What Cloud Computing Really Means

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www.infoworld.comPage1What Cloud Computing Really MeansBy Eric Knorr, Galen GrumanApril 2008loud computing is all the rage. “It’s become the phrase du jour,” says Gartner senioranalyst Ben Pring, echoing many of his peers. The problem is that (as with Web 2.0)everyone seems to have a different definition.As a metaphor for the Internet, “the cloud” is a familiar cliché, but when combined with“computing,” the meaning gets bigger and fuzzier. Some analysts and vendors define cloudcomputing narrowly as an updated version of utility computing: basically virtual servers [1]available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outsidethe firewall is “in the cloud,” including conventional outsourcing.Cloud computing comes into focus only when you think about what IT always needs: a wayto increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure,training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses anysubscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’sexisting capabilities.Cloud computing is at an early stage, with a motley crew of providers large and smalldelivering a slew of cloud-based services, from full-blown applications to storage services tospam filtering. Yes, utility-style infrastructure providers are part of the mix, but so are SaaS(software as a service) [6] providers such as Salesforce.com. Today, for the most part, ITmust plug into cloud-based services individually, but cloud computing aggregators andintegrators are already emerging.InfoWorld talked to dozens of vendors, analysts, and IT customers to tease out the variouscomponents of cloud computing. Based on those discussions, here’s a rough breakdown ofwhat cloud computing is all about:1. SaaSThis type of cloud computing delivers a single application through the browser to thousandsof customers using a multitenant architecture. On the customer side, it means no upfrontinvestment in servers or software licensing; on the provider side, with just one app tomaintain, costs are low compared to conventional hosting. Salesforce.com is by far the bestknown example among enterprise applications, but SaaS is also common for HR apps andhas even worked its way up the food chain to ERP, with players such as Workday. And whoCwww.infoworld.comPage2could have predicted the sudden rise of SaaS “desktop” applications [7], such as GoogleApps and Zoho Office?2. Utility computingThe idea is not new, but this form of cloud computing is getting new life from Amazon.com,Sun, IBM, and others who now offer storage and virtual servers that IT can access ondemand. Early enterprise adopters mainly use utility computing for supplemental, nonmission-critical needs, but one day, they may replace parts of the datacenter. Otherproviders offer solutions that help IT create virtual datacenters from commodity servers,such as 3Tera’s AppLogic and Cohesive Flexible Technologies’ Elastic Server on Demand.Liquid Computing’s LiquidQ offers similar capabilities, enabling IT to stitch together memory,I/O, storage, and computational capacity as a virtualized resource pool available over thenetwork.3. Web services in the cloudClosely related to SaaS, Web service providers offer APIs that enable developers to exploitfunctionality over the Internet, rather than delivering full-blown applications. They rangefrom providers offering discrete business services — such as Strike Iron and Xignite — to thefull range of APIs offered by Google Maps, ADP payroll processing, the U.S. Postal Service,Bloomberg, and even conventional credit card processing services.4. Platform as a serviceAnother SaaS variation, this form of cloud computing delivers development environments asa service. You build your own applications that run on the provider’s infrastructure and aredelivered to your users via the Internet from the provider’s servers. Like Legos, theseservices are constrained by the vendor’s design and capabilities, so you don’t get completefreedom, but you do get predictability and pre-integration. Prime examples includeSalesforce.com’s Force.com [8], Coghead [9] and the new Google App Engine [10]. Forextremely lightweight development, cloud-based mashup platforms [11] abound, such asYahoo Pipes [12] or Dapper.net.5. MSP (managed service providers)One of the oldest forms of cloud computing, a managed service is basically an applicationexposed to IT rather than to end-users, such as a virus scanning service for e-mail or anapplication monitoring service (which Mercury, among others, provides). Managed securityservices delivered by SecureWorks, IBM, and Verizon fall into this category, as do suchcloud-based anti-spam services as Postini, recently acquired by Google. Other offeringsinclude desktop management services, such as those offered by CenterBeam or Everdream.6. Service commerce platformsA hybrid of SaaS and MSP, this cloud computing service offers a service hub that userswww.infoworld.comPage3interact with. They’re most common in trading environments, such as expense managementsystems that allow users to order travel or secretarial services from a common platform thatthen coordinates the service delivery and pricing within the specifications set by the user.Think of it as an automated service bureau. Well-known examples include ReardenCommerce and Ariba.7. Internet integrationThe integration of cloud-based services is in its early days. OpSource, which mainly concernsitself with serving SaaS providers, recently introduced the OpSource Services Bus, whichemploys in-the-cloud integration technology from a little startup called Boomi. SaaSprovider Workday recently acquired another player in this space, CapeClear, an ESB(enterprise service bus) provider that was edging toward b-to-b integration. Way ahead ofits time, Grand Central — which wanted to be a universal “bus in the cloud” to connect SaaSproviders and provide integrated solutions to customers — flamed out in 2005.Today, with such cloud-based interconnection seldom in evidence, cloud computing mightbe more accurately described as “sky computing,” with many isolated clouds of serviceswhich IT customers must plug into individually. On the other hand, as virtualization and SOApermeate the enterprise, the idea of loosely coupled services running on an agile, scalableinfrastructure should eventually make every enterprise a node in the cloud. It’s a longrunning trend with a far-out horizon. But among big metatrends, cloud computing is thehardest one to argue with in the long term.This article, “What cloud computing really means [13],” was originally published atInfoWorld.com [14].

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