Checking the Pulse of Cloud Based Services: Rethinking Definitions and Future Benefits

Dr. Mark Zecca, CIO, Kyriba | Thursday, 29 December 2016, 05:25 IST

I don’t know why I feel a little territorial every time I hear the word Cloud coming from one of our sales or marketing guys. The term has taken so many twists and turns in the last 20 years, so I thought that a short respite to look where we have been and, more importantly, where we are going and what have we gotten, as a result of this Cloud Computing thing.

I have a rock on my desk. Every CIO should have one; on one side it says “You gotta love Marketing” on the other side it says, “You gotta love Sales.” It came to me in a box that said, “In case of dire frustration, throw this object!” The term cloud seems like it should have a deeply scientific meaning such as gaseous anomaly that the Starship Enterprise was sent out to explore! Unfortunately its origins were much more mundane. Back in the 70’s and 80’s communication designers used drawing templates with standardized symbols to represent certain components, and sure enough, there was a billowy cloud there to represent a heterogeneous interconnection of elements in a network. Yet the term did not get traction until the Millennial turn. During the boom, all sorts of ASPs or Application Service Providers started popping up. They would build an application, and run it for you in your premise or in theirs. In their premise and with the customer’s equipment, they would connect you via a direct circuit or a connection to the Internet. Pretty soon it was just easy for the ASP provider to provision the hardware, order the circuits, and drop the application on the system and Viola you have Software as a Service (SaaS). Right behind this you had providers selling shares of data storage, specialty networks, processing, etc. and before you know it Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) was born. As more and more small businesses ran screaming from the room at the high cost of data center construction, hardware and operating system acquisition the market opened up for providing platforms on which companies could run the software for internal or commercial use. Thankfully the naming gods were working overtime, because this gave us Platforms as a Service (PaaS). Wrap these three experiences (SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS) up with a marketing bow and you get Cloud Computing! So if someone asks you what this “Cloud” thing is all about, you can just sum it up by saying it is storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet.

Believe it or not, it is still cheaper to put data on a USB and send it FedEx than to use a cloud based storage service, even a free one (considering all the costs of the computer, network service provider, etc). However, that applies to mostly individual consumers or really small businesses. Business usage is a better cost model, since it is using the same connectivity for a lot more functionality and cost savings. But this too, has its drawbacks. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak warned about Cloud Computing in 2012, saying: "I think it's going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years." What he was saying was not a criticism of Cloud Computing per se, or what could happen as a result of its gargantuan proliferation by hundreds of thousands of businesses. In 2014, system outages affected companies such as Dropbox, Gmail, Basecamp, Adobe, Evernote, iCloud, and Microsoft. In 2015 major outages were experienced at Apple, Verizon, Microsoft, AOL, Level 3, and Google. Microsoft had another major one this year. These problems typically last for just hours, but they happen to hundreds or even millions of people and effect tens of thousands of businesses. According to the Cloud Security Alliance, the top three threats in the cloud have been identified as Insecure Interfaces and API's, Data Loss & Leakage, and Hardware Failure. These accounted for 29 percent, 25 percent, and 10 percent of all Cloud security outages respectively. Let’s face it, in Cloud Computing you are putting a lot of processing power on a lot of networks, being shared and used by a lot of people and businesses (hence the cloud); but when an outage hits, it can hit all of those in the Cloud.

For many businesses, the benefits of Cloud Computing outweigh the risks. Three main examples of benefits include:
•Self-service provisioning: End users can spin up computing resources for almost any type of workload on-demand
• Elasticity: Companies can scale up as computing needs increase and then scale down again as demands decrease
• Pay per use: Computing resources are measured at a granular level, allowing users to pay only for the resources and workloads they use.

And just when you think that the marketing guys have run out of labels, there are various types and styles of Cloud Computing for individuals and businesses to pick from to meet their needs. These computing services can be private, public or hybrid. Private cloud services are delivered from a business' data center to its internal users, offering versatility and convenience, while preserving management, control and security. Public cloud service providers deliver the cloud service over the Internet, are sold on-demand, by the minute or the hour, or customers only pay for the CPU cycles, storage or bandwidth consumed, or they pay for a series of functionalities and services as a subscription. Hybrid cloud is a combination of Public cloud services and Private cloud—where automation has been engineered between the two. Here companies can operate mission-critical systems or applications on their private cloud, then burst to the Public cloud when load factors require a scale on-demand.

The future shows that Cloud Computing is growing at a rate that has the MIT guys recalculating Moore’s Law! Growth has taken place not only vertically in the proliferation of Cloud Computing services, but horizontally in the types of services that have stretched the now traditional Cloud models. New types of models such as StaaS: Storage as a Service, UCaaS: Unified Communications as a Service, IdaaS: Identity as a Service, MaaS: Monitoring as a Service, and XaaS: Everything else as a Service (Seriously, now I am looking for my rock)! And don’t forget the hybrids. From Hadoop to Big Data-BI to Cloud Bursts; Hybrid Clouds have become, what Caitlin White of Tech Target coined, Frankenclouds! Through all of this there has to be a little help in making a decision to go or no-go for Cloud Computing. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines five essential characteristics for good Cloud Computing. These include: On-demand self-service, Broad network access, Resource pooling, Rapid elasticity, and Measured service.

So there is help out there as you fly amongst the Clouds looking for the elusive bird of cost savings that combines functionality with stability and quick engagement. Or you could always throw rocks at the sales and marketing guys!