A lot of attention has been focused on technical standards for Cloud computing, especially over the last month (e.g. DMTF incubator announcement). That’s fine, but before we go crazy with detailed technical standards let’s realize that for Cloud computing (of the public variety at least) to take off we’ll need just as much standardization of non-technical interactions. Namely processes.
This, to me, is one of the most interesting angles on the recent announcement by Amazon AWS that they now support (in limited beta) the ability to load data from storage that is physically shipped to them. Have a look at this announcement and you’ll notice that it spends more time describing a logistical process (how to pack, how to ship…) than technical interfaces (storage device requirements, how to create a manifest…). It is still part of the “AWS Developer Guide” but clearly these instructions are not just for developers.
Many more such processes need to be “standardized” (or at least documented) for companies to efficiently be able to use public Clouds (and to some extent even private Clouds). Let’s take SLAs as an example. It sounds good when a Cloud provider says “we offer SLAs”. But what does it mean? Does it mean “we advertise some SLA numbers, you’re responsible for contacting us (trough a phone number hidden somewhere on our site) when you think we’ve violated them; if we agree with your measurements then you may get a check in the mail at some point in the future”? Not so useful. If, on the other hand, there is a clear definition of the metric that the SLA applies to, a clear definition of how it gets measured (do we trust provider performance reports, customer measurement, a third party monitor…), a clear process to claim refund, a clear process to actually provide the refund (credit for future service or direct payment, when/how is the payment made…), then it becomes more useful.
I picked the SLA enforcement example because it happens to be an area that the TMF (TeleManagement Forum) has made partially available as a teaser for its eTOM business process framework (aimed at telco providers). The full list of eTOM processes is only available to paying subscribers. One of the goals of the eTOM process framework is “to simplify procurement, serving as a common language between service providers and suppliers”. Another way to say it is that eTOM “recognizes that the enterprise interacts with external parties, and that the enterprise may need to interact with process flows defined by external parties, as in ebusiness interactions”. Exactly what we are talking about when it comes to making public Clouds easily consumable by enterprises. SLA management is just one small part of the overall eTOM framework (if you look for it in this eTOM overview poster it’s in purple, under “assurance”, in the first row).
My point is not to assert that Cloud providers should adopt eTOM. Nobody adopts eTOM directly as a blueprint anyway. But, while the cultures and maturity levels are sometimes different, it is also hard to argue that Cloud providers have nothing to learn form telco providers (many of which are becoming Cloud providers themselves). I shudder at the idea of AT&T teaching another company how to handle customer service, but have you ever tried to call Google?
Readers of this blog are likely to be more familiar with ITIL than eTOM (who, incidentally, incorporates parts of ITIL in its latest version, 8.0). For those who don’t know about either, one way to think about it is that Cloud providers would implement processes that look somewhat like eTOM processes, that Cloud consumers implement IT management processes that follow to some extent ITIL best practices and that these two sets of processes need to meet for public Clouds to work. I touched on this a few months ago, when I commented on the incorporation of Cloud services in an IT service catalog.
My main point is not about ITIL or eTOM. It’s simply that there are important process aspects to delivering/consuming Cloud services and that they have so far been overshadowed by the technical aspects. The processes sketched in the AWS import/export capability represent the first drop of an upcoming shower.
[UPDATED 2009/5/22: More on telcos becoming Cloud providers from EMC's Chuck Hollis, with a retort by James Governor. Just listing these as FYI but my main point in this post is not about telcos, it's about the need to clarify processes, independently of whether the provider is Amazon or AT&T. It's just that the telcos have been working on such process standardization for a long time. Hoff provides another example of where process standardization is needed in Cloud relationships: right to audit.]