SNIA's Scroggie on virtualisation

By Craig Scroggie
Monday, 20 July, 2009

With the promise of scalable, on-demand, compute resources from virtualised infrastructures, lower costs and an innovative array of new hosted applications, cloud computing may just be the technology that survives the hype and delivers a true paradigm shift. However, with a high degree of user interest there is a headlong rush to bring services and products to market and the industry has yet to make its move in developing a baseline set of standards ... until now.

Cloud computing is not a completely new concept. One can trace its origins in the early releases of Hotmail, through applications such as Salesforce, and a steady rise in basic data backup and managed storage services - and just like all the other storage technologies that have gone before, customers have questions about interoperability. It’s precisely that direct impact on cloud provisioned storage services that has driven the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) to begin work on a range of standards initiatives for cloud storage that will establish standard definitions and encourage all service providers to share application programming interfaces (APIs).

We should be considering what type of cloud we want to build. It’s SNIA’s position that clouds should be open, not proprietary, but without restricting the innovation that creates features and differentiators between competing products, as this is the key to providing customer choice.

The customer should be able to access computing resources on demand, which is the fundamental advantage of a virtualised, web-based infrastructure. This infers that when payment is made you receive access to the predetermined level of compute cycles and data storage. The issue from the provider’s perspective is how to determine the economics of a provisioning model for an on-demand, just-in-time service that doesn’t leave them with lots of spare capacity not being used or paid for. To avoid this requires sharing of infrastructure resources between providers (perhaps the true adaptation of cloud computing) and to allow that to happen requires interoperability. Storage should be provisioned as a service. However, today this is done in a proprietary manner and represents a lock-in to the customer.

Customers are not considering the lock-in element as a high priority right now. They have greater concerns of data security, data protection, cost, backup and recovery, and what happens if the service provider disappears. It’s up to the service providers to solve these problems and demonstrate to the customer that their data is in safe hands, but it’s the industry’s responsibility to ensure that the infrastructure has the inherent standard interfaces to avoid the cloud storage market becoming a directory of proprietary services.

SNIA has started to define cloud storage elements that describe a logical view of their functions and capabilities using a descriptive taxonomy. This will form a reference model on which the industry can identify required standards and describe vendor products using vendor independent terminology. An early draft of the reference model can be found at The Cloud Storage Technical Working Group has a charter to act as the primary technical entity for SNIA to identify, develop and coordinate standards for cloud storage and to drive consistency of interface standards and messages across the cloud storage market.

There will be the inevitable philosophical debate about whether standards boost customer adoption or stifle innovation, especially as no vendor or service provider wants to see a new disruptive technology become quickly commoditised. Fortunately, however, most of the talk appears to centre on ensuring there is a standards-based API to allow customer choice and portability, enabling cloud applications to form the marketplace where innovation can flourish.


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