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Shiny New Cloud Standards Effort From OASIS

TOSCA may prove a prescient name for new cloud standards effort

Open standards body OASIS recently unveiled yet another shiny new standards effort. The OASIS Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications (TOSCA) Technical Committee hopes to make it “easier to deploy cloud applications without vendor lock-in,” and to support moving from one cloud to another. The usual suspects — the likes of IBM, CA, and Cisco — are on board. The usual holdouts — Google and Amazon, of course — are not. So what is TOSCA trying to achieve? How does it fit alongside all the dead, dying, or ponderously deliberating cloud standardisation efforts that have gone before? And without the giants of the cloud, is there really any point bothering?

As I’ve probably mentioned before, involvement in various national and international standardisation efforts played a big part in my early career. I went to the working group meetings in odd (but often beautiful) locations. I participated in the conference calls. I engaged on the mailing lists. I drafted and edited and reviewed the documents. I completely buy into the idea that there is a place for foundational standards, developed through consensus-building and maintained for the long haul by organisations that stand apart from the vested interests and their competing agendas.

I also believe that there’s a time and a place for these standardisation efforts. Do it too soon, and we end up ossifying something that needs to be in a state of flux. When you don’t know what the best way to prepare a meal is, it’s too soon to print the recipe book. We need to try different approaches, and we need to be able to throw away the attempts that didn’t work out. More worryingly, standardisation efforts can be used for political ends. They can be little more than a rod with which to beat the (usually dominant) competition. At best a distraction, or a talking shop for those unwilling or unable to just get on and do something. At worst, one amongst a toolchest of dirty tricks in a broader war for hearts, minds, and — ultimately — wallets.

The cloud market is a fascinating place. There are leaders and there are followers. There is innovation, and there is competition. There is agreement, and there is debate. For all the rhetoric, and all the posturing, we really don’t yet know the right answer to many of the cloud’s questions.

Maybe TOSCA and the Open Data Center Alliance and IEEE and the rest are — still — too early, and should be content to let the market thrash out a few more of these issues before anyone tries to write anything down? And when it is time to write some stuff down, let’s make sure we focus on specific, finite, tangible, atomic tasks rather than “the cloud.” As Dave Roberts commented in regard to TOSCA’s scope;

“That goal is so large, that I think it’s probably unbounded. When problems get unbounded, the best you can ever hope to achieve is to solve a large enough subset of the problem that the solution is still interesting. If you can’t achieve that, people ignore the solution because it fundamentally doesn’t help them. There is always an ‘interesting’ part of the problem space that they have to solve a different way, and that undercuts the use of the partial ‘solution.’”

And as for Tosca? Things didn’t end well for her, did they? Might TOSCA’s fate, too, be sealed?

More Stories By Paul Miller

Paul Miller works at the interface between the worlds of Cloud Computing and the Semantic Web, providing the insights that enable you to exploit the next wave as we approach the World Wide Database.

He blogs at

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