Big business in big push for cloud standards

Multiple groups lead different cloud computing standards efforts: Will diversity lead to success or war?

The rise of cloud computing has led to a strong push from the IT leaders at many major companies for cloud standards around such things as security and data portability.

But the early push for standards is beginning to resemble a NASCAR race -- everyone is is driving on the same track, but are sitting in different cars.

Multiple organizations are in pursuit of the same checkered flag, a set of standards that will facilitate the adoption of cloud computing technologies.

The latest standards group group, the IBM-backed Cloud Standards Customer Council, announced its steering committee this month.

The overall message relayed through all of these efforts is clear: The business community wants cloud standards.

What is less clear is whether multiple efforts will make the standards push more competitive and accelerate their development, or will result in conflicting approaches that lead to a wreck.

The various cloud standards groups do share a key feature -- business buy-in.

For instance, Cloud Standards Customer Council members include Citigroup, Costco Wholesale, and Deere & Co.

The earlier-formed Open Data Center Alliance, an Intel-back standards organization, counts top firms like JPMorgan Chase, BMW and Deutsche Bank among its members. And the Cloud Security Alliance membership list includes The Coca-Cola Co. and eBay.

"Our intention is to be extremely collaborative with all the various organizations that spawn out there," said Marvin Wheeler, chief strategy officer of Terremark and chairman and secretary of the Open Data Center Alliance.

Wheeler said the push for standards by the multiple groups shouldn's be competitive, it should be complementary. The multiple efforts may, in the end, help all the groups achieve their respective goals, he added.

"Our goal would be work with [another] organization like this very closely," said Wheeler.

The Open Data Center Alliance is also counting on brute force to change the cloud computing market. The organization is developing usage models for cloud vendors. The membership is expected to use the models when negotiating with cloud vendors. The alliance says it membership represents more than $100 billion in annual IT spending power.

Among those involved in the Cloud Standards Customer Council is North Carolina State University.

"I would be a lot more worried if we only had one group looking at this at this point in time," said Sam Averitt, former director of its Center for Virtual Computing Lab at NC State. He retired N.C. State post this month, but plans to remain active on cloud and standards efforts.

Averitt said the cloud market is so big and diverse that it needs different voices.

"There is going to be a convergence process over time and if done well it will work out fine," said Averitt, citing past agreements over networking standards as a model.

But Averitt is adamant on the need for standards, particularly in the area of security to ensure that data can be transferred cloud to cloud without compromising its integrity.

What is particularly critical are audit capabilities, said Averitt. Because you can't have a human in the loop checking data transfers, there has to be machine-implemented policies with audit trails that allow for forensics to determine where the information went and who had access to it, he said.

In doing government work, in particular, agencies have to be convinced "that what I'm doing is good enough security for their set of requirements," said Averitt, "but those benchmarks really don't exist."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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