The Cloud Understood (Part 2)

In this edition, I will talk about how Cloud service providers address the needs of individuals and organizations and identify the common benefits/features of Clouds in general. As I discussed in Part 1, the Cloud is “many things to many people” and other than the generalized definition of Internet-based, ubiquitous, convenient, scalable, elastic, on-demand and metered IT resources (wow, that’s a lot of adjectives), the true definition of Cloud Computing is as unique as the individual or entity consumer.

First let me explain what a Cloud is in relation to the Internet. While initially the term “Cloud” was a metaphor for the Internet, the definitions of these terms has separated with the advent of Cloud Providers and Cloud Services. The Internet is a network of networks primarily providing access to content-based IT resources that are published via the World Wide Web. A Cloud has defined boundaries, typically is privately owned and provides access to metered IT resources. Unlike the Internet that provides content-based IT resources, a Cloud provides access to IT resources such as physical servers, virtual servers, software applications, services, storage devices and network devices. A simple analogy is the iTunes Store vs. iCloud. Both are Apple Computer offerings to consumers but they serve the consumer in different ways. The iTunes Store is a WWW content provider that is maintained by Apple, whereas iCloud is a storage device that is provided by Apple, but its usage is managed and maintained by the consuming end-user.

There are four basic roles in the Cloud paradigm: Cloud Provider, Cloud Consumer, Cloud Service Owner, and Cloud Service Consumer. While these may sound redundant, they are not.

A Cloud Provider is the entity tasked with all required management and administrative duties supporting Cloud infrastructure resiliency and is responsible for Cloud services availability to consumers. Typically, the Cloud Provider owns the underlying infrastructure upon which the Cloud services reside, although many small niche-market Cloud providers lease IT resources from larger Cloud providers like AWS or Rackspace.

A Cloud Consumer is the entity (individual or organization) that has a contract or arrangement with a Cloud Provider to use its offered and available IT resources.

A Cloud Service Owner is the entity (individual or organization) that legally owns a Cloud-based service. The Cloud Service Owner can be either the Cloud Provider or a Cloud Consumer offering a service within a Cloud.

A Cloud Service Consumer is a temporary run-time role taken by a workstation, laptop, mobile device, or Cloud service running software or API designed to interact with a Cloud service by remotely accessing an IT resource.

Let’s look at an example of an individual’s use of the Cloud and understand how some of these terms and roles apply.

Like a few hundred million other computer users, I have a personal Dropbox account. In its purest and simplest form, Dropbox is considered to be StaaS—Storage-as-a-Service. It provides Cloud-based storage of files and synchronization of those files across multiple devices. If I have a document that I began creating on my MacBook in Word, I can save it to my Dropbox folder and later continue editing the document on my iPad using Pages. Afterward, I can go back to my MacBook for formatting and final edits, then print or email the document. Funny thing, I’m doing that with this blog article.

Ok, who’s doing what in this scenario? Amazon S3 infrastructure is the Cloud Provider and Dropbox is the Cloud Consumer. Dropbox is also the Cloud Service Owner for the storage, synchronization, file sharing, and collaborative applications that are Cloud Services. Finally, the Dropbox client software running on my MacBook and iPad (or through Dropbox’s web-based client) are Cloud Service Consumers.

Perhaps a graphic will help.

LH-cloud-Part2While this is a very simple example of Cloud technology touching the life of an individual, there are many ways we interact with various forms of Cloud technology every day. Just looking through the applications on my MacBook, I have Dropbox, Evernote, Mail, Contacts, Notes, Calendar, Reminders, iTunes, iBooks, iPhoto, Safari, Messages, FaceTime, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, etc. that all utilize Cloud technologies for storage, synchronization, collaboration, backup, encryption, authentication, and more. By default, IOS devices (iPad/iPhone) use iCloud for all of their backup and synchronization needs. If you use Microsoft’s Office 365, Google Docs, or a Chromebook, you are also utilizing SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) since all of the application code resides in the Cloud.

Organizations large and small also use and benefit from these same types of Cloud technologies. Companies like Dropbox, Evernote, Microsoft, and Google have offerings that are scaled up in size, capability, and security; likewise, they are scaled up in cost as well. Where many of the entry-level offerings for individuals are free or very low cost, organizations generally pay fees for these services based on number of users, amount of Cloud-based IT resources consumed/reserved, number and type of transactions, or any combination thereof.

Organizations are also more likely to make use of and benefit from other XaaS (Anything as a Service) offerings. For example, a software company may need to have multiple combinations of hardware and operating systems to develop its product so it may serve a larger potential audience. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) is a quick way to rapidly deploy practically any kind or size of computer from iOS or Android emulators to large, multi-core, multi-gigabyte processors. The quick provisioning and low entry cost of a Cloud solution makes a lot of sense. Compared to the time and capital expense associated with providing the various platforms in-house through the vendor selection, procurement, acquisition, installation, testing, and maintenance process, Cloud-based IaaS could easily mean the difference between the software company being on the leading edge or being an also ran. Another advantage is that with Cloud-based IaaS, this software company doesn’t have to worry about the overhead associated with de-provisioning and liquidation of assets when the development project is complete; simply de-provisioning and releasing the IT resources back to the Cloud Provider stops the meter.

The common features and benefits of Cloud design:

  • Financial
    • Reduced up-front capital expenditures
    • Reduced data center operational costs
    • Redirection of capital-to-core business initiatives
    • Budget based on metered IT resource services
  • Growth
    • Quick provisioning/de-provisioning of IT resources
    • Rules-based scalability of IT resources
    • Upgrade to the latest and greatest IT resources
  • Resiliency
    • Infrastructure designed for redundancy and failover
    • Larger Cloud Providers have interconnected, geographically disparate data centers
    • Increased quality-of-service guarantees to end-users

Next time I’ll discuss more of the Cloud’s features, benefits, weaknesses, and risks.

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