Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years you would have heard the term ‘cloud computing’ banded about by the big old buzzword marketing machines and over this time ‘cloud’ has become to mean a lot of different things and has also become the defacto term when referring to any service utilised over an internet connection, but what does it actually mean?
Step back in time
To define what ‘cloud computing’ means we need to turn the clock back a little, between the mid nineties and early noughties during the dot-com bubble as affordable high speed communication lines were becoming more available a new mode of delivering software was being touted and accepted, and with that the application service provider (ASP) business model was born.
ASP’s mostly offer business software solutions provided via either a thin client or web page with the commercial model usually being on a ‘per user per month’ basis with some sort of minimum term contract, some of the ASP’s responsibilities are;
- to purchase and maintain the hardware enviroment,
- to provide any required software licenses and carrying out all the software patching or upgrades,
- to ensure that all the customers data is held securely and backed up to a reasonable level,
- to ensure they have all the required skills in order to provide and maintain the service on a 24x7x365 day basis
ASP solutions are typically provided in a multi-tenant environment where multiple customers share the same software instance although with the wide adoption of virtualisation there is also the to have your own instance of the software stack but this would be seen as a value-add service for the ASP so the end customer should expect to pay extra for this.
in the mid noughties a new set of acronyms started to come out which further defined what an ASP is, these are, SAAS which stands for Software As A Service, PAAS which stands for Platform As A Service and IAAS which stands for Infrastructure As A Service.
SAAS is essentially the ASP model as mentioned above the only difference being is that the provision of the service is autonomous where a user can log into SalesForce as an example and subscribe, create a new SalesForce instance within minutes without even speaking to a sales clerk.
PAAS provides a runtime to which you develop an application against then when you deploy the application you deploy it against a platform rather then to any specific server or web farm as an example Microsoft Azure is a PAAS solution.
And finally IAAS which is where you take control of the server operating system and are responsible for everything except the hardware it is run on, Amazon EC2 is an example of IAAS.
Now we come up to date to the ‘Cloud’ era and in its simplest form ‘Cloud’ is a metaphor for the internet but essentially it is being used to describe SAAS, PAAS and IAAS. The term ‘Cloud’ is widely believed to derive from the telecommunications sector where they used a cloud to represent the telephone network with it later being used as a symbol in network diagrams to depict the internet.
So what is a false cloud?
So we now know that the the term ‘cloud’ means internet and that ‘cloud computing’ is a term used when describing a service such as SAAS, PAAS or IAAS, but really this is just the start of the story.
There is also the ‘false cloud’, as the cloud revolution has come about service providers have re-packaged their solutions and called them cloud solutions, SalesForce have a great definition and video on what the cloud is and in this definition they also make reference to what the cloud isn’t,
As cloud computing grows in popularity, thousands of companies are simply rebranding their non-cloud products and services as “cloud computing.” Always dig deeper when evaluating cloud offerings and keep in mind that if you have to buy and manage hardware and software, what you’re looking at isn’t really cloud computing but a false cloud.
A lot of solution providers have taken the view that if the data flows over an internet connection then the service their providing must therefor be a cloud service, but are they wrong as after all cloud is a term used for the internet? If you are going to subscribe to a service then ask yourself or your potential provider these questions,
- Do I have to purchase hardware or software?
- Do I need to purchase dedicated point to point communication lines?
- Will my service take longer than a day to be provisioned?
- Is there a minimum term for the service that is greater than a month?
- If the service is based on a per user per month model is there a penalty if I reduce the number of users during quiet periods?
- Do I know the postal code to the data centre where my data is stored, could I visit to see the hardware that my service will run on?
- Is my SLA uptime excluding internet connections less then 99.9%
- Is my data stored in a readily usable format in only a single data centre?
If the answer to any of the above questions in yes then you are probably being sold a false cloud (or a service that connects via an internet connection), as with a true cloud service you,
- Don’t need to make any upfront payments for hardware or software
- Don’t need dedicated communication lines unless you have bandwidth concerns
- Don’t need to wait for a human to provision the service, automation software does this when you subscribe
- Don’t need minimum term contracts as the whole idea of a cloud service is the idea of buying computing power on demand like you would do with gas or electricity
- Don’t always know what physical location your data is being serviced from, you will probably know the region but you won’t know the postal code as the data will be held and serviced from more than one location
- Dont tend to need to worry about uptime as the service offering would have been built to provide at least 99.9% uptime
In the end what the service providers call their offerings is of no consequence as if the service they provide is one that a customer wants then as with most things they will purchase it, but they should also be aware of the difference between a ‘cloud’ and ‘false cloud’ service as they may think they are purchasing a ‘cloud’ solution with all the benefits you associate with a true ‘cloud’ but what they get could be something far different.
As a final thought, if you bought a service and something were to happen to your data or you loose a business system for a period of time who will suffer more you or the service provider? I can guarantee the answer is always YOU so always keep this in mind when purchasing any cloud based service and ask the questions that need to be asked,
- how long has the service provider been offering cloud services
- is the service provider profitable, if so for how long
- what compliance controls are in place for the service
- has there been any instances in the last three years of the provider having contracts cancelled due to ‘material breaches’ or are there any pending legal actions from previous customers
- does the provider offer 24/7 technical support and if so how many technical staff are employed not including contracted staff
- where’s my data,
- who can see my data,
- where is my data backed up to,
- how many times do you back it up per day
- how long do you keep the backups for and what is the rotation policy,
- if your primary facility did not exists one day would my business still operate without interruption if not then how long will it take to get the service back.
After asking the questions the trick is to ask the service provider if they can demonstrate or prove the answers they have given you, that will usually indicate whether the provider is the one that you want to entrust your data to.