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The race to cloud standards gets crowded

The rise of cloud computing has led to a strong push from IT leaders at many major companies to develop standards that address issues such as security and data portability in the cloud.

But the early push for standards is beginning to resemble a NASCAR race -- everyone is driving on the same track but sitting in different cars.

Multiple organizations are in pursuit of the same checkered flag: a set of standards that will facilitate the adoption of cloud computing technologies.

The latest organization to join the growing list of standards groups is the IBM-backed Cloud Standards Customer Council, which announced its steering committee last month.

It's clear that the business community wants cloud standards. What is less clear is whether multiple efforts will make the standards push more effective or result in conflicting approaches that lead to a wreck.

The various cloud standards groups do share a key attribute: They all enjoy business buy-in. For instance, Cloud Standards Customer Council members include Citigroup, Costco Wholesale and Deere & Co.

The Open Data Center Alliance, an Intel-backed standards organization formed last year, includes BMW, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Marriott International, Shell and Disney Internet Labs. Overseas companies with seats on the alliance's steering committee include China Life, a Beijing-based insurance company, and China Unicom, a government-owned telecommunications company.

Meanwhile, the Cloud Security Alliance membership list includes Coca-Cola and eBay.

"Our intention is to be extremely collaborative with all the various organizations that spawn out there," says Marvin Wheeler, chief strategy officer at cloud vendor Terremark and chairman of the Open Data Center Alliance.

Wheeler says the push for standards by the multiple groups shouldn't be competitive, but complementary. The multiple efforts, in the end, may help all the groups achieve their respective goals, he says.

Clout With Vendors

The Open Data Center Alliance is counting on brute force to change the cloud computing market. The alliance says its membership represents more than $100 billion in annual IT spending power, some of which will go toward cloud computing.

The alliance is developing "usage models" that IT managers can employ when negotiating with cloud vendors. The usage models address many of the issues that annoy users or keep them from adopting cloud technologies.

For example, one usage model aims to fix problems caused by the lack of an agreed-upon method for creating and deactivating virtual machines.

"How you start, stop, create, suspend a VM really shouldn't be a selling point for [cloud vendors]," says Andrew Feig, executive director of financial services firm UBS's Technology Advisory Group and an alliance board member. "However, it does cause us a lot of pain to actually have to do that four different ways for four different vendors."

Among those involved in the Cloud Standards Customer Council is North Carolina State University.

"I would be a lot more worried if we only had one group looking at this at this point," says Sam Averitt, a former IT director at the university. He retired last month but plans to remain active in cloud and standards efforts.

Averitt says the cloud market is so big and diverse that it needs different voices.

"There is going to be a convergence process over time," says Averitt, "and if done well, it will work out fine."

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