When IT people talk about technology "crossing the chasm" they're referring to Geoffrey Moore's book of the same title, which describes what it takes for a technology to be ready for mainstream prime time. Technologists have been talking about cloud computing in one form or another for a decade, but until it crosses the chasm, it's of marginal interest to most CFOs.
Crossing the chasm means that the myriad pieces needed to make a new technology usable and valuable to mainstream businesses are coming together. A telltale sign that cloud computing is coming together is the formation of the Cloud Standards Customer Council. The Council, to be run by the Object Management Group (OMG), already includes Lockheed Martin, Citigroup and North Carolina State University. Other corporate participants listed on the Council's website include Aetna, The Kroger Co., Citigroup, and Deere & Co.
There is no lack of technology industry groups wrestling with the issue of cloud standards — OGF, OMG, OCC, OASIS, and more, a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms. What makes this group different is its focus on the end users of cloud technology. The Council promises to provide companies using cloud technology with the opportunity to express their requirements to the technology companies building out cloud computing — a chance for the CFO to say what he or she wants to see happen.
At this point, management mostly wants to see greater progress in stiffening security, increased integration with existing back-end systems, and some level of interoperability among the various cloud platform and services providers. The new Customer Council, in particular, will work to lower the barriers for widespread adoption of Cloud Computing by helping to prioritize key interoperability issues such as cloud management, reference architecture, and hybrid clouds, as well as security and compliance, according to a Cloud Council announcement by IBM.
After security and compliance, interoperability may be the most important issue to CFOs. Interoperability will enable an organization to mix and match a variety of cloud services from different providers. And, most importantly, it will free organizations from vendor lock-in. This occurs when the price, pain, and disruption of changing vendors prevent a company from making necessary changes in its cloud vendor lineup.
Following interoperability, the Council also intends to focus on cloud management, another critical area. Standards in this area will enable an administrator to manage a company's cloud activities in a consistent and coherent manner. Such management will go a long way toward lowering the administrative cost of operating a mixed, multi-provider cloud environment.
Finally, the Council might want to focus on cloud development standards. This would enable the organization to build or assemble applications once and run them on the platforms of different cloud service providers.
All these standards initiatives are welcome and necessary if cloud computing is to truly become a valuable part of an organization's IT infrastructure; if it's going to fully cross the chasm. IT industry history, however, has shown that standards efforts only go so far. That's because the vendors and service providers still want to maintain their competitive advantage. If they eliminated all the barriers to cloud interoperability and cloud application portability, how would they differentiate their cloud platforms and cloud services? Similarly, customers want the innovations that this competition brings. The trick will be to find the right balance.