The Non-Standard Standard

The Non-Standard StandardAs many of you know, I am a big believer in standards. I think they are a sign of a maturing industry and benefit both competitors and customers alike. The tricky thing about standards, however, is that everyone must agree on what they are. When the question of what technologies actually apply under the umbrella of a standard is open to interpretation, the term becomes a bit of an oxymoron. Apparently the OpenStack folks are learning this lesson the hard way, and members of the OpenStack Foundation are coming to the conclusion that maybe it’s time to actually codify what is and isn’t OpenStack.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with OpenStack—as hard as that is to believe since it seems you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone talking about it—its primary purpose is to ensure interoperability between clouds built around the standard. Makes sense, since who doesn’t like the Cloud? Plus, interoperability always ranks pretty high on the average IT professional’s list of desirable technological characteristics. And since all standards start with an idea that everyone thinks is pretty cool, the whole OpenStack movement has gotten off to a flying start. Unfortunately, some folks got a little ahead of themselves and the next thing you know they are finding that their OpenStack isn’t exactly like that guys’ OpenStack. In an effort to put a positive spin on things, OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier, recently said, “One of the things people envision is interoperation. If you want to use the same tools, you want to use (them) for any OpenStack cloud. Now that we’ve gotten to this critical mass, we want to live up to that vision”. In other words, better late than never.

I agree that it is probably time to put some definitional standards around this whole OpenStack thing. After all, they are about to release their ninth iteration of the open source cloud architecture shortly. Why now, some of you may be asking yourselves. This is probably a good question since OpenStack is four (4) years old, and the OpenStack Foundation is two. According to Mr. Collier this new focus on standards and interoperability is the result of the achievement of a critical mass between installations and users. While this may be true, does anyone else think that this might become an exercise in herding cats?

While everyone may be in verbal agreement that the standard actually needs some standards, what happens when things actually get put down on paper and some folks find out that their standard compliant product offerings no longer are? Isn’t this kind of like thinking you’re a member of a fraternity, and one day you find out that they’ve changed the secret handshake? I’m thinking that somebody’s feelings are going to get hurt here. And what is the OpenStack Foundation going to do after throwing open the doors and saying, “Come on in. Everybody is welcome” and now finding out that they have more than a few unwanted guests? I suppose they could give out waivers, but does anyone really want their standard to look like Obamacare?

Fortunately for all involved, the OpenStack folks are smart bunch of guys and gals so I am sure that everything is going to work out just fine. However, this should serve as a lesson for all you young standard setters out there. Any “Open” standard is probably a good thing as long as you don’t use the term literally.