Companies and developers are taking early steps toward making proprietary clouds interoperable. Stephen Foskett, director of consulting at Nirvanix, believes the cross-platform cloud may first arrive in storage. Here's why.
The basic idea is to provide a common front end that makes it easier for users to tap multiple clouds -- and avoid vendor lock-in. So why would this happen initially on the storage side? Foskett said work on storage compatibility is going on right now, citing a number of examples.
Those include CloudLoop, a description of which surfaced last September (2009) on a Nirvanix developer forum. The open source Java API “abstracts away differences between vendors’ interfaces, allowing you to switch between providers without changing code.”
CloudLoop also allows data to be copied across vendors, affording he ability to synchronize and migrate data among providers, according to the forum post.
Also in September 2009, Zend Technologies debuted the Simple API for Cloud Application Services project. The company said the open source initiative seeks “to facilitate the development of cloud applications that can access services on all major cloud platforms.”
The project’s first deliverables, according to Zend, will focus on “interfaces for file storage, document database and simple queue services” from the likes of Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure, Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network, and Rackspace Cloud Files.
Tony Pearson, senior IT storage consultant for the IBM System Storage product, cited another example in his blog. He related the story of GE, which developed its own cross-platform tool. GE, he wrote, wasn’t pleased with “proprietary APIs and vendor lock-in.” So the company created CloudStorage Manager, which “works with five different cloud storage providers through an abstraction layer,” according to the Pearson’s December 2009 blog post.
And then there’s the case of Nasuni, a startup that plans to launch a gateway to cloud storage. This direction seems to hint at a cross-platform push, but the company has yet to spell out exactly what it plans to offer.
In contrast, cross-platform compatibility is a thornier issue on the compute side of cloud computing, Foskett said. He noted the difficulty of moving server instances from one vendor to another, citing the need for compatibility among virtualized environments.
Cloud Pricing StrategiesAmazon recently rolled out spot pricing, albeit on the compute side and only within its own cloud. In December, Amazon announced Spot Instances, an approach that lets customers bid on unused EC2 capacity.
The spot pricing “lets them fill out troughs in capacity quite effectively,” Foskett said. The identical model would be harder to pull off in storage, he added, since storage grows steadily and doesn’t fluctuate.
That said, storage will remain in the mix. Fadi Albatal, vice president of product marketing at FalconStor Software, said an application provisioned into the cloud also needs some kind of storage behind it. A cloud platform delivering high performance computing services, for example, must address the amount of storage a customer’s application will consume as well as the number of CPUs.
“That would bring spot pricing back to the storage side,” Albatal said.
Over time, cloud storage compatibility via a cross-platform front end could also lead to pricing innovation.
Foskett envisions the arrival of third-party firms offering a Priceline model: universal access to cloud storage platforms and discounted rates. He said that particular development will probably take a while to get here, however.