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Define Cloud Computing

It looks like pretty soon all computing will be called cloud computing, just because the cloud is "in." Fortunately, most computer-savvy folks actually have a pretty good idea of what the term "cloud computing" means: outsourced, pay-as-you-go, on-demand, somewhere in the Internet, etc. What is still confusing to many is how the different offerings compare, from Amazon Web Services to Google App Engine to Force.com. I recently heard a characterization of three different levels of clouds which really helps put the various offerings into perspective. Here's my rephrasing:

Applications in the cloud: This is what almost everyone has already used in the form of Gmail, Yahoo Mail, WordPress.com, Google Apps, the various search engines, Wikipedia, and so on. Some company hosts an application on the Internet that many users sign up for and use without any concern about where, how, or by whom the compute cycles and storage bits are provided. The service being sold (or offered in ad-sponsored form) is a complete end-user application. To me all this is SaaS, Software as a Service, looking to join the cloud craze.

Platforms in the cloud: This is the newest entry, where an application platform is offered to developers in the cloud. Developers write their application to a more or less open specification and then upload their code into the cloud, where the app is run magically somewhere, typically being able to scale up automagically as usage for the app grows. Examples are Mosso, Google App Engine, and Force.com. The service being sold is the machinery that funnels requests to an application and makes the application tick.

Infrastructure in the cloud: This is the most general offering that Amazon pioneered and where RightScale offers its management platform. Developers and system administrators obtain general compute, storage, queueing, and other resources and run their applications with the fewest limitations. This is the most powerful type of cloud in that virtually any application and any configuration that is fit for the Internet can be mapped to this type of service. Of course it also requires more work on the part of the buyer, which is where RightScale comes in to help with setup and automation.

Looking at these different types of clouds, it's pretty clear that they are geared toward different purposes and that they all have a reason for being. The platforms in the cloud promise to take some of the mundane pain away from dealing with the raw infrastructure. But it's not at all clear to me that the vendors can live up to the promise of managing everything seamlessly, and that the functional constraints won't cause applications to have to move up to the infrastructure clouds as they mature and gain complexity. It would not be good if toy apps started on the platform clouds and then moved to the infrastructure clouds as they gain adoption. One possible outcome is a hybrid model where the canonical application core remains in the platform cloud and the odd pieces of functionality and/or the parts that need to scale the most drastically move off to infrastructure clouds.

Comments

Thorsten, great post. It's good that we're distinguishing SaaS as different from 'cloud computing', but I think it would be great if we could start talking about cloud services as they relate to web services. There is some more here: http://neotactics.com/blog/technology/short-sighted-about-cloud-computing
Hi Thorsten, nice post. A few weeks ago I posted something much along the same lines. Just sharing it with you in case you hadn't seen it. Seems like there is beginning to be a little bit of consensus here and there about what it all means. http://www.productionscale.com/home/2008/4/24/cloud-computing-get-your-head-in-the-clouds.html Excerpt, "cloud computing is a commercial extension of utility computing that enables scalable, elastic, highly available deployment of software applications while minimizing the level of detailed interaction with the underlying technology stack itself."
Lew, thanks! You were the first person from whom I heard roughly these three categories, so you deserve all the credit for making it simple to start with. I just kept it simple while wrapping my own words around it all... :-) BTW, congrats on launching CloudFS, I read (<a href="http://blog.racklabs.com/?p=75" rel="nofollow">http://blog.racklabs.com/?p=75</a>) with interest that you guys are going full steam ahead into the cloud revolution, way to go!
Well stated Thorsten...the world needs clarity around this and simplicity is key. Thanks for contributing to clear it up. I think you have it right and more important, you kept it simple!
Steve @MindTouch: thanks for the trackback &amp; interesting post. I added a comment on your post as that seemed more appropriate.
[...] Software builds on Cloud Infrastructure (as described in this great post by our friends at RightScale). Similar to SaaS, Cloud Software [...]
The simplest (logical) definition of the Cloud that I use is "the universe of all (web) services". See the link below for some other terminology that may be useful: http://www.communities.hp.com/online/blogs/cloudcomputing/archive/2008/06/09/nephological-terminology-for-the-cloud-cloudlets-droplets-and-membranes.aspx
Huh... Where would you put the other forty or so vendors... <a href="http://www.johnmwillis.com/cloud-computing/cloud-vendors-a-to-z-revised/" rel="nofollow">http://www.johnmwillis.com/cloud-computing/cloud-vendors-a-to-z-revised/</a>
[...] computing: Cloud vendors from A to Z. Cloud services, a definition. Define Cloud Computing. Seth Godin: The clowd (cloud + crowd). Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking [...]
Just want you Rightscalers to know you have a great service, I love it.. so much that i covered it today in my latest Splunk Ninja video entitled "Inside the Cloud" - I demo Amazon CLI, Elasticfox, and Rightscale (most of the airtime) -- oh yeah.. of course Splunk too. Check it out. U like.. .U link :) http://blogs.splunk.com/thewilde/2008/06/24/splunk-ninja-inside-the-cloud/
[...] 2008 Im Gegensatz zum Begriff Grid Computing ist das Thema Cloud computing etwas eindeutiger definiert. Es geht darum IT-Resourcen (Rechner oder Laufzeitumgebungen) aus der Wolke des Internets [...]
[...] definition is just vague enough to encapsulate the various &#8220;areas&#8221; of cloud computing that people talk about and just precise enough to note that the resources you use here tend to be [...]
I am approaching the cloud from the end-user perspective, where its all foggy up there, and all that matters is how easy it is to interact with my own personal data on the smallest footprint of a device. I'm an anticipated fan of the CherryPal C100, which is being touted as a cloud computer. The CherryPal™ C100 desktop is about the size of a paperback book with the performance you would expect from a full-size desktop computer. It has Freescale’s triple-core mobileGT processor for multimedia performance and feature-rich user interfaces, while only consuming as much power as a clock radio. CherryPal uses 80 percent fewer components than a traditional PC, and because it has no moving parts, it operates without making a sound and will last 10 years or more. I am excited about how the CherryPal can bridge barriers to people who have not had access to computers or the internet because of money, fear, education or other challenges. I will be commenting on my experience of using it on my blog as soon as I get my own CherryPal C100! You can use CODE CPP206 to get your own CherryPal for $10 less than purchase price. CherryPal for Everyone at http://cherrypal.blogspot.com
[...] Rightscale blog has a pretty good summary of the situation, partially quoted below (emphasis added by us): It looks like pretty soon all computing will be [...]
[...] on the panel, I was not suprised to find that he has written a succinct and informative overview of Cloud Computing (John Willis has a nice table &#8220;Cloud Vendors A-Z&#8221; that is mentioned in the comments and [...]
[...] I could think was market dilution but then it hit me. With the growth in numbers of platforms for cloud software, comes massive if not exponential growth of the communities and applications that can be developed [...]
[...] shared this classification paradigm with RightScale who blogged about it here. Subsequently, GoGrid and others have embraced this definition as well. Michael Sheehan at GoGrid [...]
A couple weeks ago I was at PubCon in Las Vegas to participate on a panel discussion on Cloud Computing. My job was to help sort out fact from sales fiction. I got so much feedback (email, calls, quotations) that I followed up with a related article: http://www.smartertools.com/blog/archive/2008/11/20/cloud-computing-challenges-benefits-and-the-future.aspx Cloud Computing is important and potentially revolutionary. But amidst all of the hype and buzz we should keep firmly in mind what is is and what it is not. Be well, Jeffrey J. Hardy http://www.smartertools.com
Jeff, nice post you've linked to. You are correct that in the end you are renting real servers that sit somewhere in some specific datacenter. We don't promote the "in the cloud means somewhere out there, you don't know where" image, it doesn't help anyone really. What you are not pointing out in your blog entry is that in the cloud it is soooo much easier to place services/machines in multiple locations that are very failure isolated from one-another.
Why cloud computing will never completely take over: 1) You can never trust websites to always be reliable 2) Comcast recently put a cap on their users bandwidth per month. Cloud computing would use a substantial amount of bandwidth. 3) Speeds aren't great enough yet. Once we all have fibers into our house, there wont be enough speed. 4) Not everyone needs the internet. Believe it or not come people use their computer for only pictures and word processing. These people will never need to connect to the internet.
[...] these terms here again when everyone else has already defined them here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc? Heck, there&#8217;s even a definition for Web 3.0 and beyond. Wait, [...]
Productivity &amp; Agility in the Cloud a great video for all of you, enjoy and thanks for this great article, love it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuQ-SkCG5dE
[...] a detailed definition and types of cloud computing, you can check out the following page: http://blog.rightscale.com/2008/05/26/define-cloud-computing/ Cloud [...]
[...] to the cloud. (And who isn&#8217;t planning on that these days?) Given all the different layers of cloud computing the conversation can quickly get more confusing than anything else. At Cloud Connect a few weeks [...]
[...] earlier post from Thorsten (republished later on Cloud Computing Journal) clearly and succinctly defines some [...]
[...] and infrastructure. These levels make all kinds of computing look similar to cloud computing. Click here to read the [...]
Dear Sir/Mam, We would like to invite speakers/ workshop organizers, at the forthcoming Industrial Conference on Cloud Computing and Virtualization 2009, to be held at Grand Copthorne Waterfront, Singapore, on Nov 25th and 26th, Wednesday and Thursday,2009. Should you require any assistance or further information pertaining to the conference, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thanks and regards, Varna (varna@rapidstart.com.sg) International Conference Secretariat
Posted by Industrial Conf... (not verified)   Ι   July 01, 2009   Ι   04:31 AM
[...] these terms here again when everyone else has already defined them here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc? Heck, there’s even a definition for Web 3.0 and beyond. Wait, let’s not [...]
Thanks for the info. Telstra - Australia's biggest telco has just announced (on 17th August) a $500m investment into cloud computing which is pretty huge.
A better cloud service: keep your desktop locally, move server features to the cloud. No need for complicated virtual machines as you only need the server services. A lot of service providers thought cloud computing means moving away from PCs. They create applications on the web (cloud) so users can use the applications online, store files online, and never need to use any locally installed applications. The PCs are relegated to dumb terminals. However, this approach will not work for the mass market. Why? (1) PCs will not disappear; they become more and more powerful yet the price keeps falling. It is far more competitive than dumb terminals. Even the Net PCs and smart phones also become more and more powerful with every new model. Simply put, vendors will not just sell dumb terminals; and few users will buy dumb terminals. (2) With the tremendous horse power available at the local PC, treating the PCs as dumb terminals is a dumb idea. Users are used to desktop software, such as MS office, photo editing software, video editing software, HTML authoring software, etc. they will continue using the desktop software for its more advanced features and better performance than web-based applications. Moreover, be able to work on something offline is a huge advantage over web-based applications. (3) Many applications that require a lot of computing power and a lot of network bandwidth are not suitable for the cloud computing. (e.g. video editing, photo editing, etc.) (4) Moving everything to the cloud means you are completely locked in by your vendor. It is extremely hard to switch vendors, not to mention that you may not be able to find another compatible vendor. (5) Lack of control and flexibility: when you move everything to the cloud, you no longer have full control of your system and data. If the service is down, it will shut down your system; also, you cannot easily add any new services / features to your system; it is also hard to change the current services / features. Any such changes will have to go through your service vendor and at its mercy. There are better cloud computing solutions than those of Google, Amazon, and other cloud computing vendors, whose goal might be more focused on destroying Microsoft and PC than offering real better solutions. [ ... blatant advertising section deleted ]
There is another level known, client in the cloud, where ones physical hardware requires access to the cloud such as the Chrome OS or a cell phone operating system.
To complement this post, here's a nice little infographic about cloud computing that's much easier on the eyes and the brain than a long blog article: http://bit.ly/cZLjN3
Nice poster, thanks for the link. Dunno about the "easier on the eyes", there's so much jumbled together and it doesn't explain anything, just lists... Also, you're missing one of my very top cloud benefits: business agility.
Nice description of the 3 different categories of the cloud, simple enough. The cloud terminology is often interchanged with SaaS and I think, they are more like one and same. Regards Abi
I truly like your posting as well as the webpage all in all! The article is incredibly clearly written and also without difficulty understandable.
Posted by 642-813 Testking (not verified)   Ι   April 17, 2011   Ι   10:11 PM
Hello, I am just starting to getting accustomed to cloud terminology. This week I have attended Government Private Cloud workshop in Warsaw where they clearly defined some basic terminology like, service delivery types, basic cloud characteristics and cloud deployment models. You can read about it here: http://www.itsolutionbraindumps.com/2011/01/demistifying-cloud.html Dinko
[...] with quite a few examples: Demystifying Clouds, Cloud Computing Ectropy and yet another attempt to define cloud computing. I even found a dedicated research [...]
Thanks for the article! Just browsing around online I get into some cool stuff. Anyways, back to school work...

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