My Gardener is in the Cloud aka Gardener as a Service (GaaS)
Robert shows on Tuesday mornings, backing his little van into my driveway, throws open the back door and pulls out his kit: a mower some weeks, a blower others, always a rake and a trimmer… He unlocks the gate and goes about his work and within an hour or so he is gone. All that I need to do is have handy the garden waste bin. Oh, and an espresso: I have him hooked on this once-a-week caffeine rush.
That is, in essence, all that most people need to know to start to understand the cloud: cloud is a commercial model wherein you pay for a service, done as you need it to be done when you want it done without requirement for upfront investment or set-up fees: no purchases required! "Cloud computing" is a generic term for pretty much anything that involves delivering infrastructure or programs over a network (typically but not always the internet). Essentially a figure-of-speech, cloud is hosted IT systems, or managed and hosted services, or managed applications or IT outsourcing… any of the above, or others.
While all true, Cloud delivery has three distinct characteristics which help to identify and to define itself:
1. It is typically sold in an 'on demand' model, typically by the minute, the hour or by capacity (such as disk space)
2. it is elastic, meaning you can have as much or as little as you want or need at any given time and
3. it can be private or public (shared or not shared)
All of which still means it is a billing model… but more importantly it is an exploitation of resources that moves pretty much everything to a different level and we'd be better served using it instead of spending so much time arguing about it. The 'cloud' handle, by the way, was taken from the fact that we solutions and network architects have long used a fluffy little cloud to represent networks (including the internet) on flowcharts and other diagrams.
The funny thing is that the tech community have long delivered services in what *could* have been called cloud, but wasn't. The evolution of computing, as characterised by high speed connectivity, massive scaling of computing power and cheap cheap storage combined with significant innovations in virtualisation and distributed computing (all of the above in terms of both costs and reliability). Add a weak economy and the related need to reduce the costs of sale and to reduce overhead in general and we have pretty much created a 'perfect storm', the nature of which we haven't seen since the appearance of a systems architecture approach known as SOA (a topic for a future conversation).
To illustrate a little further, let's go back to Robert:
1. In the spring and autumn, Robert scales up to spend extra time preparing the garden for summer growth or for winter rest
2. Robert is also available on demand and can be scheduled for plantings and transplants, tree removal, or to pop 'round and feed the cat when we go away for a weekend (Robert also adds value to my supply chain thanks to his expertise and any resultant economies of scale)
3. A shared cloud, Robert has 15 to 20 customers (whereas before he moved into semi-retirement he was a private cloud, taking care of a family estate consisting of three adjacent properties.
Robert also has the knowledge to help me with what to plant, and where, for best results; what to buy and where to buy it; how to solve problems from pests to blight and, most importantly, picks up the approximately six millions leaves that fall in my back garden each autumn.
Pardon the three sets of three, Cloud services are typically divided as either:
1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
2. Software as a Service (SaaS)
3. Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Robert again can be used to provide some apt illustrations:
IaaS, of which Amazon Web Services are a good example, is similar to Robert bringing along his own mower, blower and other tools: my flat rate fee, in this case, covers the petrol for his mower but it also covers me should his mower break down: he will have it repaired or replaced, at no impact to me. And Robert, I know, has some of his old equipment also in the van, just in case: I not only have no need to worry about such issues I also have no responsibility to deal with those issues… and each Tuesday I return home comfortable that I will not have a weekend of yard work in front of me.
Aka the utility model, with IaaS providers such as Amazon your 'server' runs on their hardware in a pay-as-you-go environment (similar to the way that water and electricity and metered and delivered to your home.
SaaS, or software as a service, involves Robert not only supplying the equipment but also that which needs the equipment to operate: from planting our spring purchases from the garden centre through to spending extra time working on the rose bushes or removing a less-than-healthy bit of shubbery. SaaS is a very broad market and is probably today's most common. Salesforce.com, Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 are all examples.
Which brings us to PaaS (and where the "Robert in the cloud" analogy becomes a little stretched but, in other ways, still can work as an example). PaaS is, sort of, a combination of the other two but with a different objective. In this case the customer creates and tests business solutions, over the network, using kit provided by the owner of the Cloud being used. (Force.com from Salesforce and GoogleApps – from a developer point of view, work as examples of PaaS).
I hope that Robert, my trusty gardener, has simplified this 'cloud stuff': the landscape is changing – as it always does – for technology professionals, users, buyers and their executives. There is, as always, an easy three step plan to get it right:
1. Start by documenting your requirements and the desired outcome, not to mention time and budget constraints
2. Collaborate with your vendors and overall supply chain to exploit their knowledge and expertise
3. Plan, plan some more, communicate and apply some rigour and governance to support success (especially since doing otherwise supports failure)
Oh, and, by the way: my cleaners are also in the cloud!