Martin P Wilson

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What is Cloud Computing?

Clouds and Angel Light IMG 0058Cloud computing did not come about overnight; it is a logical continuation of changes that have been taking place in the background for many years. It is not a panacea but at its best it frees organisations from the need to worry about information technology and allows them to focus on using automation to support more flexible and efficient business operations. It is a useful adjunct to the Rapid Incremental Development described previously.

Defining Cloud Computing

As a starting point the most widely used definition is that from the National Institute for Standards and Technology in the USA. It is the definition used by the US and UK government amongst others.

"Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models. “

NIST Special Publication 800-145, NIST Special Publication 800-145, The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing, September 2011.

To interpret it more simply; cloud computing is about providing all or part of an organisation’s computer systems quickly, flexibly and largely automatically. In its purest form cloud computing is an on demand service, like a utility, where the consuming organisation only pays for usage.

As so often happens computer service suppliers with a vested interest in older technology rebadge their technology as though it was built for the new direction. This has been the case with cloud computing; indeed it is such a recognised abuse of the term it has even got its own name “cloudwashing”; old products that are repackaged and relabelled with cloud reference which are really old data centre based offerings, sometimes with a modified pricing model. So the buyer of cloud services needs to understood the key aspects of “the cloud” and cloud services.

Principal Characteristics

NIST identifies five main characteristics and they provide a good starting point for understanding the nature of cloud services and avoid “cloudwashed” offerings. In summary the main features of an idealised cloud service are:

  1. Self-service on demand. The consumer can switch on or off required computing capacity through a self-service capability provided by the service suppliers. Much as many third-party server hosting suppliers do with their virtual servers.
  2. Acessed over the Internet or Intranet. The computing services are provided using broadly based network access to support services on a wide range of end-user devices such: desktop pcs, laptops, tablets or even smartphones.
  3. Flexibility of capacity and capability. As with (1) the level of resource can be changed without reference to the supplier and can be quickly increased, decreased or even switched off as business needs demand without involving the supplier. As with a utility the resources available can appear to be effectively unlimited.
  4. Pooled Resource. As with a utility the resources (processing memory, storage and network bandwidth) are pooled and shared across multiple consumers with dynamic allocation or to the varying demands. Pooling provides efficiency of resource usage as individual consumer organisations do not need to maintain spare capacity to cope with peaks in demand. Generally the consumer will not know the location of the resources; indeed they may change with dynamic allocation across multiple location. In some instances some consumers may need to specify limits, within broad terms (e.g. specified countries) on the movement of especially data to comply with data privacy legislation
  5. Measured Service. Cloud services are, like utilities, a metered service. The nature of the resource usage that is charged will depend on the nature of the service but typically includes: number of users, data storage, bandwidth used and processing measures. The advantage for the consumer is that cloud computing requires no capital investment (except perhaps for private clouds) and that costs are accounted as variable costs or operating expenses.

The more closely a service matches the above characteristics the more properly it can be called a cloud service. In future articles we will consider the other key aspects, the three service and the four broad deployment models, to complete the description of true cloud services.

Comments (1)
Pinned your photo
1Monday, 03 December 2012 10:09
Tina Boomerina
I could not sleep, so I read your article and I pinned your photo. I assume it's your photo. It's now on Pinterest in the "Cool Articles Written by Friends" section. People can click through to your article if they feel like it. See at http://pinterest.com/boomerinas/ if you're bored.

Christina Gregoire (from Suite101)

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