SunGard’s technical officer for cloud computing, Don Norbeck, talked with Storage Soup this afternoon on the service provider’s participation in the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) Open Cloud Standards Incubator and the “physics problem” that currently stands between IT and true application portability.
Storage Soup: Tell me about the standards body you joined and why…
Norbeck: DMTF has a good track record with previous initiatives. They brought VMware, Microsoft and Citrix to the table and got them to agree to include metadata to allow a base level of interoperability between them for the Virtualization Management Initiative (VMAN). The Open Virtualization Format (OVF) is similarly impressive to us.
SS: Did you just join the group this week? Is it a new initiative?
Norbeck: It’s relatively new – the group formed this April, and SunGard was part of that initial discussion. The news today is that we petitioned to be included in the leadership board and were just approved.
SS: Who else is participating in this standards effort?
Norbeck: Other members of the initiative include Cisco, EMC, VMware, Microsoft, HP, AMD, Rackspace, Savvio and Sun. Right now it’s an incubator discussion to define basic components of the cloud and how they should be administered. We don’t often participate in standards efforts, but we see extreme value as a service provider in being involved in this conversation early on.
SS: What kinds of things will the incubator be defining? What does it have to do with SunGard’s disaster recovery business?
Norbeck: Our first hypothesis is that there are going to be hundreds of different clouds out there with different characteristics – some optimized for speed, some for cost and some for availability. The cloud will serve two purposes: avoiding downtime and the expansion of infrastructure for peak demand. How much capacity you can spin up and how quickly you can fail over to a cloud data center depends on an up-front information exchange between the end user and the provider to tell how much and what to spin up for true application portability.
SS: I always thought cloud standards had more to do with interoperability between service providers – I thought the way users send data to service providers is already relatively well understood.
Norbeck: Before you can float workloads between service provider infrastructures, you have to figure out first how users move the workload beyond their firewall. That’s the first step. If we can all agree on application portability standards within that framework, we may be able to set something up where you can follow the sun from an electrical power perspective.
SS: Will the standard address how to move data over distance? Seems like that’s a hurdle VMware is trying to overcome right now, for example.
Norbeck: We’re still limited by distance. Network data transmission capacity is still a scarce resource. I’m not sure what the solution is – maybe enabling content delivery networks for branch offices so there are small bits of critical data everywhere, or leveraging some WAN acceleration technology in between. Storage is going to be the final domino to fall for the model of computing platform cloud aspires to be.
SS: How would you answer those who say it’s too early at this stage of the cloud to start imposing standards?
Norbeck: With any standards effort, the proof is in the actual utilization of the standard. This effort is more at the discussion stage, in which we’re looking to agree to language that will enable our customers to utilize us better. It’s too early to impose World Wide Web (WWW) type standards on cloud computing, but it’s not too early for the conversation.