• 01/03/2013
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Hard Truths About Cloud Differences

Every medium- to large-sized company must understand today's different cloud computing approaches -- and pitfalls.
8 Cloud Tools For Road Warriors
8 Cloud Tools For Road Warriors
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We're long into the hype cycle of cloud computing. That means clear criteria to assess and evaluate the different options are critical. Which of the many cloud approaches should medium to large enterprises take to optimize their data center operations?

Typically, the cloud is envisioned as an accessible and low-cost compute utility in the sky that's always available. Despite this lofty promise, companies will need to select and build their cloud environment carefully to avoid fracturing their computing capabilities, locking themselves into a single, higher-cost environment, diminishing their ability to differentiate themselves and gain competitive advantage -- or all three.

[ Is software as a service becoming commonplace? Salesforce: Every Developer A SaaS Vendor ]

The chart below provides a primer on the different types of cloud computing. Note the positioning of the two dominant cloud types:

-- Specialized software-as-a-service (SaaS), where the entire stack, from server to application (even version), is provided with minimal variation.

-- Generic infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service (IaaS and PaaS), where a set of server and operating versions is available with types of storage. Any compatible database, middleware or application can be installed to then run.

The two dominant cloud types


A private cloud essentially is IaaS that an enterprise builds for itself. The private cloud is the evolution of the corporate virtualized server and storage farm to a more mature instance with clearly defined service configurations, offerings and billing, as well as highly automated provisioning and management.

Another technology that affects the data center is the engineered stack. This is a further evolution of the computer appliancesthat have been available for decades -- tightly specified, designed and engineered components integrated to provide superior performance and cost.

These devices typically have been in the network, security, data warehouse and specialized compute areas. Firewalls and other security devices have long leveraged this approach, whereby generic technology -- CPU, storage, OS -- is closely integrated with special-purpose software and sold and serviced as a packaged solution. The engineered stack approach has moved into data analytics, application servers and middleware.


re: Hard Truths About Cloud Differences

Great practical look at all things cloud. The diagram is very helpful. I agree with the point that engineered systems have been around a while, but the latest form is quite new. So much so that it's hard to predict winners and losers over the long term. Seems unless you have a burning need for exactly that technology - a wait and see approach there might be best.

- I work for InformationWeek

re: Hard Truths About Cloud Differences

As a provider of a cloud-based service, Axeda sometimes struggle in deciding if we should focus on being a SaaS provider or a PaaS provider. Our "Machine Cloud" is now both... for some, they use our out of the box apps... to them we are SaaS. For others, we provide Web Services to build their own apps. I think we'll see this more and more... SaaS solutions with robust APIs to help build extensions/enhancement that differentiate.

re: Hard Truths About Cloud Differences

Jim's comments are insightful and worthwhile. However, I don't think the article comments sufficiently on the changes that "modern cloud" (as opposed to aspects of the solution that has always been there - so to speak) offers in terms of speed of implementation, standardized technology stacks, security, change management, people skills requirements and more. At the same time, seeing cloud purely as a cost saving is short sighted. Our business justifications have found business agility to be a powerful force.

re: Hard Truths About Cloud Differences

Good description, but IaaS and PaaS should be different "Clouds" in your diagram since they encompass different facilities. PaaS would typically include database and middleware services which weren't shown in your diagram for PaaS.

Dave Key,

re: Hard Truths About Cloud Differences

Cloud computing is not for every business and just because it is a trend that will probably stick around does not mean that it is the best solution for your company. These decision must be made on an individual basis and cannot be evaluated as one whole solution, that is where the company will end up in pitfalls. If you are a business and considering cloud computing for you, then do that find a cloud that works around your current system and not changing your business to adapt to the cloud. Great article!

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor

re: Hard Truths About Cloud Differences

Good article, particularly the point about being locked into a cloud service provider (CSP). Another "hard truth" is contracting for cloud services in such a way that the subscriber is protected in terms of functionality and data--and has the some degree of flexibility so as to not be joined at the hip forever with a CSP. While cloud computing is still in its infancy, contracting for it is even more so... A new book has just been published to assist subscribers in contract, "Contract Negotiation Handbook: Software as a Service"