The ‘holy grail’ of cloud computing – truly portable cloud architectures, where cloud services can seamlessly be transitioned from one provider to the next – is now another step closer to reality. This week, OASIS announced a new standard called TOSCA, Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications, which seeks to solve important challenges faced by cloud service owners, architects, vendors and providers including management of complex topologies, security and Quality of Service requirements.
Cloud architects and operations personnel have long known that even simple cloud services have complex topologies, software and hardware infrastructures backing them (as shown in the picture below). Organizations sometimes even have different staging and production environments making devops cycles tedious and challenging.
With TOSCA, service owners can use a simple middle level language and conceptually define a “Service Template” to specify the topology (structure) and the orchestration (invocation and management behaviour) of an IT Service. This enables the (semi-) automatic creation and management of the service and decouples the supplier creating the service from any particular cloud provider and the technology hosting that service (see picture below). This makes service topologies and their orchestration plans interoperable artifacts, enabling their exchange between different environments. In other words, compose your service once and play on any cloud.
Let’s take for example a fairly complex system deployment such as SAP. Set up can be time consuming and maintenance and operation are equally challenging. But TOSCA supports built-in “build and management plans” that help to set up, operate, maintain and tear down the service, in other words – complete lifecycle management. These management plans, which operate directly on the topology description, are created by experts in the field such as SAP in this example. SAP surely knows how best to install, maintain and operate an SAP system, so they prescribe these plans which cloud providers could tweak if needed. This allows each party – Cloud Provider and Cloud Service Provider – to focus on their key functions because it decouples cloud infrastructure from cloud content.
This of course opens up a world of exciting future possibilities. An analogy to consider is that of modern day electricity. Although electricity in some form or another has existed for over a century, it was the Alternating Current standard and the wall socket that led to the proliferation of consumer devices and we haven’t looked back since! With standardized cloud service templates, services become marketable entities leading to other high-value composite services all of which are portable and can be deployed onto any standards compliant cloud environment.