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Open Standards and Open Source in the Mobile-Cloud Era

Having been a part of industry standards for over 20 years, I am able to see the changing landscape of Open Standards and Open Source in the new Mobile-Cloud era. The shifts in the role standards and open source are playing today are much different from what it was 20 years ago. They have been evolving to accelerate innovation and interoperability in this time of our ever increasing dependence on information technology.

In 1994 (20 years ago) during the Client-Server era, AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe were providers delivering dialup services to consumers. These were mostly isolated repositories of information with very little interoperability. At that same time, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was established to standardize HTML and an HTTP working group was established in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). HTTP had been around since 1991, In the end it took both open standards and several open source projects to make the Web a reality, including the creation of HTTP and HTML standards as well as several open source projects for that created the HTTP servers and web browsers.

Fast forward 20 years and we see a very different world with processors that are thousands of times faster, continuing reductions in cost per cycle, along with faster networks and cheaper storage at sizes that were almost unthinkable 20 years ago. We also can see similarities and familiar patterns. Today in the Mobile-Cloud era, instead of dialup services for data, we have mobile services along with compute and storage offered by several different cloud service providers. These cloud platforms are being developed both in traditional development models by some, as well as communal development via open source projects by others, but little native interoperability exist between them.

Several standards do exist that do provide some workload portability between clouds, such as the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) Open Virtualization Format (OVF) which has been adopted by both ANSI as a National Standard and ISO as the first international virtualization and cloud standard. It is also implemented and supported by most of the cloud service providers including Amazon, Microsoft and VMware. Although OVF does a great job enabling the provisioning of workloads across various clouds, it is still insufficient for new era cloud applications and runtime management. There are several new activities in this space in both standards and open source that will be a topic for a future post.

The DMTF also created and published the Cloud Infrastructure Management Interface (CIMI) as a standard which has also been adopted as an International Standard (and is soon to be published as such) by ISO. However, unlike OVF, it has not seen broad scale adoption. Today the interfaces to clouds vary and many still claim that they are the standard. So instead of having a single protocol to the Cloud, we have multiple protocols to the clouds.

This is not an end state, but a point in time along the journey. Today we are in still in a period of high innovation which means a lot of new ideas are being tested and new business models are being evaluated. I hear some say that we no longer need standards, and open source is all that is needed. I think that at a time of high innovation that makes sense, but longer-term open industry consensus standards will be required. Open source enables rapid change and innovation, while open standards provide stability and ultimately customer choice and agility.

There are some hybrid efforts underway. The DMTF recently announced the formation of the Scalable Platform Management Forum which is developing a Restful interface for management of scale-out hardware. This interesting thing is that this group is now developing open source code in parallel with standardization. This may be an interesting activity to watch and if it is successful could revolutionize how industry consensus standards are developed.

So in this Mobile-Cloud era we continue on the journey from innovation to productization and on to standardization. The roles of Open Source and Open Standards will continue to evolve to accelerate the time to value and the interoperability of implementations.



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