The five defining characteristics of cloud computing

The five defining characteristics of cloud computing

Summary: Cloud computing is one of the hottest buzzwords in the tech industry. But everyone isn't on the same page. Surgient's Dave Malclom takes a look at the five defining characteristics of cloud computing.

Commentary--Interest in cloud computing is rampant across the entire IT industry and everyone has a different perspective and understanding of the technology.

For instance, there are myriad variations on the definition of the cloud — William Fellows and John Barr at the 451 Group define cloud computing as the intersection of grid, virtualization, SaaS, and utility computing models. James Staten of Forrester Research describes it as a pool of abstracted, highly scalable, and managed compute infrastructure capable of hosting end-customer applications and billed by consumption.

Let’s take it a step further and examine the five defining characteristics of cloud computing.

Characteristic 1: Dynamic computing infrastructure
Cloud computing requires a dynamic computing infrastructure. The foundation for the dynamic infrastructure is a standardized, scalable, and secure physical infrastructure. There should be levels of redundancy to ensure high levels of availability, but mostly it must be easy to extend as usage growth demands it, without requiring architecture rework. Next, it must be virtualized.

Today, virtualized environments leverage server virtualization (typically from VMware, Microsoft, or Xen) as the basis for running services. These services need to be easily provisioned and de-provisioned via software automation. These service workloads need to be moved from one physical server to another as capacity demands increase or decrease. Finally, this infrastructure should be highly utilized, whether provided by an external cloud provider or an internal IT department. The infrastructure must deliver business value over and above the investment.

A dynamic computing infrastructure is critical to effectively supporting the elastic nature of service provisioning and de-provisioning as requested by users while maintaining high levels of reliability and security. The consolidation provided by virtualization, coupled with provisioning automation, creates a high level of utilization and reuse, ultimately yielding a very effective use of capital equipment.

Characteristic 2: IT service-centric approach
Cloud computing is IT (or business) service-centric. This is in stark contrast to more traditional system- or server- centric models. In most cases, users of the cloud generally want to run some business service or application for a specific, timely purpose; they don’t want to get bogged down in the system and network administration of the environment. They would prefer to quickly and easily access a dedicated instance of an application or service. By abstracting away the server-centric view of the infrastructure, system users can easily access powerful pre-defined computing environments designed specifically around their service.

An IT Service Centric approach enables user adoption and business agility – the easier and faster a user can perform an administrative task the more expedient the business moves, reducing costs or driving revenue.

Characteristic 3: Self-service based usage model
Interacting with the cloud requires some level of user self-service. Best of breed self-service provides users the ability to upload, build, deploy, schedule, manage, and report on their business services on demand. Self-service cloud offerings must provide easy-to-use, intuitive user interfaces that equip users to productively manage the service delivery lifecycle.

The benefit of self service from the users’ perspective is a level of empowerment and independence that yields significant business agility. One benefit often overlooked from the service provider’s or IT team’s perspective is that the more self service that can be delegated to users, the less administrative involvement is necessary. This saves time and money and allows administrative staff to focus on more strategic, high-valued responsibilities.

Characteristic 4: Minimally or self-managed platform
In order for an IT team or a service provider to efficiently provide a cloud for its constituents, they must leverage a technology platform that is self managed. Best-of-breed clouds enable self-management via software automation, leveraging the following capabilities:

  • A provisioning engine for deploying services and tearing them down recovering resources for high levels of reuse
  • Mechanisms for scheduling and reserving resource capacity
  • Capabilities for configuring, managing, and reporting to ensure resources can be allocated and reallocated to multiple groups of users
  • Tools for controlling access to resources and policies for how resources can be used or operations can be performed

All of these capabilities enable business agility while simultaneously enacting critical and necessary administrative control. This balance of control and delegation maintains security and uptime, minimizes the level of IT administrative effort, and keeps operating expenses low, freeing up resources to focus on higher value projects.

Characteristic 5: Consumption-based billing
Finally, cloud computing is usage-driven. Consumers pay for only what resources they use and therefore are charged or billed on a consumption-based model. Cloud computing platforms must provide mechanisms to capture usage information that enables chargeback reporting and/or integration with billing systems.

The value here from a user’s perspective is the ability for them to pay only for the resources they use, ultimately helping them keep their costs down. From a provider’s perspective, it allows them to track usage for charge back and billing purposes.

In summary, all of these defining characteristics are necessary in producing an enterprise private cloud capable of achieving compelling business value which includes savings on capital equipment and operating costs, reduced support costs, and significantly increased business agility. All of these enable corporations to improve their profit margins and competitiveness in the markets they serve.

Dave Malcolm is senior vice president and CTO at Surgient. He has more than 20 years of experience in the high tech industry, Malcolm is responsible for product management, software development, and datacenter operations for Surgient's products and hosted solutions.

Topics: Virtualization, Cloud

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  • The five REAL characteristics:

    1. Fuzzily designed marketing words like "cloud," "dynamic," and "service."

    2. All software is rental. No more ownership. Did you like having a personal copy you could install anywhere at any time without paying a monthly fee? Too bad.

    Because we're gonna complain that you pay for upgrades regularly (even though in reality you don't) and claim you're paying for it continually anyways.

    In addition, we're gonna claim that our multi-gazillion dollar PC farms which go down once a week are more reliable than that *nix PC you own that has been running for years non-stop.

    We're also gonna claim you need a super large support staff that is a beast to handle, so we handle it for you. Which would be true if you owned an equally large multi-gazillion dollar PC farm like we do. Which you don't.

    But wouldn't renting a small piece of a super multi-gazillion dollar PC farm be cool?

    3. Your personal data is made public.

    4. Repetitive resurgence of thin clients, dumb terminals, etc under different names, and the insistence that "this time it'll work." Again.

    5. All of your applications stop working when you visit your relatives in the country, along with your cell phone.
  • And number 6 would be

    You're at a dead standstill when the fiber optic cable is cut.

    Though it's not like something like that could ever happen....
  • RE: The five defining characteristics of cloud computing

    I found this article to be interesting, especially since the paper I am doing covers the basics of cloud computing. Although I am well into the editing process, I think this article would have work wonders in establishing the benefits and usage of cloud computing.

    I actually did a blog article about my thoughts and interpretations on this article based on what I know about the cloud. Might be worse a peak to look at.
  • Hey, no speaking in simple terms allowed!

    If you are going to be clear, direct, and logical, you will be punished.
  • What it (REALLY) means to you.

    "Characteristic 1: Dynamic computing infrastructure
    The infrastructure must deliver business value" (profit for the investor) "over and above the investment" (it will cost you a lot).

    "Characteristic 2: IT service-centric approach" (SELF-service - in "pre-defined" automated environment)

    "Characteristic 3: Self-service based usage model" (you're on your own, baby)(Don't expect any help from the application provider.)
    "...more self service that can be delegated to users, less administrative (human) involvement is necessary. This saves time and money and allows administrative staff to focus on more strategic, high-valued responsibilities" (on things where we are forced to provide actual human service). (Lot's of profit because we won't have to offer any contact information or customer support - the user is on his/her own. We can just collect the money on this and use our human resources on other profitable projects where we can't yet ignore the user.)

    "Characteristic 4: Minimally or self-managed platform" (all mechanized and automated) (Minimizes human involvement - lets mechanized automation "take care of you" - so the provider can use his employees to focus on making money elsewhere instead of on supporting you and/or his applications that you use/rent).

    "Characteristic 5: Consumption-based billing" (you pay them every time you use any little piece of the application - every time you edit a document, for instance, you have to pay for the minutes used.) (This would be a minute-by-minute fee in addition to an overall monthly "access" fee for the priviledge of "accessing" the application (such as Word) at all.

    "The value here from a user?s perspective is the ability for them to pay only for the resources they use, ultimately helping them keep their costs down" (right - their business model is designed around saving YOU money - and I want to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn). "From a provider?s perspective, it allows them to track usage for charge back and billing purposes" (it allows them to collect money for every minute you spend editing a document while providing you with nothing other than ACCESS to a completely mechanized, automated system - no customer service).

    And Charactistic 6 is the kicker - if you ever decide to close the money-bleed artery in your arm and stop paying rent just for "access" to the application (in order to rack up expensive minutes), well then, you ALSO LOSE ACCESS to all your documents that you created while you were paying rent. Which probably doesn't matter because they are in a format that nothing else can read anyway, even if you did have access to them.
    • What it (REALLY) means to you - addendum

      Did I mention that you have to pay "minutes-used" every time you just want to read (or look at) your document??

      Oh Yeah, cloud computing is just a great idea for the user!! Instead of producing an application that users can buy and use, cloud computing gives application vendors a pair of scissors they can use to cut a hole in your pocket (or in your artery, if you happen to bleed money). And the big bonus - they don't even have to provide you with any contact information or customer service!
  • Food for thought (indegestion optional).

    This article is a sales pitch aimed at company decision-makers:- lose all those pesky IT workers and welcome to the new nirvana.

    And a Clariion call (thank you EMC) to you all in IT who are going to get the push so your non-IT workers can just push the mouse around to do what they want...

    SaaS vendor: said workers won't get employment with the vendor as they are intent making it as 'lights-out' as they can, i.e. 'wetware-lite'.

    Tight market, squeezed margins - sharpened trust: how much do you trust a SaaS not to delete, lose, screw up, steal or sell you data? More importantly, how would you know. Answer you wouldn't... and 'trust me, I'm a SaaS vendor' is under Data Risk Management 101 as 'do not pass first semester; go back to kindergarten'.

    Saas reputations are fragile, as one whiff of scandal and bang goes their business. Conversely, one whiff of screw-up and possibly bang goes your entire business.

    Interim: do the cloud internally - keep control of your infrastructure and data; in time elements can move to the SaaS.

    Lastly, how many of you in the USA routinely whip out your laptop and plug it into the Lexus/Ford/GM/BMW/whatever management system and re-tune your car? You dont - too complex under the hood now; good old days of spanner and screwdriver with the hood up don't exist. Likewise IT - keep your people and skills up to date and inhouse, otherwise you'll be waiting a long time at the edge of the data superhighway when you app/server blows a gasket and/or wondering why your competitor suddenly got your clients coz some backdoor .exe stole your data...

    Don't get me wrong: there is value in SaaS, as long as your risk analysis / mitigation is acceptable to you: don't gamble what you can't afford to lose.
  • RE: The five defining characteristics of cloud computing

    It's a sales pitch for Surgient - the guy's taken a
    look at what they (would like to) do well and decided
    to foist a set of cloud characteristics on us.
    Frankly, apart from being genuine IT gibberish, it
    misses out some of the key downsides of Cloud -
    Integration and more importantly what happens when
    your line goes down. Or you don't have a signal. Or
    any of the myriad other things that currently prevent
    you from accessing your email when you're out and
  • Someone else "gets" it

    Good post, Dave. Glad to see someone else defining this stuff in plain
    english. My comments along with your thoughts can be found here:

    Don't worry about the other commenters saying your thoughts are
    horrible. They're the typical road blockers we say when virtualization was
    just coming about. They'll learn to adapt or they'll be left behind just like
    what happened with virtualization.

    Keep up the great work!
    • Not sure about the "plain English" bit

      Perhaps a lot of readers "switched off" early on in the piece. There were a lot of "big words" densely packed.

      It was a very thoughtful and helpful article. It just seems to me that a lot of our colleagues in IT do not have the skills in English to follow it without their eyes glazing over.

      Sorry if that sounds picky, Dave, but they can't agree with you unless they understand you first!
  • You Forgot #6

    More theft of your personal financial, medical, etc data as well as more outsourcing furthering the destruction of jobs in the USA. The "Cloud" is yet another part-of-the-problem idea.
    • Jobs Still Stay in the USA

      I work on a daily basis with service providers of all shapes and sizes
      from the very largest to the very smallest and just counting up the
      number of them that are in the US versus EMEA and APAC the vast
      majority (70%) are here in the US right now for cloud. Not sure why
      you think all the jobs head overseas if they go to cloud.

      I think the point you need to realize is that the LOBs are going around
      IT right now to get to the cloud. On a daily basis more and more LOBs
      are hearing "no" from their IT shops and just grab a credit card and
      head out to Amazon or Terremark or Savvis, etc. The data is already in
      the cloud or heading that direction. IT has a great opportunity to align
      themselves with the LOBs and offer private cloud to address some of
      the security concerns you talk about. It's an opportunity though and if
      you pass it up it's not going to stop the migration or the movement of
      that data. Personally I say carpe diem. Try and open your mind and
      help the business units with what they want instead of spouting off
      the FUD floating around the cloud. Maybe it's time to look into the
      mirror to see what's "part-of-the-problem".
  • RE: The five defining characteristics of cloud computing

    There are a lot of negative comments about Cloud
    Computing and SaaS, and some of it just ridiculous.

    "Tight market, squeezed margins - sharpened trust: how
    much do you trust a SaaS not to delete, lose, screw
    up, steal or sell you data?" -- You should protect
    yourself legally with a couple of documents such as a
    Service Level Agreement and Confidentiality Agreement.
    It is not in the best interest of a SaaS vendor to do
    anything to compromise their customers' data, or else,
    they won't be in business for very long. Also, SaaS
    vendors have to work very hard to ensure a certain
    level of customer service and satisfaction, because
    they operate on a recurring monthly revenue model.
    Customers can hit the "off" switch whenever they want.