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Strategic Advisor

New Activity in App Standards

There has been a lot of activity on improved app management standards lately. And it has been happening on several fronts, all at the same time. Many years ago I co-authored a book, which is no longer in print, called the Foundations of Application Management, published by John Wiley and Sons. In that book I concluded that application management was an oxymoron as most applications weren’t manageable, very few application management standards existed, and of those that did exist, few were implemented.

About eight years ago VMware helped spearhead a packaging and deployment standard for virtual machines called the Open Virtualization Format (OVF). This is now a national and international standard, and is implemented in many VMware products as well as most virtualization and cloud platforms today. While moving entire virtual machine(s) around as a single package provided a much-needed capability, it didn’t meet the needs of the ever-expanding mobile platform as well as the new emerging area of containerized apps. OVF was also challenged as it just described the images and some base application configuration requirements, but didn’t deal with any of the issues once the day-zero deployment and launching was complete.

Recently several new standards activities have been launched and new standards are being implemented at VMware. One of the new application standards being used by VMware is TOSCA. As announced in a blog post last month by VMware’s Paco Gόmez, TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications) is an open standard from OASIS, a non-profit, international consortium that creates interoperable industry specifications based on public standards such as XML and SGML, that aims to enhance portability and management of cloud applications and services. In practical terms, a TOSCA service template (or application blueprint) is a document written in YAML, the machine parsable data serialization format, which adheres to the syntax defined by the specification. The template is submitted to a TOSCA-compliant orchestration engine and, as a result, the application gets deployed and configured on the cloud provider of choice.

Another exciting activity launched earlier this year for enterprise mobile managers (EMM) by AirWatch®, Box, Cisco, Salesforce, Workday and Xamarin, is called App Configuration for Enterprise (ACE).  ACE delivers the first standard approach to configuring and securing apps in the enterprise. By leveraging the latest APIs available from leading operating system platforms Android and Apple iOS, ACE provides a development framework requiring minimal effort for developers while eliminating scalability issues associated with software development kits (SDKs) and App Wrapping technology. This development framework also standardizes app configuration and security management for Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) platforms, making it easy to manage applications developed using ACE documentation and ensuring a seamless experience for end users.

The containerized application arena has started an activity to help drive application standards in that space as well. At DockerCon last month in San Francisco a new initiative for container standards was announced– the Open Container Project (OCP).  This activity is an important new set of collaborations that are intended to help alleviate fragmentation in the container industry and will initially focus on container formats and runtime environment standards. This activity has broad support from companies including VMware, but is still in the formation stages under the Linux Foundation. This is an important step forward in driving standards into this new emerging application deployment and management model.

For those of us who have been involved in application management standards to improve interoperability for many years, we look upon all of these recent activities as a sign of just how important application standards and portability have become. We have done a good job of standardizing the servers, networks and storage– it is now time that we turn our focus on the applications and services that use the infrastructure, to standardize those as well. These and other emerging industry standards activities in this space will help enable this new level of interoperability and enable the next wave of innovation.