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Cloud interoperability and portability remain science fiction

You can file cloud interoperability with time machines and flying cars -- under science fiction. Can the industry work to build a brighter future?

According to the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), calculating the total cost of an IT service against its potential return is always a challenge, and cloud computing brings a new wrinkle to this process. An analysis of cloud computing benefits must include a short- and a long-term outlook as well as potential termination costs.

When making a hasty move to cloud computing, enterprises may fail to anticipate the costs of bringing services back into the corporate data center to comply with regulatory changes, a situation that is occurring right now in the health care vertical. Moreover, enterprises migrating from one platform to another may not understand the associated costs of cloud interoperability. Not only is the move itself into and out of a cloud environment a costly endeavor, but tasks such as redeveloping code and data introduce additional, frequently unexpected, costs.

Finally, there might be hidden lock-in costs with a specific cloud provider or proprietary service model; in many cases, the cost of moving code and data from one cloud service provider to another might be prohibitive.

Most of these issues boil down to limitations around the portability and interoperability of cloud services. And these are becoming obstacles as many enterprises consider both the costs of moving to the cloud and getting a reasonable return on investment (ROI) for the effort.

The core cloud interoperability problem is that cloud providers have not done a good job coordinating the use of languages, data, interfaces and other subsystems that are now largely proprietary. Thus, the notion that you can easily move from one provider to another without significant work and cost is largely science fiction at this point.

The notion that you can easily move from one provider to another without significant work and cost is largely science fiction at this point.

Moreover, the thought that clouds will work and play well together as a matter of practice is a leap of faith -- and one that I would not make. When one cloud service provider doesn't build its interfaces to work directly with another cloud provider, new cloud users must figure out the best way to move data between them or share core business processes.

Standards exist, of course, and many cloud computing standards organizations are emerging, such as The Green Grid, Cloud Security Alliance, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association, the Distributed Management Task Force and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. But these organizations have yet to define a set of detailed standards for all major cloud service providers to abide by to ensure interoperability and portability. Indeed, right now, it's not unreasonable to state that any relevant standard around cloud interoperability and portability is years away.

So, what can an enterprise do now to work through a lack of interoperability and portability standards? A few key points come to mind.

First, consider interoperability and portability in the cost-benefit analysis of moving to cloud computing. As the ISACA report points out, the cost of migrating resources back in-house or to another cloud may be high or add more risk than many businesses think right now.

Second, select cloud providers that can provide you the best portability and interoperability. It's not a perfect world, but many cloud service providers are doing a better job understanding the needs of their users who are migrating to their platforms, including better service, language and data compatibility. But make sure you do a proof of concept (POC) to determine the true state of interoperability and portability before making the move.

Finally, don't be afraid to hold off on the cloud migration for now. Cloud standards likely won’t be established anytime soon, so don’t hold your breath and wait. And cloud providers will only get better at portability and interoperability. Potential ROI should be clearer in the future, if that’s your primary obstacle now.

David (Dave) S. Linthicum is the CTO and founder of Blue Mountain Labs and an internationally recognized industry expert and thought leader, and the author and co-author of 13 books on computing, including the best-selling “Enterprise Application Integration.” Dave keynotes at many leading technology conferences on cloud computing, SOA, enterprise application integration, and enterprise architecture.

His latest book is “Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise, a Step-by-Step Approach.Dave’s industry experienceincludes tenures as CTO and CEO of several successful software companies and upper-level management positions in Fortune 100 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including the University of Virginia, Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin.

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