[occi-wg] Standards Matter: The Battle For Interoperability Goes On

Sam Johnston samj at samj.net
Sat Apr 18 04:21:11 CDT 2009

[image: InformationWeek] <http://www.informationweek.com/>

Standards Matter: The Battle For Interoperability Goes On

We all say we want our gear to work together, but are you willing to hold
vendors accountable for breaking faith?

By Mike Fratto,  InformationWeek
April 18, 2009
URL: http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=216600011

 Used to be, vendors didn't brazenly fracture standards. Sure, they sought
lock-in opportunities, but most knew that if they played too fast and loose,
the market would mete out punishment, as in the '90s when TCP/IP rule
breakers lost sales.

Times have changed, and not for the better. Take network access control.
Cisco has all but abandoned its NAC framework and partner program. Microsoft
threw some of its Network Access Protection specifications to the Trusted
Computing Group, but Cisco consistently has refused to even acknowledge the
TCG's legitimacy. So much for interoperability.

Want more? First proposed in 2004,
hung up as Wi-Fi Alliance members hashed through competing technical
interests. The widely used 802.1X is being revised because critical features
were missed the first time. In the realm of cloud computing, you can't get
two people to agree to a definition, much less what should be standardized,
as evidenced by the recent finger-pointing around the IBM-led Open Cloud
Manifesto initiative.

And this lack of interest in creating functional, universal standards seems
to be accelerating. Cisco's EnergyWise, which proposes building-wide energy
management, should have gone to the International Telecommunication Union
three years ago. And how confident are you that Fibre
Ethernet will be more interoperable than Fibre Channel?

If we're not careful, standards for nascent technologies could be so
splintered as to be worse than none at all.

There's plenty of blame to go around, starting with the big vendors that try
to game the process. "The larger vendors know the 'flaws' in the current
system," says David O'Berry, director of IT systems and services for the
South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services. "They
know it takes awhile for things to progress--especially when you *want* it
to take awhile--and so they use that gap to create de facto lock-in at
critical junctures."

For their part, vendors counter that standards bodies have devolved to the
point that they're almost immobilized by politics and squabbling. Consensus
can take years, and the market won't wait that long. "Standards bodies tend
to be more focused on the process than achieving the desired result in the
shortest time possible," says Mike Healey, CTO of GreenPages Technology
Solutions and an *InformationWeek Analytics *contributor.

 [image: chart: What Matters: How important is it that your NAC system
adheres to these frameworks?]
Case in point, says Healey, is the 802.11n wireless standard. The a, b, and
g iterations had hit a performance wall that was hindering business, but the
new spec languished for a year in a draft
didn't significantly change from its final release. "Vendors that were
willing to 'cheat' and release products based on the draft established a
competitive advantage," he says. "Those that followed the rules were left
behind. The IEEE<http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=IEEE&x=&y=>delays
were less about technical specifications or design issues but
revolved around meeting schedules and documentation timelines."

Healey says he asked Aruba Networks what it would do about its prerelease
802.11n product if the standard changed. "Two words: 'firmware upgrade.'"

Another high-profile standards failure is browser support for HTML and
Cascading Style Sheets. Designers who don't know--or care--about the
implications of proprietary extensions to
out Web sites that work only in Internet Explorer for Windows.

IT organizations bear some of the blame as well. We state that standards
a nonnegotiable check box in purchasing decisions, yet we haven't been
consistent in insisting on adherence. Storage
a prime example. Even though Fibre
an ANSI standard and, in theory, any FC device should communicate with
any other FC device, the reality is that vendors competing for
director market share have little incentive to interoperate. Customers
take the path of least resistance by purchasing from certified product lists
rather than selecting components based on price or feature set.

Is it a coincidence that high-end storage is about the most expensive
technology that IT purchases--with the least number of competing products?
We think not. So will we let the next big thing in storage, Fibre Channel
over Ethernet, follow the same path? Why not insist on an FCoE Alliance with
a logoed testing program?

State Of Storage
Balky SANs aren't all we have to worry about.
Download this
Analytics Report <http://stateofstorage.informationweek.com/>
See all
*InformationWeek* Analytics Reports<http://www.informationweekanalytics.com/>
 Of course, standards aren't magic pixie dust. IT organizations often can't
get even supposedly compliant products to interoperate without hacks and
workarounds. But that's no reason to throw up our hands and write off the
process. We need to advocate for a smart, independent standards track.

"The secret sauce to a successful 'working standard' isn't necessarily IETF
or another longstanding body," says Jonathan Feldman, director of IT
services for the city of Asheville, N.C., and an *InformationWeek
Analytics*contributor. "Rather, an earnest and honest effort by a
group that has
governance outside of a single corporation's control is what's important."

Along with vendor independence, interoperability testing is critical. We
have interoperable 802.11 wireless products not just because there's a
standard, but because vendors backed the Wi-Fi Alliance and decided to
cooperate. As the Wi-Fi Alliance certification took hold, it started showing
up as a requirement in requests for proposals, which motivated more vendors
to participate and get certified. The result: Certified WLAN products
interoperate--unlike SANs.
*Hot-Button Issues*
Cloud computing and green IT are two of the hottest IT areas and two hotbeds
of standards angst. The cry for cloud computing standards in particular has
reached a fever pitch in recent weeks since a group of vendors released the
Open Cloud Manifesto, an outline of core principles intended to boost
interoperability among various cloud computing technologies.

Critics charged that IBM and other vendors developed the manifesto behind
closed doors and then tried to foist it on the industry. Microsoft, which
said it agreed in principle with most of the manifesto, was nonetheless
disturbed by the lack of openness in the process (the irony isn't lost on
us) and called for more open discussion. Amazon.com's response was more
measured, noting that the company has offered Amazon Web Services APIs in
various languages and formats based on customer demand.

People should calm down. Frankly, the manifesto was simply a statement of
intent with a diverse set of backers, including AT&T, F5 Networks, Hyperic,
IBM, and SAP. What isn't clear to us is whether cloud computing standards
are necessary.

That's not to say we don't need specs for the technologies that keep clouds
aloft. Some standards work for virtualization, for instance, already has
been completed. The Distributed Management Task Force announced in March the
Open Virtualization<http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=Virtualization&x=&y=>format,
which standardizes the virtual
file <http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=file&x=&y=>format
and is backed by VMware and Citrix Systems. Microsoft says it
will support the spec in Hyper-V but hasn't provided a timeline.

In the green IT market, Cisco came under fire for not taking EnergyWise--its
program for monitoring, managing, and reducing power consumption that it
says was three years in the making--to a standards group. The company
counters that when it started on EnergyWise, the goal was simply to manage
the power consumption of Power over Ethernet devices, but over time the
scope broadened to include more devices, data gathering, and management.

What Cisco ended up with wasn't what it started with, says Hugh Barrass, a
Cisco technologist responsible for standards, who adds that the vendor has
every intention of submitting the EnergyWise work to a standards body.
"Digging in our heels isn't beneficial to anyone," Barrass says. "What we
learn from EnergyWise implementations we will take to the standards bodies
to create effective standards."

Data Center Bridging Lossless, high-speed Ethernet with flow control? Good
for storage. Good for data. Good for you.
802.1X-REV 801.1X becoming a more usable protocol. Finally.
ODF/OOXML Standardized file formats for seamless import/export? Love it, and
the death match to dominate is good TV.
NAT66 Transport-agnostic IPv6-to-IPv6 translation. Apparently, new scheme
won't solve old problems.
Cloud Standards We know there's been a lot of chatter, but first define
cloud, then we'll talk.
802.11v Wireless network
Layer 2 seems like a good idea, but is it necessary?
DNSSEC Yeah, we need it, but
operations aren't even close to ready.
Common Event Expression A common event format and taxonomy should be hot,
but no way is this getting into products.
 Competitors counter that Cisco's aim was to get a jump on everyone
else--there are few green IT standards on the table, outside of the IEEE
802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet task group, which doesn't seem to be
gaining much traction. And in fact, Cisco does benefit from being first out,
if for nothing else than bragging rights if EnergyWise proves successful.

*Gray Areas*
Standards bodies aren't a panacea. Some specs designed from the ground up in
these groups are still incomplete. 802.1X, which was ratified in 2001,
defines host authentication<http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=authentication&x=&y=>to
authorize use of a port. Unfortunately, the spec defined
port <http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=port&x=&y=>use
as all or nothing, either open or closed, which means those hosts
to authenticate, such as guests or devices that don't support 802.1X,
couldn't connect at all, at least according to the standard.

To support guest access, Hewlett-Packard and other vendors added proprietary
capabilities to their switches. Cisco went a step further, allowing its
Cisco Discovery Protocol to pass through the port to discover a host, such
as a voice-over-IP phone, before the port is authenticated. Both functions
are necessary, and even though they don't comply with 802.1X, they don't
break interoperability, either. The IEEE is now working on a revision to
802.1X that enhances the
on needs discovered in field deployments.

That example just gives credence to vendors' favorite argument: Technology
must be developed and deployed with live customers before functionality can
be standardized.

"As standards grow larger in scope and become more complex, it becomes
difficult to make fundamental changes to the underlying architecture," says
Paul Congdon, CTO of HP ProCurve and a longtime representative to several
standards groups. "This is similar to the
of adding new architectural constructs to mature operating systems."
The answer, many industry players argue, is targeted industry consortia that
can perform in-depth testing while maintaining compatibility.
*Standards Equality*
Veteran standards bodies such as the IEEE, International Telecommunication
Union, and Internet Engineering Task Force have established procedures for
taking a standard from a twinkle in an engineer's eye to publication.
However, with the fast pace of technology innovation, work in these bodies
can drag on to the point where the standards they're developing aren't
delivered until long after demand has peaked.

"The time to build standards is when knowledge is high, because you know
what functions need to be worked on and politics are low, because no one has
an entrenched stand to defend," says Steve Hanna, a distinguished engineer
with Juniper Networks and another longtime member of various standards
groups. That can be a narrow window that vendors often step through with
proprietary functionality.

One answer: small, targeted industry consortia, like the Trusted Computing
Group and the Metro Ethernet Forum, that can move faster than the large
standards bodies. Hanna, who's co-chair of the Trusted Network Connect and
IETF Network Endpoint Assessment working groups, says the TNC completed
initial work on its NAC spec in just about a year. Industry consortia are
more nimble than the big bodies because their working groups are smaller and
more focused. Also, they provide interoperability testing and certificate
programs and coordinate work with other entities.

The Metro Ethernet
a good example of how to work with veteran standards bodies,
vendors, and customers (in this case, carriers). The MEF decided early not
to be a standards body, but to act as a liaison between its members and
standards bodies and to communicate customer needs to the standards groups,
says Craig Easley, VP of marketing at Matisse Networks and co-chair of the
MEF North American Marketing Committee. The MEF recruited vendors and
customers to become members. Carriers started making MEF certification a
requirement in their requests for proposals, and now carriers are seeing MEF
showing up in RFPs from prospective enterprise customers. The
result: a set of products that interoperate, reducing costs for all

*You Say Tomato ...*
Standards bodies try to limit overlap and redundancy. Competing specs for
the same functions benefit no one; proposals should be fought over in a
single work group and a winner chosen based on technical merit. The IETF,
IEEE, and others follow those guidelines and reuse each other's specs where
it makes sense. They aren't in competition.

Unfortunately, politics can get in the way when a vendor has such a large
stake in a format that it simply won't budge. Case in point: The ITU's
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published the spec for
the Open Document<http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=Document&x=&y=>Format,
or ODF, a file format developed by Sun Microsystems for its Star
Office/OpenOffice. ODF is missing some critical components, like a
definition for related apps such as spreadsheets and presentation files, but
Oasis, the sponsoring organization, is working on those. Microsoft, with its
huge investment in its own software, countered by submitting its own Office
Open XML<http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=XML&x=&y=>(OOXML)
proposal to the Ecma International standards group, which in turn
submitted it to the ISO, which published the standard in 2008 amid much

 [image: Steve Hanna, engineer with Juniper Networks and longtime member of
various standards groups.] Vendors have a narrow window, Hanna says
 "Multiple standards coexist in many industries," says Jean Paoli, general
manager of interoperability strategy for Microsoft. "Customers benefit from
choice and functionality in their document formats, such as HTML, PDF, Open
XML, and ODF. Standardization of Open XML by
IEC ensures access and opportunity to all." What Paoli fails to point
out, however, is that HTML, PDF, and OOXML have very different use cases.
OOXML and ODF directly compete, and having two competing, noninteroperable
formats is no benefit.

The ISO sidestepped the issue, stating that competing standards aren't
unprecedented and that the market should decide. By that logic, since most
of the world uses Microsoft
Redmond's formats are the de facto standard.

But critics take issue. "De facto standards are contradictory because they
are held by one company and implemented only by those allowed to implement
them, and the permission to do so can be changed," says Louis Suarez-Potts,
community manager for Sun's OpenOffice.org.

Microsoft won't fully implement ISO Office Open XML until its next version
of Office, Office 14. The European Union is pressuring Microsoft to support
ODF. OpenOffice<http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=OpenOffice&x=&y=>already
supports OOXML, and Microsoft wrote a module for Office 2007 to read
and write ODF.

Yeah, it's a mess.

The takeaway: If you're guilty of relegating standards support to a "nice to
have" feature rather than a requirement, you're part of the problem. If you
want products to interoperate, be prepared to walk away if a vendor can't
prove compliance. Don't be brushed off with promises of standards support
"on the road map." The alternative is vendor lock-in and higher costs,
including the cost of maintaining systems that don't work together.
Standards bodies are imperfect and must do better. The alternative:
splintered networks and broken promises.
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