The sky’s the limit for cloud computing, which seems set to change the entire computer industry. This revolutionary concept has reached unexpected heights in the last decade and is recognized by governments and private-sector organizations as major game-changing technology.

But what exactly is it? Until recently, most software programs ran on your personal computer. With cloud computing, they now run on large networks of remote servers that enable the sharing of data-processing tasks, centralized storage and online access to computer services – all over the Internet.

Beyond its technical definition, cloud computing holds a host of benefits. By maximizing the effectiveness of shared resources, it achieves coherence and economies of scale, much like the electricity grid, for example.

Order out of chaos

Yet “the cloud”, as it is known, poses many issues, chiefly related to compatibility. With more and more providers offering cloud-based services, the technology has suffered from chaotic development, making it almost impossible for companies to ascertain the quality of services offered.

Addressing the problem, joint ISO/IEC technical committee JTC 1/SC 38, in collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union, has just released two key International Standards for cloud computing. Drawing on the knowledge of experts from over 30 countries, the ground-breaking standards lay down the basic terminology and architectural framework for this expanding industry.

ISO/IEC 17788, Cloud computing – Overview and vocabulary, provides definitions of common cloud computing terms, including those for cloud service categories such as Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). It also specifies the terminology for cloud deployment models such as “public” and “private” cloud. More technical in nature, ISO/IEC 17789, Cloud computing – Reference architecture, contains diagrams and descriptions of how the various aspects of cloud computing relate to one another.

The way forward

“Cloud computing is a shift in the paradigm for providing IT capabilities to users that may impact a great deal of future IT products, systems and services,” said Dr. Donald Deutsch, Chair of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38. “These first international cloud computing standards provide a sound foundation for follow-on standards as needs become more clear in this area.”

As if to confirm this, JTC 1/SC 38 is already piloting a number of projects in areas such as service level agreements; interoperability and portability; and data and their flow across devices and cloud services.

And if running your business “in the cloud” sounds dangerous, JTC 1 subcommittee SC 27, which focuses on security issues, is working on several projects that build on the fundamentals laid down by these two new standards.

The existing standards are available from your national ISO member or from the ISO Store.