Standardizing taxonomies can grease the wheels of the future’s Everything-as-a-Service

Profile picture for user mbanks By Martin Banks May 17, 2021
Summary:
Most standards and accepted taxonomies are the natural fall-out of one vendor becoming dominant in a market or sector. As we head towards the meta-connected hyper-hybrid cloud and Everything-as-a-Service there will be no single vendor.

standards

Standards - global, consistent and above all non-contentious - are now one of the most important factors in how cloud computing will shape up in the future. Get them right and many people, including me, will be surprised by the functionality and facilities that emerge from the creative application of the technologies over the coming years. Traditionally, however, `standards’ have been de facto – written, like history, by the winners out in the marketplace and subsequently dominant enough to impose their own product values on the rest of the world.

But the coming meta-connected hyper-hybrid cloud is going to be beyond the scope or management of one prime contender. In fact, that could quite possibly be the single worst thing that could happen to the global user community, be they business or consumer. So the pressure is growing to create pre-emptive, accepted (so de jure), standards that can provide the taxonomy for some common ground of communication between technologists, vendors, service integrators and resellers, and of course, users.

A couple of early attempts were given an airing at the KubeCon+CloudNativeCon Europe Virtual conference, while a startup organization specialising in delivering virtualized applications across the cloud, Cameyo, is pitching to establish a consistent set of definitions for what vendors mean by digital workspace that every user can understand and make use of.

A cloud native glossary

KuebCon+CloudNativeCon is put on by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. As the name implies, its focus is very much on the development and use of cloud native applications and services. As such, it has a very obvious interest in the application of standards and conformity across the widest reaches of its fast-growing community. It has become the home of the containerized cloud orchestration platform, Kubernetes, and had significant success in promoting the Certified Kubernetes Conformance Program, which has generated nearly 140 certified projects already.

It is now following the same basic approach with the launch at the conference of the Prometheus Conformance Program. Prometheus is a metrics-based monitoring and alerting system that is already widely-used, so a conformance program that certifies that they all work consistently and that applications and services that use it are fully portable is an important next step.

It has also recently launched the Cloud Native Glossary Project. This has an important goal of trying to select and define the common terms that make up the taxonomy of developing applications in the cloud native world. So far, this has concentrated on building the glossary of the technologies and development techniques clustered in three categories: technologies, properties and context. According to CNCF General Manager, Priyanka Sharma, however, there are plans to produce an extended glossary that covers a more business-oriented taxonomy, which should appear before the end of this year.

What is a  digital workspace?

Robb Henshaw, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Cameyo, explained the core objective of the company’s new, side-bar organisation, the recently launched Digital Workspace Ecosystem Alliance:

There's a lot of confusion in this space. Everybody has co-opted the term, digital workspace, to the point where that phrase doesn't really mean much. It's just so confusing when everybody calls themselves a digital workspace. So ultimately, what we tried to do was pull together a coalition of like-minded vendors, technology leaders in this space, who are committed to helping to solve that confusion by introducing some good, vendor-neutral, educational resources.

This is not a new problem, of course. Just about every new technological development, once it starts to show signs of generating real traction with the user community, automatically attracts claims from every vendor even vaguely related to that new marketplace to claim that they ‘do it’. One of the first I remember was a stereo hi-fi system where the internals consisted of a cheap mono amp, a single speaker, and two cardboard tubes leading to grills on each side of the plastic casing.

The latest example has been the cloud, where many enterprise software vendors, once they realised their attempts to dismiss it out of hand were failing miserably, all suddenly started saying that they had `cloud versions’ of their flagship applications. In truth, of course, very few of them got close with those early attempts.

Now the pandemic, with its early requirement of work from home if at all possible, having a digital workspace offering has rapidly become the number one essential for all vendors of business management/business services applications and tools. And as usual, each one has an interpretation of those two words which barely has a nodding acquaintanceship with any of the other interpretations. Those on the losing end are, as usual, the users, as this situation brings an inevitability that each vendor will be setting out to sell what THEY have to offer, not necessarily what the users actually need.

So the goal of the Alliance is to create a set of standardized definitions and terminology around the digital workspace so that users can first of all define what they require in standardized terms, and then compare that against what the vendor community is offering.

The cynical response is to suggest that the founding ten members of the Alliance, Cameyo, appCURE, DeviceTRUST, directprint.io, Fortinium, IGEL, Login VSI, Policy Pak, Tehama, and Tricerat, have found sufficient common ground in their own definitions and terms as to create an apparent objectivity out of a self-serving subjectivity.

Henshaw readily acknowledged the potential, and set how the members devised a plan to avoid it. The key first step has been the production of a whitepaper setting out the stack of eight basic functional areas of a digital workspace, the technologies they use, and the vendors that can deliver in those areas. They selected Brandon Lee, an independent IT professional with more than two decades of experience with virtualization technologies and author of the VirtualizationHowTo.com blog to draft a vendor-neutral taxonomy. Every Alliance member had to agree to completely forgo their editorial rights to this document.

The eight areas Brandon Lee came up with are Virtual Desktops; Virtual Applications; Secure Endpoints; Collaboration Tools; Policy and Management; Analytics, Monitoring and Testing; Print Management; and Security. Each is explained and includes a list of key vendors delivering in that area. Being a member of the Alliance is not a pre-requisite for vendors to be listed here, so the major `names’ in the business are included where appropriate.  Henshaw said:

Everybody is welcome into this Alliance. In terms of the larger players there's a couple things at play, I can't speak for them in terms of whether they will or will not join this, but everybody is invited. Maybe they're big enough where they don't see the particular need for this in terms of market education. Maybe they think that they can go do it alone. Our approach is: look, there's more people we can bring together. We're going to extend and basically just make ongoing announcements every time we add five more members. We've already got the next four lined up.

The phase one goal with this whitepaper is therefore is to help users understand what their options are, so they can start to identify which ones make the right building blocks that specifically fit their business needs. In practice, it will be rare that one company will be able to provide all the specific segments of a user’s stack requirement, so the aim is to help users build their own roadmaps of what layers of the stack they need and the vendors to check out.

One key target for the Alliance, both as users of the taxonomy and probable members, will be the channel partner community, those that service the needs of the growing number of end user businesses seeking somebody else with the relevant skills to `do it for them’.  The SMB businesses obviously fit this mould, and a common taxonomy will be an important weapon in their application of technology.

At the other end of that scale, even the big enterprise customers are going to need this, if only to set common, understandable policies for those working on the ground across multiple geographies and diverse operations.

My take

There have been attempts to create such de jure sets of standards in advance of an emerging tech development really taking off, and they have mostly failed. The reason is that, until now, such developments have ended up with a dominant vendor appearing, and their taxonomy becoming the de facto lingua franca of that area. But the cloud is already so big that it is well beyond the ability any one vendor to control it, and in a handful of years we will look back from a world of `Everything-as-a-Service’ and wonder at how we coped with such a limited and parochial environment.

But to get there at all, let alone to speed the process, will now require the rapid emergence of not just taxonomies but almost a whole new language with which to describe what is happening and what needs to happen. And the setting up of efforts such as the CNCF Cloud Native Glossary Project, and the Digital Workspace Ecosystem Alliance are important early attempts at creating some of the foundations that language will require. They may fail, and I can imagine that many-a corporate ego will object to being told what to call the technologies and tools they are developing. But these efforts are likely to be important dollops of grease that make the wheels of future use of all these technologies that much easier to turn