IT Heavyweights Back Telecom Cloud Forum

The telecommunications industry has joined the effort to forge interoperability, security and common service levels among cloud providers by forming a consortium backed by some key cloud providers, enterprise customers, and hardware and software vendors.

The TM Forum, an established telecom industry association, launched the Enterprise Cloud Buyers' Council (ECBC) at its annual Management World Americas conference in Orlando this week. The ECBC is backed by some key providers including Microsoft, IBM, CA, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and EMC, as well as telecom providers AT&T, BT, Telecom Italia and Nokia Siemens Networks.

Noticeably absent from the list of backers are leading cloud providers Amazon and Google.

Some analysts were quick to question the need for another cloud computing consortium, noting numerous other groups such as the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum and the Distributed Management Task Force's Open Cloud Standards Incubator.

"If I could get a couple of publications to blow kisses at the idea, I could launch a cloud forum and I could get key players to join it," said Tom Nolle, a telecom and IT consultant who recently withdrew his involvement in the TM Forum.

Citing its track record for providing standards among telecom carriers, the TM Forum believes it has the clout and expertise to bring cloud providers together to forge compatibility and universal definitions.

The ECBC's goal is to forge common API's for developers, security, product definitions, SLAs, benchmarking, federated cloud stores and interoperability among cloud services. It has agreed to follow the initiatives of the DMTF and the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), an organization focused on providing service delivery, as well as guidelines from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Microsoft's involvement was particularly noteworthy, given that it has declined to participate in the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum.

"There were a lot of politics in that that a lot of people didn't want to step into," said Keith Willetts, the TM Forum's chairman and CEO.

Microsoft was not available for comment but endorsed the ECBC in a statement, saying it is consistent with Microsoft's effort to support private and hybrid clouds.

For his part, Nolle said he wasn't surprised by Microsoft's decision to support the ECBC, noting that Microsoft has long been involved with the TM Forum.

The TM Forum maintains it will succeed for one key reason: It is relying on enterprise customers, who have raised key concerns about cloud services, to bring providers to the table. The ECBC has six major enterprise customers on board representing such industries as pharmaceuticals, retail and banking, and has been conducting ongoing discussions with a number of key influencers, according to Willetts. Only two of those enterprise customers have revealed their membership: Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Deutsche Bank.

"We've historically brought together buyers and sellers to really get the buyer requirements of the supplier side lined up," Willetts said in an interview. "We've been doing that for quite some time for the communications industry through real deep-dive technical working groups and best practices and standards."

Eric Pulier, ECBC's executive director, emphasized in an e-mail that the group's charter is focused on forging buyer requirements rather than more common seller-led efforts. "The result [of seller-led efforts] is an expensive and unwieldy set of terms, management consoles, commercial constructs and product descriptions that lead to opaque pricing, inability to benchmark, high integration costs and vendor lock-in," Pulier said.

But despite the need to address those issues, the telecom industry has tended to be slow and bureaucratic in forging standards, Nolle said. During his tenure with the TM Forum, Nolle said he was on several committees where forging standards took so long that once done, they no longer addressed current priorities.

"I know how these things work and the problem is the buyers are helplessly trapped in a bureaucratic process, and the thing that worries me the most about their enterprise initiatives is that the enterprises have a shorter capital cycle than the providers," Nolle said.

He also questioned whether the telecom industry has the chops to work with today's leading cloud providers. "In the days when the TM Forum was growing up, networks were built by connecting boxes. Now networks are built by connecting software components. It's a different world and they're not there yet," he said.

"I think there is a view by the standards guys that the Amazons and Googles of the world don't participate because they are not in favor of standards," he added. "That's not true. If you look at Google Wave, they supported the XMPP standard for federation. What they are saying is you can't try to standardize something which you haven't even built."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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