The word "open" is inescapable in the IT industry today. Used to describe all sorts of technology initiatives, alliances, and frameworks, it can be hard to know what it actually means.
The Open Data Center Alliance decided to dispel any confusion and make it clear what it means when it uses "open." The alliance, which has more than 400 members and is led by senior IT executives from large enterprises such as BMW, Coca-Cola, and UBS, aims to speed adoption of open and interoperable cloud computing. The ODCA recently issued a paper to explain how it defines open cloud.
The “open” in Open Data Center Alliance stands for open solutions built using open standards, the group wrote. These open solutions focus on transparency, interoperability and cost efficiency "to overcome some common obstacles in moving to the cloud."
There was some misunderstanding in the industry that the ODCA is all about open source, which the alliance needed to dispel, Ryan Skipp, chair of the ODCA Technical Leadership Workgroup, told me in an interview.
"For us, openness is about the use of well-known industry standards enabling portability, interoperability, cost-effective adoption and integration between various services in a consistent manner," he said. "The objective behind all those is to help organizations recognize the benefits of the cloud: agility, speed, and cost effectiveness."
With its focus on open standards and open solutions, the ODCA aims to foster broad vendor choice and solutions that avoid vendor lock-in.
An example of the open standards the ODCA looks to are Open Virtualization Format (OVF), which Skipp said allows an organization to move a virtual machine between different service providers and hypervisors mostly pain-free. Another example is Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) so an organization can link its security environment with cloud services.
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According to the paper, "a cloud service that complies with open standards does not have to use open source software, although it could."
Skipp, who works in global portfolio and solution development for T-Systems, said open source tends to drive and accelerate development of proprietary solutions. The ODCA expects open source software to subscribe to the same open standards that it asks mainstream software companies to use, he said.
"We're pretty agnostic as to whether products are open source or enterprise specific," he said. "We're looking for common methodologies, common approaches and common sets of standards on the interfaces."
The ODCA isn't looking for transparency on exactly how a transaction is handled inside of an application environment, Skipp said. Rather, its focus is on a well-defined common input and output to a particular capability or function.
"We don't mind what happens in the middle; that's proprietary to each organization. But having common standard inputs and outputs before that function lets you look for similar functions as you need them or in order to integrate them," he said. "That's where the cost effectiveness and agility should come from cloud services."
As to whether the industry offers any of the open solutions the ODCA seeks, Skipp said it still has a significant way to go. Regular ODCA tests involving moving applications from one environment to another show that the industry has much work to do on interoperability. There also are huge gaps on transparency, where there's a lack of integration for facilitating organizations' auditing and compliance requirements, he added.