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Defining the Shifting Sands of Cloud Computing

November 14, 2014

In an effort to establish a scalable cloud lingua franca between business, marketing and technology interests, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has issued two new standards. These ISO standards blow out the widely accepted definition of cloud computing crafted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to better reflect the rapid innovation and productization of cloud services.

Cloud Computing According to the ISO

ISO/IEC 17788, Cloud computing – Overview and vocabulary, provides definitions of common cloud computing terms, including those for cloud service categories such as Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). It also specifies the terminology for cloud deployment models such as “public” and “private” cloud. More technical in nature, ISO/IEC 17789, Cloud computing – Reference architecture, contains diagrams and descriptions of how the various aspects of cloud computing relate to one another.

In its final version from September 2011, NIST defined cloud computing as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources…that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

The ISO standards pick up from there, calling cloud computing an “evolving paradigm” rather than “a model.” And, where NIST limited its “models” to SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, the new standards — the ISO/IEC 17788 and the ISO/IEC 17789 – extend to seven distinct categories of as-a-service (network and disaster recovery among them), as well as adding community cloud to the public, private and hybrid deployment models.

The cloud computing industry has evolved without benefit of widely accepted standards, leaving the user community to fend for itself to arrive at apples-to-apples understanding, assessment and selection of disparate services. What users will often end up with are multiple cloud deployments that are complex, hard to manage effectively and harder to make work together. The standards will help vendors and cloud service consumers communicate better.

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Writing in her blog, ISO’s Vivienne Rojas wrote: “The cloud, as it is known, poses many issues, chiefly related to compatibility. With more and more providers offering cloud-based services, the technology has suffered from chaotic development, making it almost impossible for companies to ascertain the quality of services offered.”

And, according to the chair of ISO/IEC JTC 1 SC 30, Dr. Donald Deutsch, “Cloud computing is a shift in the paradigm for providing IT capabilities to users that may impact a great deal of future IT products, systems, and services. These first international cloud computing standards provide a sound foundation for follow-on standards as needs become more clear in this area.” To that end, the ISO Joint Technical Committee is piloting projects in areas such as SLAs, interoperability and dataflow across devices and cloud services.

A technology consumer’s desire for interoperability and cross-platform compatibility can be powerful influences on the course of evolution – proprietary chipsets vs Intel processors or Windows vs. UNIX operating systems, for example. OpenStack software in cloud computing is a vendor-driven attempt to get ahead of this curve. But, as the new ISO standards would suggest, the cloud marketplace remains wild and wooly and not to be tamed anytime soon.

Not surprisingly in this dynamic and sometimes chaotic scene, the cloud industry finds itself increasingly populated with both incumbents and newcomers who suddenly boast of consultative customer service where there was none before. It seems as though every provider wants to be your friend now that the early adopters are long gone and more Main Street customers shop for services. This poses still another challenge to cloud shoppers and users … sorting out the pretenders from the real deal.

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If the ISO could put standards around consultative and collaborative customer engagement (CCCE), it might go something like this:

“In the cloud services industry CCCE is a collective mindset and core cultural trait of the provider organization in its entirety.  The organization believes that it serves its customers best when it understands their business challenges and goals and, with its customer, is focused on determining together the best combination of products and services that will produce the desired business outcome. This forms the basis of the vendor/customer relationship throughout the lifecycle of that relationship.”


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