New standards group fuels cloud adoption

How the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) plans to stimulate cloud deployments without vendor bias.

Two years ago, the idea that a group led by end-user buyers could influence and accelerate the adoption of cloud services was met with some skepticism. Today, just months after the Open Data Center Alliance’s (ODCA’s) inaugural “coming out party” at Forecast 2012 – Shaping the Future of Cloud Computing, it’s all about optimism.

“We’re a strong group and together we have a strong voice,” says ODCA Chairman and Secretary Marvin Wheeler. “For us, the success of our first event is a stamp on our roadmap that says we’re real.”

  • The alliance was formed in 2010 as a consortium of global IT organizations led by a steering committee of senior IT executives from BMW, China Unicorn, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, Marriott International Inc., National Australia Bank, Terremark, Disney Technology Solutions and Services, and UBS.
  • The goal is to find common ground related to features and functions that end-users would like to see from cloud service and solution providers, and to develop an organized way to translate those requirements into industry standards for product development.
  • To date, the alliance has more than 300 members worldwide and relies on a team of representatives from Intel Corp. as its technical advisor.

“If adoption of cloud technologies is estimated to be ‘x’ over the next three years, we expect to achieve 20 to 30 percent more than that as a result of our efforts,” says Wheeler.

Since its inception, the ODCA has published numerous usage models grouped under four main categories identified by members as top priorities:

  • Secure Federation
  • Automation
  • Common Management and Policy
  • Transparency

Each usage model outlines a pressing challenge faced by member companies when migrating to or deploying cloud technology, and provides a “wish list” of requirements. One example is the Security Provider Assurance usage model which aims to introduce a tiered system for cloud security, using Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum to clearly differentiate levels of security functionality. Another example is Security Monitoring, a usage model that outlines what a security compliance monitoring tool might look like and how it might be used by cloud service subscribers to ensure that providers are meeting expectations.

ODCA-compliant products expected by Q4
Trapezoid Digital Services Inc., an ODCA Contributor Member, is actively engaged in taking both security usage models from concept to implementation. According to the company’s Chief Business Development Officer José González, the work of the ODCA is considered extremely important and is helping shape the company’s plans for product development as it moves forward.

“Everything we are doing, we are doing with a view to being able to say we are ODCA-compliant,” says González, noting that Trapezoid expects to launch its first ODCA-compliant product offering by fourth quarter 2012. “As a result of feedback from ODCA members, we’re making the pivot from a security services company to a product company,” he says.

  • Trapezoid is currently working on several ODCA proof-of-concept projects. One involves working with National Australia Bank (NAB) to clearly define security requirements for a Gold-level cloud and to identify gaps in current cloud infrastructures.
  • Another involves working with Lockheed Martin to design a prototype for an ODCA-compliant security monitoring dashboard or portal.

“When you’re trying to work out what the standards are, you leave your vendor hat at the door,” remarks González. “The value of ODCA membership is that you can be both a provider and subscriber to cloud services. Everyone is working together to develop a playing field that is acceptable to both groups.”

That, says Intel Director of Cloud Marketing Raejeanne Skillern, is precisely what sets the ODCA apart from other industry consortiums.

“The ODCA is one of the most unique organizations in the industry because it is user led,” says Skillern, who also serves as Executive Technical Advisor to the ODCA. “As technical advisor, we work hard at maintaining a non-influential position; that’s what preserves the integrity of the steering committee as a true end-user driven organization, unencumbered by vendor bias and one that is truly prioritizing the voice of IT.”

One sign that the efforts are paying off, says Skillern, is the release of the ODCA Proposal Engine Assistant Tool or PEAT, a tool that automatically generates language to reflect the ODCA’s checklist of requirements and can be used to bring consistency to Requests For Proposal (RFPs).

“Now we have a common playbook that industry vendors can rally around that says ‘I know what end-users need and I have a way of addressing it,’” she says. “People are now talking about the cloud–no air quotes needed. This is the year we drop the air quotes and move towards real deployment.”

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