Can Intel and $50B in IT Budgets Achieve Open Clouds?

Waiting for cloud interoperability? Intel (s intc) might have you covered via a trio of new initiatives designed to make cloud computing more open, interoperable and intelligent – Intel’s Cloud 2015 vision, the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) and Intel Cloud Builders. Individually, each initiative has promise, but it’s as a collective that they hold the most potential. As we’ve seen with other alliances and grand visions, however, pulling off such an ambitious undertaking can be a real challenge.

Open Data Center Alliance

The most concrete leg of Intel’s plan appears to the ODCA consortium. As a collection of more than 70 major IT consumers – including Lockheed Martin, BMW, Shell and several large financial institutions – it has the potential to drive actual change in the ways vendors and cloud providers build and sell their wares. The ODCA claims its membership represents more than $50 million in IT spending, and it’s unlikely vendors will want to leave that money on the table if members do indeed act as one in terms of their requirements and demands. Look at the concessions Google (s goog) and Amazon Web Services (s amzn) made (sub req’d) to get government contracts: If IT buyers can make legitimate our-way-or-the-highway offers, vendors and providers no longer define the terms.

Presently, the ODCA has five working groups to define technical requirements for infrastructure, management, security, services, and government and ecosystem. It’s probably fair to wonder, however, to what degree Intel’s technical interests will manifest themselves in the requirements. After all, it will play a “unique advisory role” within the ODCA and is the only vendor, much less chipmaker, involved.

Cloud 2015

Intel’s Cloud 2015 vision – which aims to achieve cloud federation (read “interoperability”), automation and device-awareness – is almost entirely in Intel’s court. Considering its prevalence in devices from servers to netbooks, Intel can almost singlehandedly accomplish all of the goals at the hardware level, although it still will need plenty of support from the software community. However, as certain antitrust allegations against Intel (sub req’d) illustrate (in which server makers Dell, HP and IBM allegedly abandoned planned AMD offerings at Intel’s behest), the company does have the cachet to affect product strategies. I’m not inferring any illegal activity, but rather pointing out that if anyone has the might to convince IT vendors, cloud providers and device makers to collaborate on standards and interoperability, it’s Intel.

Cloud Builders

It appears a large number of these companies are already on board as part of the Cloud Builders program. Based on ODCA requirements and Intel’s Cloud 2015 work, Cloud Builders members will develop joint reference architectures for organizations developing their cloud strategies. Current members include Canonical, Cisco (S csco), Citrix (s ctrx), Dell, (s dell) EMC, (s emc) Enomaly, Eucalyptus Systems, Gproxy, HP, (s hpq) IBM, (s ibm) Joyent, Microsoft, (s msft) NetApp, (s ntap) NetSuite, Novell, Parallels, Red Hat, (s rht) Univa and VMware (s vmw).

There are of course, a couple of reasons to contain exuberance over Intel’s cloud roadmap. One is that the scope of interoperability appears limited to parts of the IT stack above the processor. It seems very possible that ideal cloud architectures would include a mix of AMD, (s amd)ARM, Nvidia (s nvda) and Intel processors. If Intel is serious about interoperability, why not try to pull its competitors into the fold, as well?

Furthermore, there’s the questionable track record of cloud standards bodies and industry alliances. Some, like the Open Cloud Manifesto, barely got off the ground before crashing and burning. Others carry on, but it remains to be seen how well their work will align. Throwing the ODCA and Cloud Builders into a mix that already includes the Cloud Security Alliance, CloudAudit, DMTF, NIST, the TM Forum, The Open Group and plenty others could further complicate things. With so many standards, reference architectures and best practices floating around, where are non-ODCA members supposed to turn for guidance?

Still, it’s an ambitious undertaking by Intel and might end up having a great impact. Maybe what enterprise-class cloud computing needs are two powerful, yet aligned driving forces – Intel and the ODCA’s $50 billion in IT budgets – to act as the iron fist in the velvet glove.

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