Is everything cloud?

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As you can see in this illustration, there are many terms associated with cloud, covering so many different areas that you could be forgiven for thinking that cloud is just a marketing term that can be added to everything and can therefore be ignored. In this article, I explain that cloud is actually something quite specific, and quite important, and that these are all words that can be associated with cloud, but don’t necessarily define it.

Cloud is a consumption model

Cloud is a consumption model. It’s the idea of taking away all the IT skills and effort required by users and letting the users focus on their actual functional requirements. All the IT detail is hidden from them in the cloud. Smart phones and tablets have really helped consumers understand this concept. Consumers have become liberated. Knowing very little about IT, they have become empowered with self-service IT to access functionality on demand. Within seconds, they can decide that they want a business application, they can find it in an app store, buy and install it themselves, and immediately start using it. When they’ve finished, they can delete it.

CIOs are asking themselves why can IT still take so many months to get their business projects up and running when in their personal lives they can have what they want when they want it.

The cloud doesn’t take away the need for IT; for hardware, software, and systems management. The cloud just encapsulates IT. It puts IT in the hands of the specialists working inside the cloud. And by centralizing IT and the skills, costs can be reduced, risk can be reduced, businesses can focus on their core skills, and can have improved time-to-market and business agility.

Consumption layers

It is confusing to talk about cloud without explaining whose point of view you’re looking at it from. Different people want different levels of complexity outsourced to the cloud.

Business process as a service

Many users see cloud as a way of outsourcing all their IT. Some go even further and outsource the whole business process. I think the jury is out on whether cloud has to involve IT at all. Business process as a service (BPaaS) is talked about as one of the cloud offerings. I think the important thing is to let customers get on with their core business and take away any activity that is not a differentiator for them.

Software as a service

Software as a service (SaaS) is the area that most people think about first when they hear the word cloud. People have been using web-based email for over 10 years. They don’t need to worry about maintaining a high spec PC and all the associated software. As long as they have a web browser, they’re up and running. There is a move and a demand to make many, if not all, computer software applications available on the cloud, over simple consoles. Not unlike the idea of thin clients 15 years ago or mainframe terminals 40 years ago.

Platform as a Service

Moving down the stack a little further, we come to a different group of users; the application developers… the people who want to be involved in IT, who want to create the business applications that run on the cloud. They still want to focus on business value though. They still want someone to take away the effort of writing the middleware, the code that is the same in 90 percent of all applications, the communication systems, the database, the interaction with the user. They want platform as a service (PaaS) — an environment that’s just there, up and running, as and when they need it.

Infrastructure as a service

Finally we come to infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This is for real programmers or system administrators, for people who just want the base operating system to install or write the applications on, like they did in the old days. These people like the paradigm of having a computer that’s all theirs. In the old days, when their CIO wanted an environment for a new project, they would request that someone find some data center space, buy a PC, install it in the data center with power and cooling and more, install the operating system, and then six months later hand it over to them to start the project development. Now they don’t need to worry about the physical world. They can simply request the infrastructure as a service, that is, access to a new operating system installation, and they’ll be up and running in minutes.

Of course these things can all run on top of one another. The business process can run on the software, which runs on the platform, which runs on the infrastructure, all provided as a service. But they don’t have to. The whole point is that the user doesn’t need to worry about what’s happening inside of the cloud. There could be an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters working away inside the cloud. As long as users are getting the service that they’re looking for, they don’t care.

Cloud service providers

Which brings us to the other side of the picture. The cloud service providers. These can be traditional managed services providers (MSPs), System Integrators, or the in house data centre offering the IT service to the lines of business. These guys are already taking the IT effort away from businesses; they’re already encapsulating and obfuscating the details of IT. But they’re in a competitive market, driven by the new expectations of the consumer and so they need to work smarter. They need to adopt some of these new architectures to be able to pass on the cost benefits and speed of delivery that their customer expects.

This is where some of the other terms associated with cloud computing come in – virtualization, automation, standardization. They’re not essential for cloud computing. The monkeys could do the job. But those things really make it a lot easier. To make a step change improvement in delivery speed, the IT departments need to share the environments on the same computer. Instead of having hundreds of servers running at 50 percent capacity, they can share one bigger server and schedule who’s using the capacity when. Instead of manually installing the application and all its dependencies and bug fixing and testing each part individually and together, the IT departments can standardize and automate and use virtual appliances to remove room for error. By introducing virtualization, automation and self-service, a private data center is moving towards and enabling cloud. Similarly, pay-as-you-go and sharing services between companies are not cloud in itself, but they are drivers towards and benefits from cloud.

Cloud looks different depending on your perspective

So it can be confusing. People are talking about the same thing, but from different points of view. When people talk about cloud, they might be talking about the hardware and automation in the data center, or they might be talking about the complete absence of hardware by using business process outsourcing, they might be talking about handing all their data over to another company or they might be talking about making their private data more accessible to their own users.

So cloud can cover a vast amount of modern IT, but not everything.

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