which is focused on centralization and standardization, and then moves through to Level 3 as virtualization and portability. It then goes on to show Level 5 as IT infrastructure becoming the business automation platform that enables Infrastructure as a services.

To get to the last level of business agility, it will take virtualization for portability and standards for interoperability with tools to manage the entire business infrastructure in a holistic view. We can no longer afford to do component-based management of the past. In order to get where IT can provide this level of agility to the business that they support, it will require the entire fabric of the compute infrastructure to be able to be managed, controlled and automated by a single set of tools.

Cloud Computing and Industry Standards

Other key industry standards are emerging including the work that is going on in the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and their work in the Cloud Storage Technical working Group. Another important cloud standards activity is in the newly created Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) which is focusing on best practices for cloud security.

The many of the industry standards development organizations (SDOs) have begun a dialog to help coordinate the efforts of their members. To that end a new web site was launched called www.cloud-standards.org This web site is actually a wiki that allows for representatives from the various organizations to post links to work they are doing and to list various events that are occurring around the globe related to cloud computing standards. This is turning out to be well utilized and has now over a dozen major organization populating this information. This site also has participation from the folks at NIST with links to there work on setting the terminology and definitions for the cloud computing industry.

Virtualization Standards for Workload Portability

A standard, portable meta-data model for the distribution of virtual machines to and between virtualization platforms has been created called the Open Virtualization Format (OVF). Packaging an application together with the operating system on which it is certified into a virtual machine that can be easily transferred from an Independent Software Vendor (ISV), through test and development and into production as a pre-configured, pre-packaged unit with no external dependencies, is extremely attractive. Such pre-deployed, ready-to-run applications packaged as virtual machines (VMs) are called virtual appliances. In order to make this concept practical on a large scale, it is important that the industry adopts a vendor-neutral standard for the packaging of such VMs and the meta-data that are required to automatically and securely install, configure and run the virtual appliance on any virtualization platform.

Benefits of this new standard include:
• Improves your user experience with streamlined installations
• Offers customers virtualization platform independence and flexibility
• Creates complex pre-configured multi-tiered services more easily
• Efficiently delivers enterprise software through portable virtual machines
• Offers platform-specific enhancements and easier adoption of advances in virtualization through extensibility

OVF and Cloud Interoperability

The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), has formed a group dedicated to addressing the need for open management standards for cloud computing. The “Open Cloud Standards Incubator” will work to develop a set of informational specifications for cloud resource management.

A key piece of this new work is to look at how OVF can be extended to support the portability requirements of deploying and managing workloads in the clouds. This includes internal, external and private cloud environments. OVF has great support and is implemented in several products.

Cloud Computing Management Standards

Beyond OVF, agreement on cloud application programming interfaces (APIs) or protocols need to be developed. There are several prominent Cloud APIs that exist today, but the industry should converge soon on a common cloud API. This API should provide management of workloads in the cloud and provide for capabilities such as fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security management. These include things such as Quality of Service (QoS) monitoring and control, as well as standard ways to retrieve billing information. In addition, security requirement definitions and security management are also key pieces that need to be standardized so that customers can have assurances regarding the environment in which their workloads are being deployed.

Earlier this month VMware announced the submission of their vCloud API to the DMTF. This is the first ever industry cloud API specification submitted to a standards development organization. The intent is to get broad industry support and input on this API from its more than 35 companies participating in the Open Cloud Standards Incubator including the 17 Leadership board member companies: AMD, CA, Cisco, Citrix, EMC, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft,Novell, Rackspace, RedHat, Savvis, SunGard, SunMicrosystems and VMware.

Reducing IT Complexity and the Cost of Cloud Computing Systems

The ultimate goal is to reduce the overall IT complexity which can only be achieved by implementation of infrastructure management standards. These standards will improve interoperability which will reduce the number of tools required to manage the IT systems. Managing the entire compute fabric as a single entity will greatly simplify the current complexity. Also, cost reductions can also be found by reduced training and specialized product requirements giving customers freedom of choice.

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