US, Chinese, EU firms push cloud standards

An alliance of companies that claim more than US$100 million in annual buying power have created standards for cloud computing services.

A group of US and overseas companies, including some major Chinese firms, are betting that they can encourage cloud providers to adopt commons standards for managing security, operating routine processes and describing their services.

Whether cloud vendors adopt the Open Data Center Alliance standards released Tuesday remains to be seen.

But the 280 members of this alliance have a big -- and growing -- stick . The group claims that its members have $100 billion in annual IT spending power, and will spend part of it with cloud vendors that pay attention to the their work.

Open Data Center Alliance members include BMW, USB, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Marriott International, Shell, and Disney Internet Labs. Overseas companies with seats on the alliance's steering committee include China Life, a Beijing-based insurance company, and China Unicom, a government owned telecommunications company.

The alliance was formed last year to work on standards for cloud vendors that address many of the issues that, at the minimum, bug users , and at worst, keep them from adopting cloud technologies.

The first set of "usage models," released today, aims among other things to fix problems caused by the lack of an agreed upon method for creating and stopping virtual machines.

"How you start, stop, create, suspend a VM really shouldn't be a selling point for (cloud vendors)," said Andrew Feig, the executive director of financial services firm UBS's Technology Advisory Group and an alliance board member. "However, it does cause us a lot of pain to actually have to do that four different ways for four different vendors."

The six- to 10-page usage models are designed to give succinct guidance to cloud providers about security and operations. At the same time, the alliance is working with standards bodies to determine whether the usage models can provide a foundation for future standards.

"They shouldn't be ridiculously hard to implement; they should be very pragmatic and very straight forward to the provider," Feig said.

Security is a major focus for the alliance, and the usage models set four levels: Bronze, for basic security; silver, a level that reaches enterprise security requirements; gold, a security level that meets financial industry needs; and platinum, a military-level equivalent.

The security requirements aim to ensure that systems are "tamperproof," and protected, for instance, from spoofing. They also set rules to ensure dedicated capabilities around shared resources. The plan also includes rules for managing cryptographic keys, patches and software versions.

Requests for proposals from alliance members will require adherence to the usage models -- that's the carrot.

"Hopefully, it will get the industry moving a little quicker in this space," said Feig.

Other models set standard units of measure to make it easier to compare services.

If a customer is buying a server, for instance, the alliance standards offer clear definitions and metrics for comparing servers. "Things have been standardized," said Feig. Today, he noted, users are buying services whose descriptions "come out of left field for every provider."

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 .

Read more about cloud computing in Computerworld's Cloud Computing Topic Center.

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