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Cloud Perspective: Cool New Stuff or Same Old Stuff ?

Is “The Cloud” Cool New Stuff or is it the Same Old Stuff ?

Cloud is upon us! Everywhere you turn vendors are offering cloud solutions promising (once-again) a single solution to solve the ills of our IT organizations.

Bah! Some naysayers say “this is just the same-old, same-old, we’ve been doing the cloud for years” – hmmmm is this really true?

Ways in Which Cloud is Not New:

  1. Accessing data over communication lines has been normal for years
  2. Hosting data at off-premise sites has likewise been around for years
  3. Vendors providing hosted, pre-defined platforms are as old as H. Ross Perot’s Service Bureau in 1962
  4. Vendors providing shared resources are as old as the Time-Sharing systems first introduced at Dartmouth in the 1960’s

But guess what? Not only is the cloud more-advanced than what’s gone before, it has properties that have never-before been available. So, what’s changed to enable this? Today’s communications systems are reliable (at least mostly), fast, and distributed making cloud-based resources as performant as our own resources. But, that’s still not it.

Defining the Cloud

In order to understand what makes the cloud “the cloud” –good folks at NIST (U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology http://www.nist.gov/itl/cloud/index.cfm) have devoted some effort defining exactly what cloud means (at least to NIST). Here is the URL for a PDF document detailing NIST’s definition of cloud computing: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-145/SP800-145.pdf .

Five Essential Characterizes of Cloud Computing

NIST defines five essential characteristics for cloud computing (paraphrased below):

  1. On-demand self-service: allowing a consumer to provision computing time and storage without human interaction with the provider.
  2. Broad Network Access: allowing all clients (mobile phones, tablets, laptops, workstations, etc.) access via standard network mechanisms.
  3. Resource pooling: where resources (memory, processing, storage, bandwidth, etc.) of the provider are assigned to consumers using a multi-tenant model with actual resources (physical and/or virtual) being assigned and reassigned based upon consumer usage. The consumer has little or no direct control over the specific resources being used.
  4. Rapid elasticity: resources assigned to a consumer may be acquired and/or released automatically according to usage allowing consumer systems to scale seemingly without limit (other than budget) when needs expand and retract again automatically when need subsides.
  5. Measured service: provides monitoring, control, and optimization of resources allowing both consumer and provider to understand exactly what resources are being used and by which users.

These five traits are what are new (ish). In the past provisioning of computing time, processors, and storage was based upon up-front estimates and contractually agreed to – with cloud it’s self-service and on-demand. In the past network access also meant contracts with telephone providers or Internet providers usually along well-defined pathways, perhaps using load-balancers and other technology to allow some broader access. Most cloud providers provide regional and sometimes global ability to access resources as part of the services provided. Resource pooling came along with the virtual computing wave a few years ago but with the cloud the pooling is managed by the cloud provider to meet service level agreements. Rapid elasticity is perhaps the most-obvious advantage of using the cloud; if an organization needs to ramp up for a busy time of year a good cloud service will simply expand their memory and disk capacity as needed, then, when things slow down take the excess resources away – all automatically making sure you spend money only for resources you need when you need them. Finally measured service, again an area where we have experience already but with a key difference, cloud systems can measure use to control elasticity and pooling automatically allowing applications to run and again making sure that costs are in line with usage.

Cloud service models: IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

Many, many acronyms come along with the cloud; here are three that are pretty common:

  • IaaS                 Infrastructure as a Service
  • PaaS                Platform as a Service
  • SaaS                Software as a Service

IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) means that the cloud provider gives you: Hardware, Operations, and maybe core operating systems. They provide the hardware and datacenter but you build your own systems. Your organization no longers needs to worry about the day-to-day operations of a datacenter.

PaaS (Platform Platform as a Service) means the provider is responsible for some core software load in addition to the hardware. The core software load usually includes the Operating System, Backup & Recovery, and Disaster Recovery. It is also possible that the PaaS contract will include a database (DBaaS) and/or a web server (WSaaS). Your organization needs to populate the database and provide the programs but the “plumbing” is part of the PaaS contract. The provider employs the Database and Network administrators in addition to providing the hardware and operations teams.

SaaS (Software as a Service) means that the provider has it all, they provide the Infrstructure, Platform, and the Software Stack. Think ERP systems like SalesForce or Oracle’s Fusion. Your organization simply uses the applications presented by the vendor, all of the underlying structure is provided by the vendor.

Your organizations journey into the cloud will involve choosing Iaas, PaaS, SaaS, or some combination of them with your on-premise existing systems.

Here’s a less-technical example to explain transportation options.

On-Premises IaaS PaaS SaaS
Personal Car Leased Car Rented Car City Bus
– Your car
– You buy gas
– Your maintenance
– You choose direction of travel
– You choose travel schedule
– Provider’s car
– You buy gas
– You provide maintenance
(or maybe vendor does depends upon contract)
– You choose direction of travel
– You choose travel schedule
– Provider’s car
– Gas purchase might be an option
– Provider’s maintenance
– You choose direction of travel
– You choose travel schedule
– Provider’s vehicle
– Provider’s gas
– Provider’s maintenance
– Provider has fixed route
– Provider has fixed schedule

Cloud Deployment: Public, Private, Hybrid

Finally, we get to deployment. Cloud offerings offer deployment options typically defined as Public, Private, and Hybrid:

  • Public             You have private areas in public resource pools
  • Private            Your resources stored in private resource pools
  • Hybrid                        Some combination of the above

Most usage today is Public or Hybrid; some companies have legal requirements that govern the location and availability of data and Private might be an option for them.

Some people are concerned about the security of data in the public cloud.

Really? What’s your organization’s budget for security? What do you suppose the
budget is at Oracle, Amazon, or Microsoft for security? If cloud providers slip once; public embarrassment and exit of customers follows. I think your data is probably safer in the cloud.

(with two caveats:

  1. If you leave the cloud vendor are you guaranteed that your data/code is wiped?
  2. Are you certain that daily backup/recovery and disaster recovery services at the vendor isolate your data to guarantee it is not accidentally shared with others?)

Some Current Cloud Providers

Some current provider options include: AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure, Oracle, and Google. There are also lots of smaller “boutique” providers; my guess is that they will have difficulty competing with the large companies and may be targeted for purchase.

Why Cloud Is a Great Move For Your Company

Most companies do not want to be in the data center business. Moving to the cloud allows an organization to effectively outsource all or part of their IT operations. Organizations also gain the advantage of cloud’s features.

In summary, cloud is a significant enhancement of the “same-old-stuff” adding capabilities for:

  • On-demand self-service
  • Broad Network Access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured service

Finally, cloud is everywhere, and the cloud is here to stay.