In my last post, I defined what the cloud is. I explained that in its most basic form, the cloud refers to software and services that run on the internet instead of a local computer or server. I further explained that the cloud is a network of servers with some providing an online service, like Match.com or Phoenix University, while others allow you to store and access data, like Instagram or Dropbox.
Simplifying the concepts of cloud computing
In this post, we’ll talk about cloud computing and the fundamental concepts underlying the decision most companies either have made, or will soon make to move both their software applications and their data storage into the cloud.
Believe it or not, there is no current universally agreed upon definition of cloud computing. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has defined it (SP 800-145) as a “model for enabling ubiquitous, 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 server provider interaction.” The NIST explains that this cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models which we will touch on here.
I don’t know about you, but this definition was unnecessarily complex for any practical understanding, so let me try to simplify it:
Cloud computing is a term used to describe a set of IT services that are provided on-demand to customers over a network. This is typically done on a leasing basis, and the customers can scale specific services and options to their needs.
At its core, cloud computing is an efficient economic model to access and manage IT resources. In the cloud computing model, all computing power, software, storage services, and platforms are delivered on demand to external customers over the internet. This means that there is no longer a need to have expensive hardware and software that require continuous support and tie up much of your IT department’s time. In fact, with cloud computing, you will need far fewer IT resources, including personnel and equipment.
Five essential characteristics of cloud computing
The NIST definition offers five essential characteristics of cloud computing. The absence of any one of these characteristics means a service cannot be considered as cloud computing.
- On-demand self-service.A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.
- Broad network access.Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).
- Resource pooling.The provider's computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.
- Rapid elasticity.Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.
- Measured service.Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Typically, this is done on a pay-per-use or charge-per-use basis. Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.
Both consumers and providers benefit from the cloud computing model. Cloud computing providers typically charge customers on a pay-per-use basis, which is essentially a win-win for both parties. In my next post, I will detail the benefits and advantages for both the consumer and the provider. But for part two, I will focus on explaining the core concepts that underlie the cloud computing model and technologies.
Two types of technology: capability and access
There are basically two types of cloud computing technology known as capability and access. Capability refers to service models, of which there are three distinct types:
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) focuses on providing users with business-specific capabilities like email or customer management.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provides mainly computational infrastructure available over the internet.
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) allows users to leverage the resources of established organizations to create and host applications of a larger scale than an individual or small business would be able to do. Now let’s look at the second type of cloud computing technology known as Access.
Access refers to the types of deployment models, of which there are two primary types:
- Public clouds are models in which resources are typically offered as a service over the internet for a pay-per-usage charge. Users have the option of scaling their use, which often results in significant hardware savings when compared to on-premise computing environments. Public cloud providers manage the infrastructure and pool resources into the capacity required by users.
- Private clouds are models in which resources are typically deployed inside a firewall and then managed by the user organization. In this type, it is the user organization that owns both the software and hardware infrastructure, manages the cloud, and controls access to its resources. Because of this ownership, the resources and services are not typically shared outside of the organization.
The NIST also defines two additional cloud deployment models:
- Community clouds that are shared by multiple organizations to support specific needs and concerns of a community.
- Hybrid clouds which are the combinations of two or more public, private, and community clouds.
Coming in the next post
In Part 3, I will begin a discussion about cloud computing in manufacturing. I will lay out the basics of cloud computing in the manufacturing industry and explain why it is virtually imperative for today’s companies to make the transition.
Until next time.
Blog Post References:
 Grace Lewis, Software Engineering Institute/Carnegie Mellon, September 2010
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