What is Cloud Computing? Is everything cloud?

Cloud wordleCloud is consumption model. It’s the idea of taking away all the IT skills and effort required by a user and letting them 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. They’ve 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 on an app store, buy and install it themselves and be up and running using it. When they’ve finished they can delete it.

CIOs are asking themselves why it can still take IT many months to get their business project 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. It just encapsulates it. It puts it in the hands of the specialists working inside the cloud, and by centralising the IT and the skills costs can be reduced, risk can be reduced, businesses can focus on their core skills and have improved time to market and business agility.

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.

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 the customer get on with their core business and take away any activity that is not a differentiator for them.

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, via simple consoles. Not unlike the idea of thin clients 15 years ago or mainframe terminals 40 years ago.

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% 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.

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 centre space, buy a PC, install it in the data centre with power and cooling etc, install the operating system, and then 6 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 just request the infrastructure as a service i.e. access to a brand new operating system install, and they’ll be up and running in minutes.

Or 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 their cloud. There could just be an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters working away inside the cloud. As long as the user is getting the service that they’re looking for they don’t care.

Which brings us to the other side of the picture. The cloud service providers. These can be traditional Managed Service 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 – virtualisation, automation, standardisation. They’re not essential for cloud computing. The monkeys could do the job. But they 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% capacity they can just have one bigger one 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, they can standardise and automate and use virtual appliances to remove room for error. By introducing virtualisation, automation and self service a private data centre is moving towards and enabling cloud. Similarly, pay as you go, and sharing services between companies, are not cloud per se, but they are drivers towards and benefits from cloud.

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 centre, 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 covers a lot, but not everything.

1 thought on “What is Cloud Computing? Is everything cloud?

  1. “Cloud” is also hugely a marketing term because everything simply *has* to be cloud now, at least from a marketing perspective even if you have no intention to sell cloud and the customer has no need for cloud. Not having a cloud offering is decidedly dangerous. The use of cloud in consumer and commercial contexts makes this problem more important and more complex.

    But Son of Cloud is somewhere on the near horizon. When everyone has a cloud offering nobody can simply differentiate so they’ll need the next buzzword. I recently saw my first reference to “Web 5.0” and cloud will no doubt go the same way with a marketing differentiation arms race.

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