Portability and interoperability are so closely defined sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. But for those in construction, architecture and engineering, knowing the distinction is important to help understand cloud computing. The CCIF (Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum) draws on definitions from the UK’s Testing Standards Working Party.

Simply put, you can think of interoperability as the successful communication between, or among systems, and portability as being able to use components or systems in multiple hardware or software environments. Interoperability and portability exist today in many ways in the computer world inhabited by builders, architects and engineers.

Whenever you open up a PDF document using a Windows PC, while a team member opens the same document across town using a Linux machine, you have just enjoyed interoperability. Transferring that PDF from the Windows PC to the Linux machine via email is an example of portability.

Roman Bukary, head of manufacturing and wholesale/distribution industry marketing for NetSuite, Inc. emphasizes that interoperability is not a technology challenge as much as it is a business challenge.

“It’s not a technological problem at its core, it’s a business problem,” says Bukary. He uses the example of running two applications, NetSuite and another one in separate clouds. Both run in the cloud in their own worlds. In both cases references to a person exists in both clouds. In one cloud the person may be a customer and in the other he is a customer that has a problem with a product or service. In one cloud the person is referenced by name and in the other case the person is identified by first initial and last name followed by three random numbers. Technology can reconcile the two different representations but the sticky, business questions are:

  • Which is the right way to refer to the customer;
  • How do the heads of sales and support find a way to agree on the reference;
  • Which cloud is the master and which is the slave;
  • Which cloud will dictate to the other cloud the references; and
  • What happens tomorrow when a person with the same last name interacts with one cloud or the other?

Bukary says technology can solve this problem, but at its core, interoperability is really a business problem. In many cases too he points out, you might not know the two references are to the same person until after the records are already established and each already has a history.

For the cloud to work as an all-encompassing solution for those in construction, architecture and engineering it’s very important that all clouds are interoperable and that all the software and hardware you use on them, and with them, is portable across all clouds. Without full interoperability and portability, companies will only be able to use bits and pieces of the total cloud. So, you might use the cloud only for data storage and backup, or only for file sharing. But if, as Bukary says, the technology is available, then what stands in the way of seamless interoperability? The answer appears to be, “standards.” All providers will have to be on the same page and using the same protocols. Because the federal government recognizes the savings it can achieve by being in the cloud, it has an aggressive effort underway to get the standards in place.

The National Institutes of Standards and Technology, (NIST) has an initiative aimed at speeding up the development of the interoperability and portability standards needed to keep the cloud effort moving ahead while consensus standards develop and mature. Called Standards Acceleration Jumpstarting Adoption of Cloud Computing (SAJACC), it has the goal of establishing a Web portal where specifications and implementations that are known to work will be available for distribution. Dawn Leaf, the senior executive for cloud computing at NIST, said on July 21 that the portal should be up by the end of the year.

Stay tuned right here as we bring new information and coverage to the portability and interoperability challenges facing cloud computing and the construction, architecture and engineering sectors.

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