Look to Open Virtualization Format for managing cloud computing workloads

Standards for cloud computing are slowly evolving. Open Virtualization Format (OVF) is one such standard that software architects may tap into.

It has been said that the software architect's bag of tricks is always a work in progress. For example, as architects

begin to move on-premise applications to the cloud, they need to look at new tools for managing distributed applications on the cloud. As cloud computing architectures rely so significantly on virtualization, it becomes necessary for the architect to gain some understanding of new standards formats. One such format is the Open Virtualization Format (OVF).

Some viewers suggest that OVF may fundamentally shift the way people think about cloud architectures. It allows an application designer to represent applications, servers and collections as an ensemble. This makes it easier to move apps onto various cloud offerings, export those in a standard container and create application template libraries on the cloud.

OVF is one of the first virtualization standards. The standard is managed by the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF). It is being adopted by a number of cloud interfaces as a way to represent workloads. It provides the meta-data "bill of goods" to accompany a virtual machine image that describes resources the virtual image requires, as well as networking configuration information, and deployment best practices. The basic OVF spec allows you to specify a composite app that may be made up of multiple images, such as a database server, HTTP server and middleware software. For example, the WebSphere OVF consists of four servers.

One of the challenges in developing more sophisticated cloud architectures has been the difficulty in moving images between cloud platforms. A number of companies are making their software available as OVF packages. For example WebSphere can be installed as an OVF consisting of four servers.

“This mirrors the transition in IT from deploying applications on generic servers towards hardware appliances, because customers don't want the headache of figuring out the proper hardware/software configurations," said DMTF leader Winston Bumpus.

“In the cloud space, OVF is allowing the deployment of virtual appliances, so that you can get pre-installed software in the same manner," he continued.

But, more work needs to be done to provide management and visibility into cloud applications.

Bumpus said, “Customers still don't have enough visibility into the cloud and getting that balance right. Making sure there are standard ways to extract information is important."

"Over time, we need to have standardized cloud interfaces. There will be various cloud providers with proprietary interfaces and they will also support the standard interface," he said.

Bumpus sees analogies in the story of the pre-Web online services.

"If you look at the early days of the Internet, there were a lot of proprietary services like AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy," he recalled. ''Until we had DNS, HTML and hyperlinking, we did not achieve the goal and vision of the Web. I think we are on the same road for the cloud.''

"Today we have a lot of proprietary clouds, but we are not going to achieve the utility and vision of the cloud until we have the standards we can weave together to really leverage the power of the cloud,” he concluded.

This was first published in August 2011

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