Web Services, SOA, BPM, and Cloud Computing – VII

Outline of a cloud containing text 'The Cloud'

Image via Wikipedia

What, in heaven, is cloud computing? If you think you already know what cloud computing is about, then this post is not for you. But you can choose to read on, if you like.

The understanding of cloud computing can be as hazy as the term itself.

It seems as though there’s this cloud into which your input disappears and you receive your output , again, via the cloud or that is what all those diagrams depicting cloud computing seem to imply.

Cloud computing seems to be a definitely cloudy term to define the ability to access your applications wherever you go. Cloud computing harnesses or leverages the power of the internet to give you distributed applications that can be accessed from multiple devices (note , it is devices and not multiple computers; multiple devices include multiple computers! Sorry if I sound pedantic!)

Cloud computing definitions include “wherever you go, your applications are”, “the big rental station in the sky.”

The latter because in a multi-tenant cloud computing system, you are in effect sharing resources with other entities or enterprises , all transparent to you and to each other. Hey, what am I saying? Cloud computing is inherently multi-tenant , ask any blogger! But maybe we’re just referring to virtualization, eh? But I am getting ahead of myself here and let’s just start with the definition of cloud computing.

I have defined Cloud Computing elsewhere as:

Cloud computing is outsourcing your computing requirements on demand allowing agile response to ever changing business needs.

Cloud computing is a service. It is usually classified into 3 kinds:

Software As A Service (SAAS)

Platform As A Service  (PAAS)

and Infrastructure As A Service (IAAS).

Wow, you might say, that’s just fine. You’ve simplified it further for me (sarcastically). Now I’m even more confused!

Software As A Service is exactly that; it is a service that fulfils a certain application need , not locally but in the cloud. To give you an example, WebMail services such as Yahoo! Mail, GMail & Windows Live Mail are the simplest form of software as a service. Yes, webmail has been around for quite some time, you may say. But then its the definitions that are new, not the service itself. You may not remember the term ASP (Application Service Provider). Well , SAAS is just a new term for ASP. At your workplace, you may encounter CRM services such as SalesForce.com and Zoho CRM. These are examples of  SAAS applications offered as cloud offerings. These are a boon to non-profit and SMEs to allow them to ramp up quickly without any major up-front capital expenditure. Another relevant example of SAAS is QuestionPro.com and SurveyMonkey. These are  internet based market research tools for individuals and corporates.

Cloud application services or "Software as a Service (SaaS)" deliver software as a service over the Internet, eliminating the need to install and run the application on the customer’s own computers and simplifying maintenance and support. (Sounds suspiciously like ASP!)

  • Network-based access to, and management of, commercially available (i.e., not custom) software
  • Activities that are managed from central locations rather than at each customer’s site, enabling customers to access applications remotely via the Web
  • Application delivery that typically is closer to a one-to-many model (single instance, multi-tenant architecture) than to a one-to-one model, including architecture, pricing, partnering, and management characteristics
  • Centralized feature updating, which obviates the need for downloadable patches and upgrades.

At the next level, is Platform As A Service, If you are a blogger and have your blogs hosted via a blogging service such as WordPress.com, then you are using a Platform As A Service. WordPress.com , in this case, is the platform provider for you to use the blogging service to create and post content.

Cloud platform services or "Platform as a Service (PaaS)" deliver a computing platform and/or solution stack as a service.It facilitates deployment of applications without the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware and software layers.

Finally, there’s IAAS or Infrastructure As A Service. If you decide to host your own web-site or move your blog to a hosting service such as VSNL or Yahoo! Small Business, then you are accessing Infrastructure As A Service, You have access to the infrastructure provided by the hosting service provider and you can install your applications within the constraints of supported programming language, supported database  and storage space provided. Of course, there are the other IAAS providers such as Amazon EC2 and Google App Engine, that you may be more familiar with , if you are technically minded. I chose to give you examples that we are familiar with in our use of the internet.

Cloud infrastructure services or "Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)" delivers computer infrastructure, typically a platform virtualization environment, as a service. Rather than purchasing servers, software, data center space or network equipment, clients instead buy those resources as a fully outsourced service. The service is typically billed on a utility computing basis and amount of resources consumed (and therefore the cost) will typically reflect the level of activity. It is an evolution of web hosting and virtual private server offerings.[40

Other not so well-known cloud offerings include Network As A Service (NAAS), Storage As A Service and Security As A Service though the third may be considered a subset of Software As A Service.

When cloud computing is mentioned , the related words we hear are cost savings, the ability to provide for dynamic computing needs (via hybrid clouds and/or public clouds) and the efficiencies gained at being able to reallocate vital resources to more productive uses. Cloud computing is also referred to as utility computing since resources in the cloud can now be turned on or off as dictated by our requirements. IT has become a commodity. So how elastic are its demand & supply curves? And I’m not being laconic!

But besides big dollar savings for large firms, it is also about how small firms can gain a competitive edge by being able to focus on delivering value and not worry about large infrastructural investments; applications can be sourced from cloud computing providers – leased may be the term more familiar to cloud computing advocates. The option to bring these applications in-house to private or internal clouds resides with the enterprise depending upon how their funding and inferentially ramp-up progresses. The economics of cloud computing, for SMEs and non-profits, is very compelling indeed.

That’s all for now! You can keep your head in the clouds! And don’t sport a clouded countenance! Just kidding!

Have a great day!