Standards and the cloud

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20 March 2013

A few weeks back I had an interesting chat with Marcel Heilijgers, executive director at the Cloud Credential Council (CCC). Marcel had contacted me after reading an article I had written for another publication concerning the issue of cloud certifications.

I had been intrigued by the news that two-thirds of applications to be accredited for the Cloud Industry Forum’s code of practice had come from SMEs as it suggested many smaller businesses were looking to an independent certification as a means to level the playing field with larger rivals.

For me, it revived the age-old discussion around whether it would be better to have generic industry standard certifications for the different technology components of ICT rather than vendor specific ones. This isn’t unique to IT, of course. To use the hairy old analogy of the car industry because, invariably, that’s the one IT tends to use, while there are mechanics that aren’t tied to any specific manufacturer there are plenty of other service centres that deal predominantly with a particular brand or marque.

I can’t help feeling that for SMEs in particular, as with your local mechanic, a generic certification would probably be more suitable than tying themselves to one specific vendor. This is probably even more the case when it comes to the cloud. Why? Partly because there is so much hype and confusion around what it is and what people can do with it. It would be very worthwhile if SMEs had a solid grounding in the basics of the cloud and a broad understanding of what it can do for their customers so that they can talk about it authoritatively with their customers.

 

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The other argument in favour of an independent certification is that it has a recognisable value that is not undermined by a particular vendor’s motivations. For example, with all the accusations of "cloud-washing" flying around, how can customers be certain that cloud certifications from one vendor are of any value if they can’t be certain the vendor in question isn’t just cloud-washing its offerings?

Anyway, back to the conversation with Heilijgers. The CCC emerged from a request from ING Financial Services to develop cloud training for its workforce back in 2011. It has now developed two associate certifications, Cloud Essentials and Virtualisation Essentials, which are available through CompTIA.

According to the CCC, the cloud certification "demonstrates that candidates have the skill set and knowledge to operate in a modern IT organisation utilising cloud computing". But it also seeks "to provide the baseline foundation needed in order to successfully complete vendor-specific training programmes on cloud systems and software". In other words, it’s not a replacement for vendor programmes but a stepping stone to them if that’s what you want to do.

"We don’t steer it one way or the other," Heilijgers says. "We’re vendor-neutral." The certification doesn’t replace vendor accreditations. "It’s meant as a dual track approach," he adds. "Our positioning is not to create friction or competition, that’s why it’s very important for us to work with vendors and cloud providers to give us input into what should go into them. Only then will we get their buy-in."

The next stage is the introduction of a professional level to the certification programme in the second half of the year that will cover five areas: solutions architect, developer, service manager, administrator and security/governance.

I can’t help feeling, however, that if the essentials and nuts and bolts of cloud can be explained and trained in an independent manner and if a typical cloud solution uses a combination of several vendors’ technologies, it would make far more sense if the industry could arrive at common certifications and accreditations that essentially guarantee an agreed level of quality and service.

I understand that vendors are keen to differentiate themselves and to tie partners more closely to them and one of the best mechanisms for achieving this goal is accreditations but is it really creating value to the customer? Or is it merely seeking to create the impression of a technological "uniqueness" that doesn’t really exist at unnecessary expense to the partner and to the customer? Having an accreditation that was widely accepted by vendors and partners would help to make things much clearer for customers.

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