Cloud Interoperability and Portability: Types and Benefits of Shared Tech

Angelika Agapow
Angelika Agapow
Content Marketing Specialist
June 12
16 min
Table of Contents


Cloud technology has rapidly evolved, with many enterprises now utilizing at least four separate IT environments. However, cloud services are not a single, self-contained product, but rather a complex portfolio built in-house or provided by multiple competing vendors. To prevent vendor lock-in, feature-rich services that support multi-vendor options, integrated security, and consolidated management are sought after.

Despite the impressive evolution, technical incompatibilities, integration issues, and operational complexities can arise due to immature cloud solutions. To mitigate these issues, inter-cloud interoperability and software portability should be ensured.

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To realize the benefits, cloud customers must understand exactly what interoperability and portability entail and their role in next-generation cloud solutions. One key consideration is whether industry-wide standards for interoperability and portability are necessary and the expected timeline for adoption.


What is cloud interoperability?

Interoperability describes how various cloud or computational systems interact with one another through established technologies and interfaces. In other words, it’s the exchange of information between two or more systems or applications that can be used mutually. Cloud interoperability is when a customer’s system interacts with a cloud service, or when one cloud service interacts with another, all while following a prescribed method that produces predictable results.


How does interoperability work?

Interoperability refers to two or more systems exchanging, accessing, and understanding shared data. The syntactic approach requires standard data formats and structured protocols. The next step is the semantic method, which uses metadata to link data elements to a controlled and shared set of vocabulary. This vocabulary is then associated with an established ontology – a data model of concepts and their relationships within a specific domain. Adhering to these standards enables businesses to successfully send relevant information independently of another information system.


Interoperability in different industries

Government organizations can benefit from implementing interoperability. This can reduce obstacles like language barriers, non-compatible systems, and connectivity issues; enhance communication within these organizations.

Healthcare systems can use interoperability to streamline medical records management, including everything from lab results to billing information. Interoperability helps medical professionals quickly access a patient’s medical information regardless of their location.

Telecommunication providers can communicate equipment updates, frequencies, network scale, and signal availability via interoperability.

In emergency situations, interoperability helps all parties communicate vital information immediately. This includes EMS, fire departments, police departments, and other emergency providers.

The successful exchange of information is crucial for software. By using interoperability, software companies can easily send and receive data, making otherwise inoperable software more likely to operate as intended.


What is cloud portability?

Portability in cloud computing refers to the seamless transfer of applications and data between multiple cloud environments. This feature enables the migration of cloud services from one provider to another or between public and private clouds. However, portability is more than just moving resources from one location to another; it involves a discussion of the complex challenges encountered during the process. These challenges include platform integration, interoperability between components, and the platform’s toolchain capabilities.

When it comes to cloud data portability, the process involves transferring data easily from one cloud service to another without having to re-enter the data. On the other hand, cloud application portability covers the migration of applications from one cloud service or between a customer’s environment and a cloud service. Portability ensures that data and applications remain fully usable and executable even when moved from one system to another.


Portability and multicloud

Interoperability and portability are important when an organization’s platform utilizes multiple cloud environments, especially when used in conjunction with other providers and platforms.

In a multi-cloud environment, an organization utilizes different cloud environments across multiple vendors to optimize various aspects of a cloud system. For instance, you may use one provider for long-term storage, another as an AI platform, and a third as a high-availability data cluster. The emergence of powerful multi-cloud environments is reshaping portability and being affected by it.

Portability is crucial for multi-cloud systems for several reasons, including efficiency, vendor flexibility, and cloud agnosticism. Having components that can interoperate across various environments simplifies maintenance, troubleshooting, and porting to different but similar cloud environments, significantly reducing task completion times. Portability allows organizations to choose among a broader pool of potential vendors, avoiding lock-in, and opening up space for more optimized systems. Furthermore, portability can render a cloud application or platform cloud-agnostic, placing more control over an application and its development environment.


Cloud interoperability/portability and automation

Automation tools are enabling easier portability of applications and data, particularly regarding customer-side operations in the use of cloud services. Automation is crucial to both cloud service providers and customers, as manual processes are often inefficient and error prone. As a result, automated solutions have developed alongside cloud computing, enabling more accurate and efficient use of cloud services.

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Interoperability between automation tooling and multiple cloud service providers is a crucial aspect. These tools come equipped with adapters, facilitating their use with various cloud services. Additionally, automation tooling can assist with data and application portability within different target cloud service environments. By utilizing automation tooling, customers can mitigate interoperability concerns and operate effortlessly across various cloud services and providers.


The importance of interoperability and portability

Interoperability and portability are integral to cloud systems, especially when considering the global cloud computing market’s value. As of 2022, the market was worth $545.8 billion and could exceed $1240.9 billion by 2027. In addition, cloud computing services yield nearly $178 billion annually. Tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google dominate the cloud computing market; however, it continues to expand with new providers entering the ecosystem.

A good understanding of interoperability and portability is crucial for planning and designing new cloud services and applications. By understanding the use cases and applications of cloud computing interoperability and portability, businesses can determine the best approach when designing solutions. This knowledge can also help pinpoint features that are well-suited for cloud-based solutions. Let’s delve into interoperability and portability in cloud computing with their detailed definitions.


When are they required?

The Cloud Standards Custom Council (CSCC) has identified several scenarios that require portability and interoperability. These include:

1. Switching between cloud service providers: The ability to transfer data or applications from one cloud to another, e.g. from Cloud 1 to Cloud 2.

2. Using multiple cloud service providers: Subscribing to similar or different services from multiple providers simultaneously, for example, using Cloud 1 and Cloud 2.

3. Directly linked cloud services: Using a service by linking to two or more cloud providers, such as Cloud 1 and Cloud 3.

4. Hybrid cloud configuration: Connecting to a legacy system, not in a public cloud but a private one, and then connecting that system to public cloud services such as Cloud 3.

5. Cloud migration: Migrating one or multiple in-house applications to Cloud 1.

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Other advantages of cloud interoperability and portability

The benefits of interoperability and portability are numerous in cloud computing. By enabling the seamless transition of data and applications from one service provider platform to another, services can be scaled across multiple providers, thus preventing cloud consumers from being locked into a single vendor. Furthermore, organizations can reduce data center infrastructure expenditures by migrating approximately 30% of IT spending to cloud computing solutions.

Cloud computing can also complement data center consolidation efforts by shifting workloads and applications to infrastructures owned and operated by third parties, thereby mitigating the issue of fragmented data, applications, and infrastructure. This utility approach helps accelerate data center consolidation efforts and allows organizations to use their IT investments in a more innovative way while staying ahead of leading-edge technologies.


Types of cloud interoperability and portability

A cloud computing system generally consists of four components: data, applications, platforms, and infrastructure.

  • Data refers to the machine-processable representation of information, which is stored in computers.
  • Applications are software programs that address business problems.
  • Platforms support applications and perform generic, non-business-related functions.
  • Infrastructure is a collection of physical resources for computation, storage, and communication.

The traditional enterprise computing components, including application, platform, and infrastructure, can be supported by cloud resources: software application programs (SaaS), software application platforms (PaaS), and virtual processors and data stores (IaaS).

Meanwhile, non-cloud systems such as mainframes, minicomputers, personal computers, and mobile devices are owned and used by enterprises and individuals. In traditional computing, data components interact only via application components, avoiding any direct “data interoperability” interfaces.

The achievement of infrastructure component portability and interoperability is made possible by the combination of hardware and virtualization architecture, however, the interfaces are mainly internal to the IaaS and infrastructure components shown in Data, Applications, Platforms, and Infrastructure. What is more, components found in Infrastructure, Platforms, Applications, and Data operate internally.

It’s important to consider the importance of application interoperability between SaaS services and applications, as well as platform interoperability between PaaS services and platforms when considering cloud computing interoperability.

Cloud applications include programs for deploying, configuring, provisioning, and managing cloud resources. Interoperability is crucial for seamless communication between these programs and the cloud environment. In addition, cloud applications feature marketplaces such as app stores, data markets, and cloud catalogs. These marketplaces allow users to acquire software products, data, and cloud services while developers publish applications, data, and cloud services. Marketplaces are interfaced with by platforms, including PaaS services, enabling the publication and acquisition of products. Thus, cloud interoperability includes a final crucial interface between marketplaces and platforms.


Types of cloud interoperability

#1 Application interoperability

Application interoperability is the ability of a platform to enable seamless communication between various applications and their components. The purpose-built cloud platforms are designed to support multiple applications and their cooperation toward achieving a common goal. Interoperability serves as the essential link that holds everything together, making it all possible.


#2 Platform interoperability

Achieving platform interoperability means ensuring the seamless interaction of platform components such as PaaS, IaaS, or traditional enterprise IT environments and client devices. This requires standard protocols for service discovery and information exchange, an essential element for enabling the interoperability of applications using various platforms. Without platform interoperability, application interoperability cannot be achieved.

While service discovery is still used by only a minority of applications, it is essential to achieve the highest levels of service integration maturity [OSIMM]. Therefore, standard service discovery protocols must be supported by platforms for effective communication between service registries and other applications. Additionally, protocols for exchanging information between platforms should support the establishment of sessions as well as the transfer of session information. This kind of information may include a user’s identity, their level of authorization for access control, their time zone, preferred language, and cultural environment. Ensuring platform interoperability is an essential component of seamless communication between platforms that increases overall efficiency.


#3 Management interoperability

Management interoperability refers to how cloud services (SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS) can work together with programs that enable on-demand self-service. As cloud computing continues to expand, businesses will need to manage cloud services alongside existing in-house systems, using readily available systems management products. However, this can only happen if cloud services have consistent, standardized interfaces. These interfaces allow for the same management functionality as the ones used for application portability, enabling businesses to integrate cloud services seamlessly.


#4 Publication and acquisition interoperability

Achieving seamless connectivity between platforms, such as cloud PaaS services and app stores, is known as publication and acquisition interoperability. This entails making cloud services and their associated components available through marketplaces. For instance, an IaaS provider may offer machine images that run on its infrastructure services. Meanwhile, large organizations like governments may run app stores that enable approved suppliers to publish their offerings, which can then be downloaded by different departments. Even mobile device manufacturers maintain app stores where users can access apps that work seamlessly on their devices.


Types of cloud portability

#1 Data portability

Data portability is the key to leveraging data components across different applications. Consider a scenario where an enterprise uses a SaaS product for customer relations management (CRM), but the commercial terms are no longer attractive. The customer data that is held by the SaaS product could potentially be critical to the enterprise’s operations. In this situation, moving data to another CRM solution can be quite challenging since the data’s structure is often designed to fit a specific application processing format. A significant transformation would be required to produce data that can be handled by a different product.

While data migration challenges can exist in both traditional and cloud environments, the cloud environment poses a unique challenge as vendors can more easily force customers to pay more or lose access to the service altogether. Therefore, it is essential to have data portability in place, especially in a cloud environment with rapidly changing commercial arrangements.


#2 Application portability

Application portability allows for the reuse of application components on various cloud PaaS services and traditional computing platforms. This means that if an enterprise wants to move an application from one service to another or bring it in-house, it can do so easily without additional costs or sacrificing performance. However, if a platform has non-standard interfaces or features that are unique to it, application portability may become difficult. To ensure successful portability, a standard interface must be present, which provides access to the platform’s capabilities and enables applications to manage underlying resources.

One significant challenge that arises with cloud computing is the portability between development and operational environments. Developers often use cloud PaaS for financial reasons, but it’s necessary to have the ability to move applications between different environments seamlessly. By implementing application portability, the integration of development and operations can be achieved, ensuring success in DevOps.

Read about enterprise DevOps services and our Azure DevOps guide.


#3 Platform portability

Achieve greater efficiency and flexibility in cloud data management with platform portability which is the seamless reuse of data tools across various cloud environments. With data portability, a clear separation between the data layer and application layer is possible, allowing for hassle-free data movement between different cloud platforms and application environments. The data remains independent from specific systems and can be used freely in various contexts, making it critical to cloud data management.


Cloud interoperability: challenges

According to the CSCC paper, the main challenge companies face in achieving cloud computing interoperability is the lack of standardization among the different cloud APIs and interfaces. Cloud infrastructure services exhibit a higher level of interoperability than the developer-centric Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings, which have few interface standards. Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, with even fewer standard APIs, present the greatest interoperability challenge.

To resolve these challenges, companies can establish a “mapping layer” between their systems’ APIs and cloud services’ APIs through an enterprise service bus. Alternatively, they can utilize a cloud service broker, which handles the mapping for them.


Cloud interoperability: benefits

#1 Adaptability: It is a key benefit of business systems. Systems can rapidly and automatically share received information with relevant parties, enabling efficient communication.

#2 Better productivity: Efficient business operations rely on readily accessible data for all relevant parties and systems, rather than a wait-and-see approach. This improves processes, allowing for a smoother workflow and faster achievement of goals.

#3 Data unity: Data unity through interoperability is fundamental for businesses seeking to manage and access information from external systems and vice versa.

#4 Improved data protection: Securing sensitive data is imperative for any business. Thankfully, this can be achieved through data protection measures. Instead of manually entering personal information repeatedly, companies can access it using shared records offered via interoperability.

#5 Fewer errors: Connected information systems generally produce better quality data and there are fewer errors compared to disconnected systems that often consist of outdated or duplicate data.

#6 Lower costs: Synchronized systems have the ability to not only automatically send information but also receive it, which in turn reduces resource consumption and related costs. This feature makes them more cost-effective when compared to non-interoperable systems that require manual communication with other systems.


Cloud portability: challenges

Portability faces its biggest challenges with PaaS-built applications, due to the sheer variety of PaaS platforms. One platform may support data management in a way that another does not. In contrast, companies attempting to migrate data across cloud infrastructures enjoy greater standardization.

Standard operating systems, such as Linux, can facilitate data migration, while Cloud Foundry – an open-source platform – can help move data between different PaaS systems. Regarding portability, moving data between SaaS applications posed the largest concern currently. Companies must ascertain whether data can be ported without modifications.


Cloud portability: benefits

#1 Efficiency: By having platform and application components that can operate in various environments, tasks like maintenance, troubleshooting, and porting to new cloud environments become less difficult. This boosts efficiency and enables smoother operations.

#2 Vendor flexibility: The ability to change from one vendor to another is vital, especially in multi-cloud environments. Portability reduces the risk of vendor lock-in, allowing for more optimized systems. This reason speaks specifically to why flexibility matters.

#3 Cloud agnosticism: Cloud applications should be cloud-agnostic, as vendor lock-in is problematic. Developing cloud apps that aren’t tied to a specific cloud infrastructure gives organizations more control over an application and its development environment. Portability makes an application or cloud platform cloud-agnostic, thus rendering them more controllable.


Standards of cloud computing interoperability and portability

In introductions to portability and cloud computing interoperability use cases, standards are of utmost importance. Currently, the focus on standards for cloud computing interoperability and portability has been on the IaaS layer. Additionally, many security standards exist for interoperability, although without exclusive association with cloud computing. The following are the most notable standards for interoperability and porting in cloud computing:

  • OVF, which stands for Open Virtualization Format, is a packaging standard that addresses concerns related to virtual machine deployment and portability.
  • Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI) is a functional interface standard for applications that create, retrieve, update, and delete data elements.
  • The Open Cloud Computing Interface (OCCI) standards aim to improve interoperability and portability in cloud computing through the use of a set of open standards. These standards support the definition of protocols and APIs for various cloud computing management processes.
  • Cloud Application Management for Platforms (CAMP) standard provides an interoperable protocol that streamlines application packaging and deployment.
  • TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications) is a cloud computing standard for defining interoperable descriptions of infrastructure, application cloud services, and their operational behaviors. Its goal is to achieve interoperability in cloud environments.
  • Another valuable standard to enhance cloud computing interoperability and portability is ISO/IEC 19941, also acknowledged by ISO.
  • US FIPS 140-2 is a paramount standard that focuses on security in interoperability, and portability. The standard specifies security requirements for cryptographic modules within security systems to protect sensitive data.
  • Cloud Auditing Data Federation (CADF) is a popular standard for defining open cloud auditing standards.



The rise of cloud-based businesses has highlighted the necessity for essential principles. Interoperability and portability play a great role in promoting faster expansion by allowing efficient communication between various programs and services. As such, mastering these fundamental concepts becomes incredibly important for those looking to thrive in the cloud environment.

Angelika Agapow
Angelika Agapow
Content Marketing Specialist
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