Inside the cloud

Cloud, cloud, cloud, cloud, cloud. Is that all everyone can talk about these days? From the sound of things, Cloud Computing or Cloud Services has the ability to heal the sick, feed the hungry and make life rosy for all. It’s talked about as if it were a cross between the invention of the PC and the development of the Internet. Wait… it is.
Despite all the annoying hype and hyperbole, Cloud Services are and will be a game changer; there is absolutely no doubt. The only debate is how fast will the rate of adoption be, how many of the promised benefits will prove accurate and what unforeseen applications will emerge. If Vegas had an over/under on Cloud Computing – bet the over.
At the core of the debate is what is cloud? Like any topic in our industry, we all immediately want to try and attach technical labels to it. And make no mistake; Cloud Services do involve a host of technologies. But if that’s your focus, you’ll miss the forest for the trees. 
The cloud is, more than anything else, a new and game changing business model. It re-writes the rules in the same way that Word did away with typewriters. Think back to when we didn’t have the Internet and email (for those of you old enough). Hard to recall, actually. In 3 years, that’s the same way you’ll feel about Cloud. It will be such an ingrained aspect of your business (and possibly personal) life that it will seem normal and natural.
What exactly are Cloud Services? As everyone rushes to attach their products and services to the cloud bandwagon, we are seeing countless corruptions and misuses of the term. Today, almost any online service is being labeled as a Cloud Service. That’s one of the casualties of the hype.
You can find variations on this, but the generally accepted definition of what constitutes a Cloud Service is an outsourcing of IT type resources as a service at the platform, infrastructure or application level. Cloud services have distinct characteristics as well:
Ubiquitous, convenient and on-demand access to a pool of shared resources;
User controllable – the capability to rapidly provision these resources as needed;
Pay as you go – only be charged for what you use, when you use it;
High availability and scalable on the fly;
High levels of customer self-service without having to involve interactions with the service provider.
With Cloud being the hot topic of the year, it’s no surprise that almost every company and every industry organization is rushing to have a cloud strategy. In fact, we are likely going to see a situation where we have too many or competing standards. 
When investigating the issue, TM Forum elected to do what it does best – provide clarity, guidance and leadership. We want to cut through the clutter and separate fact from fiction, hype from reality. 
And because of the tremendous opportunity Cloud Services can provide both to users as well as a revenue generator for suppliers and service providers, we needed to figure out what the barriers to adoption are. What are the roadblocks preventing Cloud Services from becoming mainstream?
Like our approach to other issues, we wanted to involve the entire value chain in order to ensure we provide end-to-end solutions. Problem was this value chain included the Enterprise Users who historically have not been a major member constituency. So beginning last fall, we began to actively recruit major Enterprise players, and in December we announced the formation of the Enterprise Cloud Leadership Council(ECLC). 
The role of the ECLC is to serve as the “conscience” of our Cloud Initiative by providing requirements, ideas and project resources. Working collaboratively with other TM Forum members, this ecosystem of buyers and sellers is able to evaluate what is needed and either point to relevant work in the industry or, if necessary, create it within the Forum.
One of the most challenging aspects of the Cloud Initiative is sorting through all the areas where work could take place and prioritizing them. At present, we have 3 Cloud-focused Catalyst demonstrations involving our member service providers and vendors that will be shown at Management World 2010 in Nice:
The Cloud Service Broker Catalyst shows how to provide a trusted cloud management platform that simplifies the delivery of complex cloud services to enterprise customers.
The Cloud Service Model Catalyst enables telecom providers to participate in the cloud services supply chain by partnering with cloud service suppliers through a standard on-boarding model and interfaces.
The Unified Service Delivery Framework for Management of Distributed Inter-Cloud Services Catalyst shows a pragmatic and incremental approach to a service delivery lifecycle for deployment of multi-domain, inter-cloud services via TM Forum frameworks and standards, service architectures and domain management tools.
In addition, the IPsphere team will begin their third Field Trial using Cloud Services as the basis of their demonstration. In this scenario, IPsphere will broker a premium network experience (Network-as-a-Service) between an end user and a cloud-hosted application.
The ECBC is also getting ready to kick off a project that will result in a reference architecture and (eventually) a reference implementation for how to manage a hybrid (public-private) cloud environment in a stateless manner. This will be a multi-phase project involving players from across the value chain.
Other projects being discussed include:
SLAs and metrics for Cloud Services (in conjunction with the DMTF); 
Reference architecture, models and best practices for implementing Database-as-a-Service;
Definitions of common commercial terms to streamline procurement of Cloud Services;
Common service definitions and SKUs to enable apples-to-apples comparisons between providers, plus the ability to instantiate these definitions as SKUs in a provider’s product catalog.
There are several ways to become involved in the Forum’s Cloud Initiative. The starting point is joining the Cloud Services Community. If you are a buyer of Cloud Services at the CIO level, you are eligible to become a member of the ECLC. We also have regular interactions between the ECLC and senior executives of suppliers and providers. And of course, if you want to get fully involved, then you can commit to placing resources on one of the project teams.
It’s a fast-paced and exciting area and one that will undoubtedly change the communications and information landscape for the foreseeable future. Now is the time to act – not sit on the sidelines and watch the clouds go by.
Jim Warner is vice president and head of digital media, advertising and cloud computing programs at TM Forum