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Down-to-Earth Contracts that Keep the Cloud Aloft

A look at the basic interoperability requirements when communicating with the Cloud

Cloud Platforms
The platform - understood from a software viewpoint - will make management functions available in the form of Web services.  Several Cloud providers actually do this already: they publish Web services for deploying and managing hosted applications. The management functions that can be controlled via Web services cover the major Cloud platform services:

  • Application lifecycle management
  • SLA monitoring and metrics
  • Data transfers
  • Access control and user management
  • Virtual resources allocation and management

These Web services are intended to be accessed or driven by in-house programs as much as by humans behind Web browsers. For example, application builds can be automatically deployed at times of the day when usage and bandwidth are low. In-house business activity monitoring tools will query and configure Cloud metrics and monitoring services. Synchronization with in-house applications will require carefully scheduled data transfers to and from the Cloud.

Such management functions have their own SLAs, and their reliability and security are expected to become critical in an environment where users' involvement will migrate more from hands-on remote management and control to an after-the-fact supervisory role decoupled from automated operations. This is where the contractual aspect of Web services described above will add value.

Cloud Applications
In the first phase, applications - many of them currently hosted as monoliths in Cloud platforms - are expected to become more distributed over time as the Cloud offers viable remote alternatives. Distribution is expected to occur first with delegating basic functions - seen as application resources - to the Cloud: storage, queuing, validation of business documents, end-user interaction, etc. This form of distribution is also gaining momentum with the rise of "hybrid clouds," described later.

This means that an application - whether running in-house or in the Cloud - will access and control Cloud resources remotely. Again, this is a multi-owner environment subject to contractual exchanges such as allowed by Web services.

In the second phase, distribution will affect higher-level components of an application. The types of applications that lend themselves to such distribution are:

  • Workflow types, where pipelined activities involve separate coarse-grain components that may fall under different expertise and ownership (e.g., the processing of applications -- insurance , loans, procurement - that involve various checks and databases in different services, or the tracking and control of a business process, such as order-to-cash, that involves different departments and agents that are distributed by nature).
  • Loosely coupled, asynchronous systems, such as those communicating via events or messages. Such systems used to revolve around integration servers in the past, and now center around SOA or Event-Driven Architectures (EDA).

The Hybrid Cloud
Various combinations of Cloud-based and in-house computing are expected to evolve. One model growing in popularity is the hybrid Cloud, where in-house applications - which may run themselves over an internal Cloud - are accessing resources and sub-processes in the public Cloud. Another example is queue-based data transfers (e.g., cross-application transfer of records related to a customer or a patient). A third example is for a cloud to host a public face to another otherwise internal application. The rise of hybrid Clouds makes interoperability - and the related technical contracts - a key requirement. Indeed, the hybrid model - unlike internal Clouds or single-provider public Clouds - assumes communication across different Cloud platforms, both for application interaction and management functions.

Such interoperability in turn will rely on three tenets:

  • Standard interfaces and protocols. It almost goes without saying that portability between Clouds depends upon the use of standards. Existing Cloud platforms already make use of a broad range of standards; in particular, Web-services related standards as described above. These standards cover both the contractual aspect and functional aspect of inter-Cloud communication. In parallel, and just above the Web services standard layer, come the programming and management interfaces standards (APIs), which are still in a very early stage and under consideration for standardization in organizations such as DMTF, OGF or SNIA. These interfaces will also be accessed as Web services. At the Web services level, successful integration and deployment of these standards increasingly relies on a notion of profiling existing standards (i.e., selecting / restricting options, and filling the gaps about how to make these standards work together). Such profiling has been the sole objective of the Web Services interoperability organization (WS-I; www.ws-i-org), which produces WS-I Profiles that are forms of interoperability contracts that define how the foundation standards are to be used and implemented together for optimal interoperability.
  • Distribution, assembly and choreography technologies. Technologies such as BPM, SOA and EDA will enable the design and deployment of applications distributed fully or partially over the Cloud. These technologies are built on standards that enable portable and distributed design. For workflow and BPM these include: BPMN, XPDL and WS-BPEL standards; for SOA: Service Component Architecture (SCA) standards from OASIS in combination with Web services standards; and for EDA: queuing standards as well as Events management and querying standards.
    Again, this multi-owner (or multi-manager) distribution will require exchanges that are under contracts regarding security, reliability, availability and all sorts of QoS factors driven by higher-level SLAs between business partners. As seen previously, these contracts extend to the communication layer and are supported by the Web services framework. Such distributed applications will use Web services both for their internal logic and control - such as invoking a Cloud-based sub-process - as well as for their own management and configuration aspects, such as registering new users, deploying a new service interface, notifying users of a change of policy, migrating internal data during a gradual version upgrade of a business process, or phasing something out.
  • Support for document-centric as well as service-centric communication. Not all communication in loosely coupled environments such as the Cloud will look like service invocations. Many business processes - such as those driving supply chains, product lifecycle management, claim processing, etc. - rely on the transfer of complex business documents during the execution of their various phases, for which a B2B messaging and asynchronous model is more appropriate than real-time service invocation. Industry consortia that govern the IT side of these supply chains, such as GS1, OAGI, RosettaNet and HL7, move away from proprietary messaging standards and adopt more open B2B standards, such as ebXML and AS2.

But these B2B standards increasingly rely on Web services technologies at the protocol level, if not for service interfaces; ebXML messaging (ebMS), a popular B2B standard in Asia and Europe that provides advanced support for the contractual aspect of B2B, has embraced in its latest version (V3) Web service protocols such as WS-Security and WS-ReliableMessaging. The AS2 Web standard, which is widely adopted in consumer retail and various supply chains in the United States, has recently evolved into AS4, a simple profile of ebMS V3 that is based on Web services standards.

The growing interest in the hybrid Cloud, as well as the growing choice of cloud providers, will put more pressure on the standardization of the Cloud access - which does not always mean new standards, but in many case just reusing - or "repurposing" - existing ones. As Cloud applications move from pilot projects to production mode, these standards will also be valued in how well they support the contractual aspect of the Cloud, which concerns all the layers of the communication stack. Because the fulfillment of Cloud computing contracts between parties depends on the fulfillment of the "down-to-earth" contracts between infrastructure components (and their owners), we can expect to see the same emphasis on these wire-level agreements and QoS controls as previously seen in other communication-centric spaces such as B2B and B2C.

More Stories By Keith Swenson

Keith Swenson is Vice President of Research and Development at Fujitsu America Incorporated and is the Chief Software Architect for the Interstage family of products. He is known for having been a pioneer in Web services, collaborative planning, workflow, and business process management, having participated in the formation of a number of standards in these fields, including receiving the 2004 "Mannheim Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Workflow." He has led projects at Fujitsu, Netscape, MS2 and Ashton-Tate on group collaboration spaces. His most recent project is a cloud-based offering of Interstage BPM that will offer process modeling, forms development, rules development, Web service integration and execution of completed BPM applications in a 100% hosted cloud environment. See his blog on Collaborative Planning at http://kswenson.wordpress.com/.

More Stories By Jacques Durand

Jacques Durand is a technical director at Fujitsu America Incorporated, with more than 20 years of experience in various areas of software. He evaluates and promotes XML-related and eBusiness standards and advises on their use in the enterprise software products at Fujitsu, while representing the company in various standards organizations such as OASIS, W3C, WS-I and other vertical standards consortia. He has a long-time interest in testing and has led several conformance and interoperability testing initiatives in OASIS: the Test Assertions Guideline standards, the Testing and Monitoring Internet Exchanges (TaMIE) committee, and ebXML testing. He is also active on the OASIS technical advisory board. In WS-I, he is currently co-editor of the Reliable Secure Profile and is leading the development of the new generation of testing tools for WS-I profiles. He has also been product architect in a BPM start-up company and an R&D engineer in a telecommunications company. His initial background is in rule engines.

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