Open Data Center Alliance seeks to describe the cloud

Lockheed Martin, BMW and AT&T are among the 200 large enterprises struggling to address the problem of combining products from multiple cloud vendors. These companies came together late in 2010 to form the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA), and this week the alliance’s first significant deliverables were released to the world.

By releasing eight use cases that describe the components required in various enterprise cloud deployments, the alliance aims to make it easier to compare and contrast commercial solutions and increase the level of technical interoperability between clouds. Its hope is that data and services can move from one cloud provider to another with minimal difficulty, and the alliance is calling upon its members to proactively adopt these use cases in their internal planning and procurement processes.

The alliance suggests that support for its work will generate billions in new business for the cloud computing industry and will save as much as $25 billion in customers’ deployment costs. Industry players such as EMC and Hitachi Data Systems are listed in the lowest tier of involvement as “adopter members,” though major cloud providers such as Amazon and Rackspace do not appear to have been involved in drafting or commenting upon these documents.

By seeking to describe mainstream use cases, the alliance has taken a potentially valid approach to harmonizing the cloud computing market. However, many of these use cases remain weak and lacking in detail. The Regulatory Framework activity, for example, is currently little more than a list of regulators, and it’s a long way from being a viable use case that a vendor or buyer could use to make decisions. And while there’s no denying that such attempts at standardization are a positive thing, as they help both buyers and sellers of cloud services, having too many “standards” runs the risk of having no standard at all.

To combat this, the alliance should concentrate on enriching its use cases and then submitting them to the standards bodies and regulators already active in this space. These use cases have the potential to be a valuable addition to those activities. But they lack the detail to justifiably be used as sticks with which to beat “noncompliant” vendors.

For more on the alliance’s new use cases and their implications for the industry, see my latest Weekly Update for GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image courtesy of flickr user hwat