The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) is best known in the cloud standards world for its Open Virtualization Format (OVF) specification that’s been highly adopted by cloud vendors today and is considered the first and only true standard in the IaaS space. But as of late, the focus has been solving the interoperability challenges in the cloud space. In July 2010, after releasing a series of white papers, the DMTF Open Cloud Standards Incubator group transitioned into the Cloud Management Working Group (CMWG) and has been working on interoperability standards ever since. For the past year, the main focus has been the Cloud Infrastructure Management Interface (CIMI) specification for a self-service portal that would enable easy interoperability between solutions. And today the DMTF CMWG released CIMI v1.0.

Last December my colleague James Staten and I published a report on the state of cloud standards that gives some great context to this announcement. Here’s a quick recap: IaaS is a relatively new space that is largely dominated by Amazon Web Services. Thus far its APIs are the only defacto standard within the market beyond OVF. As has been the case with other markets, open source initiatives and standards bodies are working to establish standards that help insure interoperability between solutions. On the open source side, OpenStack, the initiative with the largest vendor community, is likely to make a splash as another standard but it has yet to truly take off as a minimum requirement for entry (re: customers demand its integration and compatibility). On the standards development organization (SDO) side, there’s been some cloud specific releases but none have really taken off. In other markets, successful standards have shown both quality, inclusion of other standards, and great PR to gather significant support within the cloud community —which is not a simple task.

The question is: Will CIMI deliver on both fronts? My answer is: Yes, with a small caveat. That caveat being that quality has yet to be tested and this will substantially impact its success. But from what I’ve seen, CIMI is looking favorable:

On the community/PR support front, the DMTF has a significant footprint in standards for various technologies (including its virtualization specification, OVF), a board that includes AMD, Broadcom, CA, Cisco, Citrix, EMC, Fujitsu, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NetAp, Oracle, Red Hat, SunGard, and VMware, and leadership and participation from almost every other major player in the cloud space. It’s also been working from the beginning at working with other initiatives within the standards, open source, and commercial market space, which greatly increases the likelihood of adoption within the vendor community. It has also made it explicit that it has no plans to replace other standards of APIs but rather to work in conjunction with these. In short, from a PR perspective, this standard is right on target. On the product development front, CIMI delivers specifications for a self-service portal through REST-based APIs and mapping to HTTP protocols that delivers on the core IaaS functionality. This is the right approach, but how it delivers this is still unknown.

What’s next for this group? Beyond future version updates for CIMI, the DMTF also supports several other working groups, including the Cloud Auditing Data Federation Working Group (CADF), the Software Licensing Management (SLM) Incubator, and the System Virtualization, Partitioning, and Clustering Working Group (SVPC)— each focusing on various cloud management standards. In my mind, the next big release will be around the simplification of software license accounting through its Software License Management (SLM) Incubator.

A common challenge amongst enterprise adopters today is minimizing licensing costs within a cloud environment and simplifying accounting for various software licenses. If done incorrectly, this could mean substantial penalties —and there’s an increasing suspicion that vendors (e.g., Microsoft, but note actual # of audits not tracked) are only increasing these audits. And although there’s various ways to address these issues, it comes down to: 1) Most licensing isn’t designed with cloud in mind; and 2) Creating configurations to minimize cost scenarios is still a manual process for more organizations. DMTF can’t rewrite these licenses, but it does plan to create a licensing database for commonly used enterprise applications that enables the automation of these processes. In the meantime, check out the white paper it recently published that shares experiences of advanced cloud users, defines common terminology, and presents various end user usage scenarios.  

For more information on Cloud Standards today, visit the Cloud Standards Wiki.