Standards in the cloud

clouds 2

IEC e-tech interview with Don Deutsch, Chairman of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38, Distributed Application Platforms and Services.

Don Deutsch, Chairman of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38, shares his thoughts on the importance of standards for the field of cloud computing, the role of subcommittee 38, ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 Information technology, various consortia in the development of cloud computing standards, and what may be expected for the future of cloud computing standardisation.

Standards to guide the cloud transition

IEC e-tech: Why are standards important for cloud computing?

Deutsch: Cloud computing has the potential to substantially impact on virtually everything that goes on in information technology. It is an area that is highly significant for the entire IT world. As an emerging vehicle for providing information technology services, cloud computing can benefit from standards.

SC 38 is developing a standard that defines cloud computing, ISO/IEC 17788: Cloud computing – Overview and vocabulary. The standard defines cloud computing as ‘a paradigm for enabling network access to a scalable and elastic pool of shareable, physical or virtual resources with self-service provisioning and administration on-demand’.

It is important to note the word ‘paradigm’ in the definition of cloud computing in the draft standard. Cloud computing is a shift in the paradigm for providing IT capabilities to users, and a great deal of future IT activity is likely to take place within the context of cloud computing. Because cloud computing has the potential to disrupt the IT products and services marketplace, there are strong demands for near-term cloud computing standards, especially from governments.

At the bare minimum, cloud computing is a form of information technology involving the use of resources that are not owned, controlled, or maintained by a single user. Rather, the resources are accessed over a network and are shared among a community of users. With cloud computing those resources can be dynamically provisioned – if users need more computing power, more storage or more processing capabilities, then these resources can be provided. Cloud computing services may be provided by more than a single computer or even a single computing centre; users may actually be sharing resources across various facilities that may not even be co-located.

The information technology industry has undergone significant changes throughout its history, such as the transition from the mainframe (centralised computing) era to the distributed computing era and personal computing. With cloud computing, we may be experiencing another important transition; the standards developed by SC 38 promise to be an essential part of getting that transition right.

Ongoing focus on cloud standardisation

IEC e-tech: What is ISO/IEC JTC1’s role in cloud computing standards? What part is SC 38 playing?

Deutsch: ISO/IEC JTC 1 recognised the emerging field of cloud computing (and the desire to develop cloud computing standards) when in 2009 it established SC 38 to address three different converging demands: web services, service-oriented architecture, and cloud computing.

There is a tremendous amount of interest and effort in the area of cloud computing and that is the overwhelming focus of SC 38 today. The work on web services is nearly finished and there is no new development of web services standards.

To date, SC 38 has focused on preparing two important documents for cloud computing, ISO/IEC 17788 and ISO/IEC 17789 Cloud computing – Reference architecture. SC 38 has also started work on the definition of a standard service level agreement for cloud computing.

IEC e-tech: What is ahead for SC 38 in the next couple of years?

Deutsch: The first step in the standardisation process is for the provider community and standards-setting organisations to agree on which standards are required, beyond those that already exist or are in development. Because cloud computing is still in the rapid innovation stage, this idea of consensus on required standards is extremely important to its success.

Over the next year, I expect SC 38 to complete the foundation standards ISO/IEC 17788 and ISO/IEC 17789, and to identify the requirements for additional cloud computing standards. Only then can SC 38 embark on developing these standards and/or fulfilling the need with standards brought in from elsewhere.

I do not expect SC 38 to define all of the standards that are required for cloud computing, but it should be in a position where it is able to recognise what standards are required. It can then become a consolidator of the standards that are produced from a wide and diverse community of standards-setting organisations and can develop the additional required standards not being developed elsewhere.

Coordination and leadership

SC 38 is uniquely positioned to serve as a consolidator of cloud computing standards because of the JTC 1 Publicly Available Specification (PAS) process. This allows specifications developed through consensus processes outside the formal structure to be transposed into JTC 1 and recognised as international standards.

To date, most of the international technical standards in the area of cloud computing have come as PAS submissions from consortia addressing the lower levels of the cloud computing technology stack; that is, those focusing on standards for infrastructure as a service.

IEC e-tech: Many standards organisations are developing cloud computing standards. Are they competing with SC 38?

Deutsch: I do think that we are in a new era, in that technology convergence is real. The mechanisms that we set up for international standards 50 or more years ago divided technological standardisation into three fields, with ITU covering telephones and telecommunications, IEC taking on power generation and power distribution, and ISO attending to areas not covered by the other two.

When the need for IT standards was first recognised, ISO and IEC both claimed to have a stake in the sector. In order to avoid competition in this field, both organisations agreed to set up their first joint technical committee, known as JTC 1. JTC 1 is the recognised source for global information technology standards.

Its voluntary, non-regulatory, nature has allowed the IT industry to thrive over the years. The PAS process it follows enables consortia working in the area of cloud computing to have the results of their work considered by JTC 1 for possible acceptance as international standards. As a result, consortia see SC 38 as a vehicle for collaboration rather than as competition and JTC 1 SC 38 is now positioned as the preferred vehicle for establishing new international cloud computing standards.

NB. Standards New Zealand is an observer member of JTC 1 SC 38. If anyone is interested in the committee and its work, please contact



Published in business and ICT.