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TOSCA and other cloud standardization efforts stall

As enterprises continue to work with multiple cloud models, they are sure to face integration, interoperability and portability issues. Cloud standards may still be the answer.

As cloud computing rose to prominence, some in the IT industry spent considerable energy pushing for standardization. But those early efforts have largely fallen flat, even as the cloud market continues its unimpeded growth.

The Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications (TOSCA) was one of the most prominent efforts to implement open standards in cloud computing. TOSCA aims to provide a common language and set of templates to describe the relationships and dependencies between services and applications that reside in the cloud.

But early cloud standardization efforts haven't had much impact on the market, despite the fact that enterprises work with a growing number of cloud vendors.

"To be honest, I have not heard much about TOSCA or efforts like this to standardize cloud service [templates]," said Deepak Mohan, an analyst at IDC.

Instead, enterprises have found new ways to get around the myriad differences between cloud services. Open source projects, such as Kubernetes, as well as proprietary offerings that mitigate the differences between cloud platforms, have gained traction.

For traditional workloads, VMware's approach with NSX and its Cloud Foundation seems to be the most successful at this point, Mohan said. The company has positioned its tools for network virtualization and hybrid cloud as a standard control interface to work across multiple cloud platforms.

The evolution of TOSCA

TOSCA was originally designed as an open standard for formatting templates so tasks, such as cloud resource deployment and orchestration, could be translated into a generally readable form and become more portable across platforms. Overall, the standard aims to make it easier to update, extend or move cloud-based resources.

Today, Cloudify, an open source orchestration platform, uses TOSCA, and OpenStack has a few projects that use the standard, as well, such as TOSCA Parser, which can read TOSCA templates and create an in-memory graph of its nodes and their relationship. In general, though, TOSCA has been limited by its need for vendor support, said Lauren Nelson, an analyst at Forrester.

As cloud computing becomes more mainstream, however, this could change, according to Paul Lipton, who co-chairs the OASIS TOSCA board.

"If you look at any standard, whether it is HTML or XML or anything transformative, in the beginning, when you have innovators scrambling to ship things and grab market share, it is too early," he said.

In addition, as the market evolved and organizations deployed workloads on different cloud platforms, such as OpenStack, AWS, Azure and other public clouds, it became clear that having to invent each deployment from scratch was not efficient, said Chris Lauwers, also co-chair of the OASIS TOSCA board.

In response, TOSCA has shifted to a declarative programming model used to define components and their relationships, Lauwers said.

TOSCA is a very generic framework that can be applied in many different ways, but the modified frameworks can end up being incompatible, Nelson said. "It is one of the classic challenges of standards -- widespread acceptance requires flexibility, but flexibility means that 'standard' is only relative."

Currently, a lot of TOSCA community work is focused on building translators between the different approaches to templating, Nelson added.

Open standards vs. open source

TOSCA may not be on the radar of the enterprise market, but cloud standardization efforts could still benefit the industry, said Sid Nag, vice president of cloud services and technologies at Gartner.

In the past, those types of efforts were led by standards organizations like OASIS. But open source efforts, which tend to be less structured and often faster, may supplant the work of standard-setting groups in leading the charge -- along with de facto standards from major vendors whose products dominate the market, Nelson said. It remains to be seen which will win out, though TOSCA organizers were some of the first to see the need to work through open source communities to drive adoption.

And, in fact, there is still an active cohort of people working on cloud standards. In addition to TOSCA, there are several other efforts underway to make the cloud more flexible and easier to use, such as the open source ONAP, Eclipse Foundation Winery and ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38.

The Cloud Working Group (CWG) of the Object Management Group -- formerly known as the Cloud Standards Customer Council -- has considered several standards, including TOSCA, in its guidance to cloud customers, according to Claude Baudoin, co-chair of the CWG.

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