How Many “aaSes” Does it Take to Make a Cloud?

By Bart Copeland (Profile)
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Wednesday, September 5th 2012
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The “cloud” is everywhere. Remember when everyone was a “business solution provider?” Now everyone is a cloud solution provider. Cloud is the future, and companies are clamoring to stake their claims, leading to a cacophony of confusing marketing messaging, and casting a foggy pall of fear/uncertainty/doubt (FUD) over cloud computing.

Two cloud providers say the same thing, each spouting catchy buzzwords. Maybe their technologies are similar, maybe not. One vendor bills itself as “an open PaaS stack for .NET.” (How “open” can you be if you’re limited to one platform?) Another offers “Scalable Cloud Enablement Platforms.” (Aren’t all cloud platforms scalable?) Enterprises are moving to the cloud to save money, gain flexibility and accelerate innovation. But all the marketing noise makes decision-making more complex and slows enterprise cloud adoption.

How Many aaSes Does it Take to Make a Cloud?

Let’s step back from the “aaSinine” marketing hype and talk cloud fundamentals. Cloud computing is computing power offered as a service. Think Netflix and “streamable” on-demand movies (all of which are stored in the cloud).

Picture the cloud-computing model as a layer cake. At the top is Software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS providers like Salesforce.com sell and deliver software services online via the web. Whether the end-users are external customer or internal employees, the SaaS application is frosting and is served to them.

At the bottom of the cloud cake sits the Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer (IaaS). Typically operating their own datacenters, IaaS providers offer an abstracted foundation on-demand, providing online access to resources such as storage, firewalls, load balancers and networks.

The middle of the cake is Platform as a Service (PaaS), middleware that presents data and applications to end users, connecting the bottom-level infrastructure and top-level software layers. PaaS middleware allows SaaS applications to communicate with and be served from different types of IaaS infrastructure. Without PaaS, each application would have to be customized to run on each type (and in some cases, each instance) of infrastructure.

Public, Private or Hybrid Cloud?

Which cloud you choose should depend on your business requirements and how much control you want. Filter out the FUD fog and consider your business needs first. What services do you provide to customers? How (and where) do you want to deploy your cloud solution? Are there security risks to outsourcing your IT to a cloud provider? How do you measure performance and reliability of a chosen cloud service? What SLAs will you require? Will your cloud grow with your data? Will it grow with your business?

In a public cloud, service providers offer application- and data-hosting on their hardware in their datacenters. Examples include Amazon Web Services, HP Cloud Services and RackSpace. Public clouds provide value in scalability – you outsource your IT to the vendor. You don’t have to pay for servers anymore, or, for that matter, IT staff to manage them, and theoretically, there are no data-capacity limitations. Pay your subscription fee, and your public cloud vendor will spin up a bunch of virtual machines for you and you’re ready to go.

Clear the fog and consider: Public-cloud vendors price by storage space, number of virtual machines served, even traffic, making cost prediction difficult. Public cloud services are delivered from shared common servers: It’s a one-size-fits-all solution, which is fine, as long as the shoe fits.