A pulp view of Cloud computing politics

As promised, here are some more thoughts on the creation by DMTF of an incubator for Cloud standards. The first part of this entry asks whether DMTF will play nicely with the other kids in the playground. The second part examines the choice of the “incubator” process in DMTF for this work.

Sharing the sandbox with the other kids

In other words, will the DMTF seek collaboration with other standards bodies, as well as less-structured organizations (the different Cloud forums and interest groups out there) and other communities (e.g. open source projects). The short answer is “no”, for reasons explained below.

The main reason is that companies don’t have the same level of influence in all organizations. Unless you’re IBM, who goes in force pretty much everywhere, you place your bets. If you are very influential in organization A but not in B, then the choice of whether a given piece of work happens in A or B decides the amount of influence you’ll have on it. That’s very concrete. When companies see it that way, the public-facing discussions about the “core competencies” of the different organizations is just hand-waving that has little actual weight in the decision. Just like plaintiffs pick friendly jurisdictions to press charge (e.g. East Texas for patent holders), companies try to choose the standard organization they want the game to be played in. As a result, companies influential in the DMTF want the DMTF to do the work and companies influential in other organizations would rather have the other organization. Since by definition those influential companies make the will of the organizations, you see organizations always trying to grow to cover more ground. For example, VMWare has invested quite a lot in DMTF. I don’t know if they are even members of OGF (at least they are not organizational members) so it makes a huge difference to them. Sure they could just as well ramp up in OGF. But at a cost.

That’s a general rule that apply to DMTF like others. But collaboration is especially hard for DMTF because it is on the “opaque” side of the openess scale (e.g. compare it to OASIS, W3C and OGF which have large amounts of publicly-accessible working documents and mailing list archives). It’s hard to collaborate if the others can’t even see what you’re doing.

But, you may ask, doesn’t the Cloud incubator charter list “Work register(s) with appropriate alliance partners” as a deliverable, and aren’t “work registers” what DMTF calls its collaboration agreements with other organizations? Surely they are taking this collaboration to heart, aren’t they? Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a work register in place between DMTF and the OASIS WSDM technical committee which said things like “OASIS web service standardization for resource sharing and provisioning will be cross-leveraged in DMTF’s CIM and WBEM standards” and “recommendations related to management of and management using web services will be submitted to OASIS”. Then Microsoft submitted WS-Management, a replacement for WSDM, to DMTF and DMTF used the work register as a doormat.

Don’t get me wrong though. I do believe that Cloud standards are closely related to IT management automation and that the DMTF has a central role to play there. I am not arguing against DMTF’s attempt to tackle this. I am just doing a reality check on the prospect of open and meaningful collaboration with other organizations.

OGF is not standing still and has also staked its claim to the Cloud (also focusing on the IaaS form of Cloud computing): it’s called OCCI for Open Cloud Computing Interface and will share its documents here. OGF and DMTF have long had a work register too (it includes an eerily familiar sounding sentence, “Grid technology will be cross-leveraged in the DMTF’s CIM and WBEM standards”). Looks like it is going to endure its first stress test.

As for the less structured Cloud gatherings (like CCIF), they’ll be welcome as long as they play the cheerleader role (“If this group forms a Cloud trade association, I can see us establishing an alliance with the DMTF to coordinate the messaging and driving adoption of the DMTF standards”) or are happy providing feedback into a black hole (“DMTF already has a process for providing feedback: http://www.dmtf.org/standards/feedback/ so no additional legal agreements need be made for community members to provide their input”). These are from Mark Carlson, the DMTF VP of Alliances, in a thread about the incubator announcement on the CCIF mailing list. BTW, Mark is a very fair-minded person and an ardent promoter of collaboration (disclosure: he once gave me a ride in a cool Volvo convertible to the Martha’s Vineyard airport so I could catch my puddle-jumper back to Boston, so I owe him). It’s not him personally, it’s the DMTF that is so tightfisted.

The use of the “incubator” process

This second part is for standards junkies and other process wonks who run their family dinners by Robert’s rules of order. Normal people should feel free to move on.

I am not at all surprised to see the incubator process being used here, but I am surprised to see it used in the absence of a submitted specification. I expected VMWare to submit a vCloud API document to this group. What’s a rubber stamp for if you don’t have a piece of paper to stamp with it?

I have my guess as to why this incubator was created without a submission, but that’s a topic for a future post (a good soap opera writer knows to pace the drama).

In any case, this leaves us in an interesting situation. The incubator process document (DSP 4008) itself says that “the purpose of this is to allow vendors aligned with a certain proposal to move forward and produce an interoperability specification without being blocked by those who would prefer a different proposal”. What’s the “proposal” that members of this incubator align with? That Cloud computing is important? Not something that too many people would dispute at this time.

This has interesting repercussions from a process standpoint. The incubator process pushes you towards an informational specification that is then sent to a new working group for quick ratification. The quick ratification is, in effect, the reward for doing the work in the incubator rather than in private. But this Cloud incubator is currently chartered to produce proposed changes to OVF and other DMTF standard (rather than a new specification). Say it does that, what happens to the proposed changes then? Presumably they are sent to the working groups that own the original specifications, but what directives do these groups get from the board? Are they expected to roll over and alter their specifications as demanded by the Cloud incubator? Or do these changes come as comments like any other, for the groups to handle however they sees fit?

Take a concrete example. Oracle, BMC, CA and Fujitsu are very involved in the DMTF CMDBf working group but not (that I can see) in the incubator. If the Cloud incubator comes up with changes needed in CMDBf for Cloud usage, are these companies supposed to accept the changes even if they are disruptive to the original goals of the CMDBf specification? Same goes for WS-Management and even OVF. It’s one thing for an incubator to produce its own specification, it is another entirely to go and try to change someone else’s work. Presumably this wouldn’t stand (or would it?).

The lack of a submission to this incubator may end up creating a lot of argument about the interpretation of DSP 4008. For one thing, the DSP is not precise about when a submission to an incubator can take place. Since an incubator is meant to assemble people who agree with a given proposal, you’d expect that the proposal would be there at the start (so people can self-select and only join if they buy into it). But this is not explicit in the process.

The more Cloud API standardization unfolds, the more it looks like the previous attempt.

[UPDATED 2009/5/5: I just saw that Winston Bumpus has been blogging recently on the VMWare exec blog. Hopefully he will soon have his own feed for those of us interested in Cloud standards, an area in which he is a major actor. In this entry he describes his view of the DMTF incubator process. It doesn’t really align with my reading of the incubator process document though. Winston sees it as “a place for ideas to be developed or incubate before specifications are created”, while I see the process as geared towards work that starts from an existing submission. In any case, what really matters is less what the process says than how it is used, and so far it seems that it is being used as Winston describes.]

4 Comments

Filed under Cloud Computing, CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, Grid, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Standards, Utility computing, VMware

4 Responses to A pulp view of Cloud computing politics

  1. Pingback: William Vambenepe’s blog » Blog Archive » DMTF calls the ball on Cloud standards

  2. Mark

    Hey William,

    I had forgot about that Martha’s Vineyard trip. Most DMTF Board locations are fairly boring these days ;-)

    I’m doing my best to get these guys to coordinate. Bob Marcus from OMG, Craig Lee from OGF and others are helping to move the coordination forward as well. I don’t blame you for being cynical, but I think it’s too important not to get good cooperation.

    — mark

  3. Hi Mark,

    You being the VP of Alliances at DMTF is one of the few things that keep me from being even more cynical than I already am. I’d love to be proven wrong on this and I count on you to do so. Seriously. I take the easy route of shooting arrows while you do the hard work, but I believe that my arrows can help in their own way too.

  4. Pingback: William Vambenepe’s blog » Blog Archive » Cloud API: what’s cooking between IBM and VMWare?