Cloud Computing has helped us understand both the opportunity, and the need, to decouple physical IT infrastructure from the requirements of business. In theory cloud computing greatly enhances an organization's ability to not only decommission inefficient data center resources, but even more importantly eases the process an organization needs to develop when moving to integration and service-orientation within supporting IT systems.
Current cloud computing standards, such as published by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have provided very good definitions, and solid reference architecture for understanding at a high level a vision of cloud computing.
However these definitions, while good for addressing the vision of cloud computing, are not at a level of detail needed to really understand the potential impact of cloud computing within an existing organization, nor the potential of enabling data and systems resources to meet a need for interoperability of data in a 2020 or 2025 IT world.
The key to interoperability, and subsequent portability, is a clear set of standards. The Internet emerged as a collaboration of academic, government, and private industry development which bypassed much of the normal technology vendor desire to create a proprietary product or service. The cloud computing world, while having deep roots in mainframe computing, time-sharing, network computing, and other web hosting services, was really thrust upon the IT community with little fanfare in the mid-2000s.
While NIST, the Open GRID Forum, OASIS, DMTF, and other organizations have developed some levels of standardization for virtualization and portability, the reality is applications, platforms, and infrastructure are still largely tightly coupled, restricting the ease most developers would need to accelerate higher levels of integration and interconnections of data and applications.
NIST's Cloud Computing Standards Roadmap (SP 500-291 v2) states:
"… the migration to cloud computing should enable various multiple cloud platforms seamless access between and among various various services, to optimize the cloud consumer expectations and experience.
Cloud interoperability allows seamless exchange and use of data and services among various cloud infrastructure offerings and to the data and services exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together. "
Very easy to say, however the reality is, in particular with PaaS and SaaS libraries and services, that few fully interchangeable components exist, and any information sharing is a compromise in flexibility.
The Open Group, in their document "Cloud Computing Portability and Interoperability" simplifies the problem into a single statement:
"The cheaper and easier it is to integrate applications and systems, the closer you are getting to real interoperability."
The alternative is of course an IT world that is restrained by proprietary interfaces, extending the pitfalls and dangers of vendor lock-in.
What Can We Do?
The first thing is, the cloud consumer world must make a stand and demand vendors produce services and applications based on interoperability and data portability standards. No IT organization in the current IT maturity continuum should be procuring systems that do not support an open, industry-standard, service-oriented infrastructure, platform, and applications reference model (Open Group).
In addition to the need for interoperable data and services, the concept of portability is essential to developing, operating, and improving effective disaster management and continuity of operations procedures. No IT infrastructure, platform, or application should be considered which does not allow and embrace portability. This includes NIST's guidance stating:
"Cloud portability allows two or more kinds of cloud infrastructures to seamlessly use data and services from one cloud system and be used for other cloud systems."
The bottom line for all CIOs, CTOs, and IT managers – accept the need for service-orientation within all existing or planned IT services and systems. Embrace Service-Oriented Architectures, Enterprise Architecture, and at all costs the potential for vendor lock-in when considering any level of infrastructure or service.
Standards are the key to portability and interoperability, and IT organizations have the power to continue forcing adoption and compliance with standards by all vendors. Do not accept anything which does not fully support the need for data interoperability.