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Cloud Interoperability and Portability
Irena Bojanova
JUN 20, 2013 08:00 AM
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It's the High-Tech Wild, Wild West out there!

 Although the Cloud Computing marketplace is still chaotic, it is:

  • Exciting
  • Fast-growing
  • Full of opportunities

Interoperability and portability are closely related to the previously discussed Cloud elasticity and multi-tenancy. Any IaaS to SaaS cloud-implemented system should have as design goals both interoperability and portability to fully gain the benefits of the Cloud elastic environment. Although interoperability and portability are not unique for cloud and the related security aspects did not emerge with cloud computing, multi-tenancy (where data and applications of different customers/companies share platforms, storage, networks) brings the need of greater precautions than those required for traditional processing models.

Cloud Computing Use Case Group started collaborative work to describe and define cases and demonstrate the benefits of cloud, with the goal to highlight the capabilities and requirements that need to be standardized in cloud environments to ensure interoperability, ease of integration, and portability. The following table presents concise definitions, based on their and the testing standards group work.

Table 1. Interoperability and Portability

Notion General Understanding In the case of Cloud Computing
  • Concerned with ability of systems to communicate
  • Requires communicated information is understood by receiving system
  • Ability to write code that works with more than one cloud provider simultaneously, regardless of the differences between the providers
  • Ability to run components or systems written for one environment in another environment.
  • Includes software and hardware environments (both physical and virtual).

Interoperability and portability are crucial attributes to be able to work with multiple cloud providers, and to avoid being locked-in with a particular one, its service level and pricing policies. Vendor risk should be carefully considered — business survivability of providers, and interoperability of services, portability of data and applications. Interoperability and portability allow (CSA):

  • Scaling one service across multiple disparate providers and operate and appear as one system.
  • Easy movement of data and applications from one platform to another, or from one service provider to another.

The amount of freedom is likely determined by the type of service used — please see Table 2.

Table 2. Interoperability, Portability, and Cloud Service Models

Service Model Interoperability and Portability
  • Interoperability and portability of customer workloads are more achievable in IaaS service
  • IaaS building blocks are relatively well-defined, e.g., network protocols, CPU instruction sets, and legacy device interfaces
  • Application written to use specific services from a vendor's PaaS will require changes to use similar services from another vendor's PaaS
  • Efforts on development of open and proprietary standard API's to enable cloud management, security, and interoperability: Open Cloud Computing Interface Working Group (OCCI), Amazon EC@API, ...
  • Common container formats: DMTF'S Open Virtualization Format (OVF).
  • Application written to those standards is far more likely to be interoperable and portable.
  • Portability of workloads requires a level of compatibility and interoperability between SaaS applications.

PaaS clouds that support generic interfaces are preferable. Before a decision is made to develop new applications on a public PaaS cloud platform, it is recommended (NIST) to evaluate whether the application infrastructure interfaces (for file, queue, hash table, etc.) provided in that platform are or could be made generic enough to support portability and interoperability of the application. In relation to the data access standards, choose clouds that work with well documented data access protocols; ensure at least data adaptors could be developed, so that portability and interoperability of the application is not significantly impacted.

Anyone have thoughts or sources that will help readers understand cloud interoperability and portability? Please share here!

Irena Bojanova

Irena Bojanova, Ph.D., is Founder and Chair of IEEE CS Cloud Computing STC, an Associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Cloud Computing, and an Editorial Board Member of IEEE CS IT Professional. She is a professor and program director, Information and Technology Systems, at University of Maryland University College, managed academic programs at Johns Hopkins University and PIsoft Ltd., and co-started OBS Ltd., (now CSC Bulgaria). Her current research interests include cloud computing, web-based systems, and educational innovations. She is a member of the IEEE and can be reached at



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