UCI: setting RDF for failure?

I don’t get it. I just read Reuven Cohen’s description of the Unified Cloud Interface project that he recently started. It’s nothing less than using RDF to create “a Semantic Cloud Infrastructure capable of adapting to a variety of methodologies / architectures and completely agnostic to any specific API or platform being described.”

What made me fall off my chair is the methodology/architecture part of this statement. It’s hard enough (but doable) to use RDF to map philosophically similar APIs. It’s a non-starter to use it to bridge architectural and methodological differences. I have spent a fair amount of time looking at Semantic Web technologies in the context of modeling IT systems (see the “semantic tech” category of this blog). While I think they would be a great foundation I don’t see them ever coming anywhere near what Reuven describes.

But to be fair, I am not sure what he really is describing. There are a few overly ambitious proclamations like the one above and this paragraph:

The key drivers of a unified cloud interface (UCI) is “One abstraction to Rule them All” – an API for other API’s. A singular abstraction that can encompass the entire infrastructure stack as well as emerging cloud centric technologies through a unified interface. What a semantic model enables for UCI is a capability to bridge both cloud based API’s such as Amazon Web Services with existing protocols and standards, regardless of the level of adoption of the underlying API’s or technology. The goal is simple, develop your application once, deploy anywhere at anytime for any reason.

But in his piece you’ll also find CIM being cited as an example. There are good things to be said about CIM, but it certainly is not “a dynamic computing model that can, under certain conditions, be ‘trained’ to appropriately ‘learn’ the meaning of related cloud & infrastructure resources” (or, in the case of CIM, computer system resources). Good luck “training” CIM to “learn” anything. It’s CIM that’s going to train you to do it its way, period.

The CIM example (and other standards he lists) paints the picture of defining a standard API for Cloud Computing and forcing all providers to use it. That’s the conventional approach to universality. If that’s what UCI is after then it is technically achievable. And RDF might be a very good technical foundation for it. Whether anyone can pull this off politically and commercially at this stage is a different question of course. In any case, such an effort would have nothing to do with magically wrapping whatever API each provider has defined and whatever architecture/methodology they chose.

And further down we see a sketch of another, much more modest, vision, when Reuven talks about how “these web resources could just as easily be ‘cloud resources’ or API’s” which seems to represent a whole API as an RDF resource. Sure, then you can use RDF/OWL to capture versioning information between them, backward compatibility etc. Probably very useful, but that’s a very different scope.

So which is it? Reuven is a thought leader in Cloud Computing, so I want to think I am missing his point.

So far, I haven’t seen any Cloud taxonomy that is reasonably complete and has received broad support. Shouldn’t we first try to come up with a human-readable taxonomy before we try to turn it into a machine-readable ontology? In my previous post I explicitly stayed away from being pedantic about the difference between the terms, but the confusion between a taxonomy and an ontology seems to be part of what’s going on here.

The sad thing is that they (you know, them) will point to this as a proof that Semantic Web technologies don’t work.

Or maybe I’ve just set myself up for a generous portion of humble pie on April 2nd (when Reuven says an “initial functional draft UCI implementation, taxonomy and ontology” will be unveiled). I’d love to be surprised. And my ego has taken worse hits before.

[UPDATED 2009/2/10: You should read Steve Oberlin’s take on this overall taxonomy/ontology discussion. He knows the topic, carefully reads the posts that he comments on, packs a healthy dose of skepticism and takes the time to explain what taxonomies and ontologies are, which was overdue. Plus, I just love sites that don’t feel the need to use decorative pictures. His doesn’t have a single image file which means that even if he didn’t have superb credentials (which he does) he’d get my respect by default. A blog to watch.]

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Filed under Automation, Cloud Computing, Everything, Modeling, Portability, RDF, Semantic tech, Standards, Tech, Utility computing

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